Friday, February 12, 2010

Gardening with native plants

During the first year at this house, I made the decision to convert almost all the lawn area into flower gardens, then I ordered every type of strange and unusual plant I could find. I quickly realized that I ended up with a lot of empty areas in the flower beds. However, they were not empty for long because where the exotics failed, the weeds prevailed.  So, I tried harder.  I spent many hours every week, pampering every little struggling plant.  I also watered and fertilized and mulched.  I even bought trellises and taller plants to shade other ones from our strong Texas sun.  I made progress and got compliments from neighbors and friends, but it was so much work!

I learned a lot that first year, but I still wanted to know, "Is gardening supposed to be this much work?"  I started getting involved with other gardeners in my neighborhood and online (check out: http://www.gardenweb.com/ to meet other gardeners in your area).  When I tried to talk to other local gardeners about the plants I wanted to grow, I didn't get a lot of responses.  While attending a plant swap, another gardener told me "I only grow native plants. I don't have time to pamper a bunch of pansies, that's for sure".  Whoa!  That triggered a set of sleeping neurons. 

So I started searching for more information native plants and found a bunch!  I found books on natives plants.  There were online forums on native plants.  More importantly, I found a lot of other people interested in native plants and willing to tell me about them.

In a nutshell, I'm sold on native plants and here's why: Native plants are adapted to the climate, soil, and pests, so they don't need fertilizer or pesticides.  Usually native plants need less supplemental water.  They have a better chance to live longer and grow to potential.  Native wildlife has adapted to them and often use them as a source of food, nectar, nesting/bedding material. By planting native plants in my small Houston suburban garden, we attract all types of wildlife such as squirrels, opossums, raccoons, birds, butterflies, honey bees, dragonflies, and lots more.  Furthermore, I spend a lot less time on my garden these days, and I get even more compliments than before.

A sustainable garden is one that you can maintain and has the appropriate amount of work and satisfaction(only you can decide on amounts of each). Using native plants in your garden can attribute to both.

Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by RegionIf you want to learn more about the native plants in your area, look for native plan organizations.  In Texas, there is a an organization called the Native Plant Society of Texas.  (http://npsot.org/

 Native Texas Gardens: Maximum Beauty Minimum UpkeepIt has been a severe winter for us here in the South this year.  I can bet that we will all be replacing some plants that didn't make it through the cold.  With spring right around the corner, it is time to start thinking about what changes you will make to your gardens. 

So, my suggestion is think native.  It's a sustainable choice.  Besides the fact that they are better for your environment, your wallet and your back will thank you.

There are lots of books with information about using plants in your garden.  For my area, I especially like the ones by Wasowski.