Native plants can be a good starting point for new gardeners

By: Emily Jones | C&G Newspapers | Published April 17, 2019

 Native plants, including milkweed, will help to attract pollinators to your garden.

Native plants, including milkweed, will help to attract pollinators to your garden.

Shutterstock image

METRO DETROIT — Looking for a way to improve your garden, help native insects and animals, and reduce water runoff while at the same time having a unique talking point? If these choices sound attractive, then planting a native garden might be the right path.

Native gardens are not the most conventional choice, especially when compared to a highly polished, manicured lawn, but they have their own charm and seem to be increasing in popularity.

“The pollinators will go to them. There’s many, many pollinators. … There’s hummingbirds, dragonflies — they naturally go to them. You don’t have to have a specific butterfly garden,” said Karen Burke, Macomb County Michigan State University Extension master gardener coordinator.

Master gardener Dave Ross, of the Home Depot in Harper Woods, personally grows specific types of plants to attract insects.  

“I grow a lot of milkweed because I absolutely love monarch butterflies, and that’s where they primarily grow their eggs. … They’re beautiful plants,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, if one is tired of spending money on fertilizers to keep grass and annuals growing, planting flowers that are native to Michigan may be a better option. Also, native plants are much easier to grow, as long as they are not started directly from seeds.  

“It’s kind of a long process to start them from seed. … We’re in Zone 5 down here, which means that we can grow just about anything. We can grow anything that can grow.“ Ross said.

Burke said that it’s important to know the definition of “native plants” before jumping into gardening.

“Native plants are plants that were present at the time that the Europeans arrived in America. Just because something is native in Michigan doesn’t mean it will be in Texas or Florida,” she said.

However, people cannot simply go out to a field and collect the plants they want.

“You just want to make sure that people don’t go out and collect plants out in the wild, because that can do damage to the ecosystem,“ Ross warned.

Native flowers and plants in general survive much better because they are in their most optimal environment to thrive. The same cannot be said for many other types of flowers and plants.

“(Native plants) do not need as much care to become established. They work very hard to reduce water pollution,” said Burke.

This can be accomplished through something like a rain garden, a type of native garden that has its own benefits.

“A rain garden does not have to be a large area, and there are many tools online to do one,” said Burke.

Rain gardens can decrease runoff and flooding, because according to the USDA, “The deep root systems of many native Midwestern plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.”

Planting native species also vastly reduces the need to mow and trim, which leads to less fossil fuel and energy usage. Planting this type of landscape is also cheaper in the long run, because “you do not need a lot of fertilizer to care for these plants. You don’t have to keep buying plants over and over. These are perennials,” said Burke.

Someone who is not a master gardener should not fear when pursuing this type of native garden. In fact, it may be a perfect first project.

“It would be the perfect way to start gardening. This is something that does not require as much attention as other ways. You can actually pick enough from the selection to have flowers blooming through spring, summer and fall. A lot of these can be cut for bouquets,” Burke said.

Some types of plants that she recommends include yarrow and baneberries. Jack-in-the-pulpit, butterfly weed, wild geranium and cardinal flowers are also good choices. For trees, honey locust, Kentucky coffeetree, juneberry, potentilla, ninebark and viburnum trees are good choices.