Spring planting and native plants

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2014

By Will Sullivan

Guest columnist

Now that weather forecasters have said the last freeze of the year has passed, it is time to get serious about spring planting.

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I’m not talking about vegetables here, even though that is my favorite form of gardening. I’m talking flowers and landscaping. A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Doug Tallamy spoke at Crosby Memorial Library on the importance of planting native plants as part of Crosby Arboretum’s Lecture Series. Tallamy is a professor in the Dept. of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, emphasis here and in his lecture was wildlife ecology.

Native plants, and not a lot of the plants most people plant in their yards, are important to wildlife, especially insects and birds.

Yes, I said insects. Most songbirds people like to see in their yards feed on insects and feed their young on insects. Also, the gorgeous butterflies that most people also love to see in their yards are insects and the caterpillars so many people don’t think they like are one of the life stages of butterflies.

Tallamy described those broad, green lawns, beloved by homeowners in the suburbs, as “deserts” because they provide no food for native wildlife. Many of the shrubs planted around the foundations of homes are equally barren. There are native azaleas, but they are not the azaleas used for foundation planting or which are scattered around the yard. They essentially do nothing for wildlife.

Somehow, we have become convinced that there are no beautiful native plants. That couldn’t be more wrong. Redbuds, the fringe tree and native plums all have beautiful flowers and all are ecologically important to our wildlife, yet too many of us plant crepe myrtles that are native to Southeast Asia and they do nothing for native wildlife.

About those vast lawns. Tallamy recommends planting large islands of native plants with the lawn consisting primarily of paths around them and of course leaving an area set aside for entertaining with events such as barbecues. Just think of how much less lawn mowing you will have to do.

The list of native plants and trees that provide fodder and other ecological needs for wildlife while being beautiful is quite lengthy.

Tallamy’s book, Bringing Home Nature, contains many of them, however, Crosby Arboretum is all about habitat and plants unique to Pearl River County and can help you decide what to plant. The arboretum holds four native plant sales a year. The spring and the Arbor Day sales have passed, but the aquatic plant sale and the fall plant sale are coming up. The aquatic plant sale will be in July, and arboretum director Pat Drackett tells me that “regular” plants will be available at the aquatic sale, especially for those wet spots in your yard.

Besides their benefits to native wildlife, especially birds and butterflies we so like to see in our yards, native plants have other major benefits for the busy homeowner – they require little care leaving more time for backyard barbecues and are easy on water bills. Of course the “backyard” will be located among the native plantings.

Take time to research native plants and make your life easier.