Gardening With Native Plants

Whenever I speak about backyard habitats and their importance for insects, people frequently comment that they have a butterfly bush and see many butterflies on them, so why go to the trouble of planting native plants?

While a butterfly bush, an alien plant, attracts adult butterflies, it is not a host plant for even one species of butterfly. So, where do the butterflies come from that frequent butterfly bushes? They must be coming from nearby native plants because without host plants to lay their eggs on there will be no adult butterflies.

Bird watchers should also welcome native plants to their yards because birds feed many insects to their young, acting as a natural pest control. It’s a win-win situation for all.

One reward for property owners who plant native plants—besides seeing plenty of insects and birds in their yards—is that native plants can tolerate droughts and wet phases better than alien plants. Once they’re established, they only require watering during prolonged dry spells.

It is important to provide a constant bloom from spring to fall because insects need nectar throughout their lifespan.

I highly recommend Douglas W. Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home” to learn about the connection between native plants and insects and the effects of alien plants on our wildlife. The book also has lists of plants sorted by region and plants that attract certain butterflies. Other resources are the National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation.

Our Garden Year 2018

The year 2018 brought record-breaking precipitation to our western Pennsylvania garden. After a short and late spring, the hot and humid summer lasted into early October. We seldom had to fill our small pond, which was home to three green frogs and several kinds of dragonflies. They provided me with plenty of photo opportunities while also keeping the number of mosquitoes down.

Our native plants were able to cope with frequent rainfalls while some annuals did not thrive until we experienced a relative dry spell. Perennials have a short blooming season and it is very important to plan successive blooms from spring to fall to provide nectar for insects. The earliest bloomers in our garden are redbud, wild columbine and false indigo.

The heat prompted some plants, such as this common milkweed, to bloom earlier than usual, an observation we made with other plants as well. This was a matter of concern because by early fall there were not many nectar sources available for insects. Luckily, our zinnias and salvia continued to bloom well into fall and became very popular with butterflies and bees.

Would you like to add some native plants to your garden? Make sure they are appropriate for your region. To get you started you may want to check out the websites of the National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society. Happy gardening!