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Inviting native plants to your garden

Why consider growing native plants in your garden? Native plants are adapted to local soil and conditions and therefore require less maintenance such as fertilizing and watering. Native plants provide nectar, pollen and seeds for birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other wildlife.

Native plants promote biodiversity and decrease soil erosion while reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides. Native plants support conservation, stabilize soil, filter water and purify air. In short, native plants are both beneficial and beautiful.

Incorporating native plants and wildflowers is one of my gardening goals so let me introduce a few favorite plants. Wild indigo (Baptisia Australis,) a lovely long lived perennial member of the legume family, thrives in zones 3-9. The plant grows 3-4 feet tall in bushy clumps with soft blue green leaves. Inch long blue flowers bloom for 2-3 weeks in late spring. Then 2-3 inch long charcoal black pods emerge that rattle when shaken; both pods and flowers may be used in floral arrangements. This plant may be started from seeds, grows in full sun, is drought tolerant once established and deer resistant. Cutting stems back in fall, late winter or early spring allows new shoots to emerge; the pods can add winter garden interest. As the plant may become floppy, short fencing helps to hold it upright. This plant is called wild or false indigo because it was used to make blue dye.

Summer brings butterfly weed (Asclepias Tuberosa), a member of the milkweed family native to Eastern and Southwestern North America. Luckily it is most abundant in the eastern half of the US; in this part of Ohio we often see fields of this beautiful plant in bloom. This bushy erect plant with a deep taproot grows in zones 3-9 and requires full sun. These plants tend to emerge slowly in spring so it’s best not to cut them back. Leaves are a glossy dark green with a hairy underside; showy orange blossoms in clusters appear in late spring through summer when bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are drawn to the nectar. Caterpillars may aggressively feed on this plant as it is a host plant for several butterfly larvae. The plant’s 3-6 inch long pods release seeds; it may be grown from either seeds or root cuttings. Butterfly weed is drought tolerant when established and not favored by deer although rabbits may eat the plant; insecticidal soap can be used for aphids.

Another late summer to early fall favorite is Chelone Glabra commonly known as Turtlehead because of the shape of the blossoms. Found along stream banks in damp soil in the Eastern half of the US, this member of the figwort family grows best in full sun or partial shade in zones 3-9. This plant has opposite, toothed, narrow leaves and grows to 2-3 feet tall. White blossoms with a pink tinge and two lips grow densely on spikes.

When bees seek nectar, it’s amusing to watch them disappear inside the blooms. This is another mammal resistant plant that has been used for medicinal purposes.

For more information about the advantages of native plant gardening, refer to the following:

∫ Native Landscaping for Birds, Bees, Butterflies and Other Wildlife – OSU Extension

∫ Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants – National Park Service

∫ Why Garden with Native Wildflowers – US Forest Service.

In addition, the National Wildlife Federation offers a Native Plant Finder where you can search for plants by using your zip code.

About the Author:

Mary Marks has been an OSU Extension Master Gardener since 2010 when she moved to

Marietta, Ohio. Her gardening interests include perennial and native plants.

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