Use Regional Native Plants
Native plants are species that are indigenous to a specific region, for example, the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They are adapted to the local soil and climate. As people moved from the Old World to the Americas, they brought exotic plants, and frequently changed the landscapes to resemble those that they knew in Europe and elsewhere. The result of the tendency to try to reproduce plants and plant arrangements from other countries is that thousands of acres of turf grass and many alien invasive species have been introduced.
Native Plant Benefits:
- Best adapted to local conditions, for example, no need to use chemical fertilizers.
- Water conservation, that is, once plants are established in the right place, no need for supplemental watering.
- Reduced maintenance over the long run. While native plants are not maintenance-free, if they are placed in the landscape based on their preferred conditions, they require less care than non-native species.
- Won’t harm natural areas, e.g., won’t become invasive.
- High habitat value provides food, shelter, and nesting areas for wildlife.
- Great variety of species for all conditions and create a “sense of place.”
Purify the Air and Water by Planting Native Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials
Forest buffers, rain gardens, and other conservation plantings provide many water quality benefits, including reduction of stormwater runoff, water purification, water cooling, and groundwater recharge. Another great benefit of such plantings is the improvement of air quality. Air pollution is a particular concern in the Chesapeake Bay region, since some of the worst levels in the nation have been found here.
American Forests lists the following air quality benefits of trees, for example: “Air pollution in our cities, and even our suburbs, is a serious concern as we enter the twenty-first century. The burning of fossil fuels has introduced a steady flow of deadly pollutants into our atmosphere, yet very few urban areas can meet national clean air standards. Luckily, we are surrounded by efficient air cleaning machines—trees. Trees sequester many pollutants from the atmosphere, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter of ten microns or less (PM10).”
Trees, shrubs, and other perennials, especially when planted in layers, can provide advantages besides direct air pollution removal. Evapotranspiration—the process of drawing water up through the roots and plant and evaporating it from the leaves—cools surrounding air temperatures. Their shade can also help cool local temperatures in urban areas, which can reduce ground-level ozone formation. This helps reduce smog and the “heat island effect.”
Did You Know?
“Native plants sustain native pollinators and other beneficial wildlife, compared to non-native plants which often provide poor habitat. For instance, one native oak tree can provide habitat for over 500 butterfly and moth species! An exotic species like a Bradford pear, by contrast, might provide habitat for one or two species.” —Professor Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware
Notably, 75 percent of food crops require fertilization by animal pollinators in order to produce fruit and seed.
Provide Wildlife Habitat by Planting Native Species
Water, food, shelter (including nesting spots), and space to live out their lives in a fairly undisturbed way are the basic things all animals need. The more of these elements we can provide in our suburban and urban landscapes, the better off wildlife will be. If we provide a diversity of habitats which include native plants, and few if any pesticides, more of the locally-evolved species will be able to coexist with us.
We are not talking about attracting wolves and elk, which were in the area in ancient times. We are, instead, hoping to attract small creatures that you will enjoy observing occasionally, if you are lucky. The most common will likely be birds, from robins and mockingbirds, to hummingbirds and hawks. There may also be small mammals like raccoons, opossums, foxes, and field mice. If you are outside a lot, you may get to see the occasional reptile, like a small snake or turtle. Amphibians like toads, frogs, and salamanders will be around if there is water nearby where they can lay eggs. Butterflies and other pollinating invertebrates will be attracted if you plant wildflowers and other native plants. There is nothing like a garden full of butterflies to put a smile on a wildlife gardener’s face.
Native Plant Resources
▪Click here to browse the web version and to download Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed, produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
▪Click here for an online searchable version of Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This expanded online guide includes a geo-locator feature to identify plants suited to your location, and a searchable database of the native plants that meet your conditions. Here you can find native plants of the same type, shape, color, size, and other desirable plant characteristics for creating attractive and more natural landscapes in your yard.
▪Landscaping with Native Plants—produced by the Maryland Native Plant Society—is a guide for the home gardener who wants to enjoy and learn about native plants. The guide can be downloaded at — www.mdflora.org/publications/gardenersguidelines/gguides.html.
▪Purchasing Native Plants. For native plant sources, visit the Maryland Native Plant Society’s website at — www.mdflora.org/publications/nurseries.html.
▪A list of native plants for rain gardens, excerpted from Rain Gardens Across Maryland, can be downloaded here.