When most people think of landscaping their yards, their minds often jump to planting swaths of bright, sunny annuals or exotic-looking perennials with off-season interest. While plants like petunias, buddleia, impatiens, and salvia are garden staples, there are plants that grow naturally right here in New Jersey that are beautiful and often overlooked!
If you have ever taken a stroll through the Pine Barrens in the Springtime, you may have noticed some unusual looking vegetation peppered in throughout the Pitch Pines and Blueberry bushes. Plants like Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Windflowers, Prairie Smoke, and Solomon’s Seal all grow native in New Jersey. Even edible plants like ramps and wild ginger can be found in your backyard!
Using native plants in your garden or landscaping features add more than just novelty to your yard; they are great for the environment, too! Plants that grow native to the slightly acidic soils of NJ do not require as much maintenance as plants foreign to our area do. For example, these plants do not require fertilizer. While there are ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ fertilizers available, fertilizers can be extremely damaging to the environment. Runoff from rainfall carries excess fertilizer into groundwater reserves and waterways, leading to an abundance of nutrients and increases the potential for algal blooms. These plants have low water demands unlike non-native plants and can do wonders for helping shore up unstable or loose earth, and well as to promote water percolation down through the soil to aquifers rather than become runoff and cause erosion.
These local beauties are hugely beneficial to animals, especially pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds and bats! While some non-native plants act as a huge draw for pollinators, they do not have the nutrients that those animals require. Non-native plants also cannot provide the same level of shelter or safety for local animals.
From a strictly biological standpoint, the benefits of using native plants in your garden or as an entire lawn alternative are limitless. These plants promote local biodiversity without the introduction of an exotic and potentially invasive plant. Not all non-native plants are invasive, meaning that they reproduce in such a manner that they overwhelm local species populations and decrease the diversity of plants in a given area. However, whenever a plant is introduced to an area it isn’t native to there is a huge risk that the plant will reproduce and push out all of the native growth in that area.
All of this is not to say that planting non-native plants is cursing your yard or neighborhood to a future of a non-native monocrop! Many plants that are commercially available at nurseries and garden centers have been around for years, and have not overrun local communities. Instead, just consider planting native species to add to your existing garden features!