Melinda's Gardening How To: Adding Natives in the Perennial Garden

Planting Natives

Ready to give native plants a try?

Whether gardening on a balcony, small city lot or an expansive piece of land, you can add native and other pollinator-friendly plants to your garden. Too often we think growing native plants is an all-or-nothing venture. It doesn’t have to be. You might be surprised to find a few pollinator-friendly plants such as purple coneflower, New England aster and bee balm already growing in your garden.  Build on your current gardening efforts and work your way to more natural plantings.

 

Think Substitution

  • Include a few native plants in existing gardens and containers.
  • Replace struggling plants with native plants that provide added pollinator appeal and needed color throughout the growing season.
  • Select plants, including natives that will tolerate the growing conditions.
    • Check the mature size to make sure when the plant reaches its mature size it will still fit in the available space.
    • Evaluate how and how fast the plant will spread
      • Some grow in clumps and gradually spread outward
      • Others spread by seeds creating more plants each year
      • Still others have underground stems (rhizomes) that grow out in multiple directions; requiring more effort to contain them
      • Some spread by several of these methods
    • Cultivars of native plants (nativars) often offer attributes such as smaller size or less aggressive growth habit than the native species. These features often make it easier to grow these in urban and suburban yards. There is debate as to whether these are as an effective food source as locally selected and grown native plants. It will be years before we have the answer on every nativar. So carefully using these along with natives and cultivated plants may be the best option, if space is limited. 

Design with Pollinators in Mind

  • Include a variety of plants with various bloom times, providing food and beauty throughout the growing season.
  • Group plants together so pollinators expend less energy flying from flower to flower to gather nectar and pollen.
  • Allow healthy plants to stand for winter, providing homes for beneficial insects and food for birds. 

Expand on Your Success

  • Create informal garden beds with gently curved borders and allow plants to intermingle in a more casual design.
  • Reduce maintenance and increase seasonal impact with this more relaxed design style.
  • Use more natives and fewer cultivated plants as your confidence builds.
  • Mimic plant combinations you see in nature.

Go All Out

  • Convert a large portion or your whole yard into a natural garden that mimics nature’s spaces.
  • Include signs of civilization to let people know this is an intentional design.
    • A mower wide strip of grass surrounding the natural area, birdhouses, or a fence signal your intent. 

Give New Plantings a bit of TLC

  • Whether planting native or cultivated plants, proper post planting care is essential for success.
  • Water:
    • Water new plantings thoroughly and often enough to keep the root zone slightly moist.
    • Gradually reduce frequency but continue to water thoroughly when the top 4 to 6” of soil are crumbly but moist
    • Once established, in about a year or two, most natives will thrive with just normal rainfall.
      • Do water thoroughly during extended dry periods.
  • Mulch new plantings to:
    • conserve moisture and reduce watering frequency
    • help suppress weeds
  • Pull weeds as soon as they appear:
    • Weeds compete with native and cultivated plants for water and nutrients.
      • Once established, native plants are better able to outcompete weeds, so you’ll be weeding less often.
    • Weeds can serve as host for harmful insects and diseases.
      • Once established, native plants are more tolerant of insect pests and diseases.
      •  

On Going Care

  • Cut back native grasses and perennials in spring. Wait as long as possible to allow beneficial insects to exit their winter homes.
    • Chop up the plant debris and leave it lay in the garden to improve the soil. Or add it to the compost pile.
  • Dig and divide perennials that have outgrown their location, begun to flop or fail to flower.
    • In general, spring flowering perennials are divided in fall; fall blooming perennials in spring and those that flower in summer can be divided in either spring or fall.
    • But experienced gardeners have discovered that you divide the perennials when you have time. Most will do fine as long as they receive proper post transplanting care. 

 

Written by gardening expert, Melinda Myers. Melinda Myers is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience. She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Gardening How-To with you!