A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem,
or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. We consider the
flora present at the time Europeans arrived in North America as the species
native to the eastern United States. Native plants include all kinds of
plants from mosses and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.
Are native plants a better choice for your garden?
The answer lies, in part, in your own judgement. Native woodland wildflowers
will never give your shady garden the riots of color that can be had with
impatiens and caladiums, but if you like to garden with elegant and underused
plants, they are great. If you want to create a garden that emulates nature,
they are essential. As with any plant that you want to grow, however, the
right plant must be matched with the right spot. There are a myriad of
native plants that thrive in every type of habitat imaginable. It's your
job to do some research to find the best species for your hot, dry slope,
that wet swale in the back, or the dry shade under your oak tree.
Does digging wildflowers from the wild hurt the environment?
Absolutely! Removing wildflowers from the wild is harmful for three reasons.
First, you diminish the natural population and consequently reduce the
diversity within that population. With less diversity, a plant population
may be less capable of responding to environmental changes; it may perish
if suddenly stressed by disease, insects, or sudden extremes in weather.
Second, nature is likely to fill the vacuum you create when you dig up
a wildflower with a plant of a different species, often an invasive weed.
Finally, wild collected plants often perform poorly in the garden. Plants
propagated in a nursery or grown from wild collected seed or cuttings,
are much more likely to survive transplanting.
Should I fertilize my wildflowers?
Many native plants are well adapted to soils with meager nutrients. Most
native woodland perennials do well with the nutrients that are released
slowly by the decomposition of leaves. Prairie plants may have a greater
need for lime than for fertilizer in areas where the soil is naturally
very acidic. We fertilize our plants very little, and rely on organic mulches
such as shredded leaves to supply nutrients. When we do fertilize, organic
sources of nutrients are applied in the fall every three years; a small
amount of fertilizer is applied only to the plant species that require
the extra nutrients.
What is the best mulch to use on my woodland wildflower garden?
Woodland wildflowers flourish when mulched with slightly decomposed leaves.
Shred or compost leaves that do not break down quickly, such as those from
oak and beech trees, before applying them to beds of wildflowers.
Where can I get native plants?
Buy plants from a reputable nursery or grow them from seed yourself. You
may be surprised to learn that some wildflowers are still taken from the
wild to be sold at commercial nurseries, particularly the slow growing
trilliums, orchids, and lilies. This practice has a negative impact on
biodiversity and often the plants don't survive. When buying native plants
make sure that the nursery propagates what it sells or buys from wholesalers
who propagate plants from nursery grown stock plants. Fortunately, conservation-minded
native plant nurseries that specialize in propagating and selling native
plants have sprung up all over the country; your local native plant society
may be able to recommend one to you. You can also check our Plant
Sources Page for tips on finding sources for native plants.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great resource for all
kinds of native plant and wildflower information. The Center's web site
at www.wildflower.org lists state
wildflower and native plant societies.