This is my Guest Post for the SEA Homeschoolers Newsletter. January is here, and those seed catalogs have already started arriving!
When we go to the gardening store or look at the seed and plant catalogs that arrive every spring, it can be hard to tell which plants are native, much less why we might want to garden with native plants in the first place. There are so many pretty flowers to make our lives brighter! But there are plenty of good reasons to make the effort to landscape with native plants, even if we have to look harder to find them.
First of all, many non-native plants can become seriously invasive, taking over not only your garden but also parks and woodlands nearby. Think of kudzu and dandelions, which are pests of varying seriousness. I can buy three types of dandelion seed from one of my catalogs; they were introduced in the first place by people who valued them as food. There are many more invasive plants, and most of them started in someone’s garden, although some have been introduced inadvertently. Invasive plants take over the habitats of native plants, forcing them out. But why should we value native plants in the first place?
Native plants are part of our local biomes.
When they are disrupted, the entire food web can be disrupted. There has been a lot of attention paid to bees and butterflies recently, but it goes much further than needing flowers for pollen and nectar. At the beginning of the life cycle, insects need native plants to lay their eggs on so that the eggs will survive long enough to hatch, and so that there is a food source for the larvae after hatching. Insects are now having to lay eggs on plants that are less than optimal, or even toxic to their offspring. (As a side note, any plants that don’t specifically say they are not sprayed with the insect-toxic neonicotinoids most likely are. They don’t wash off, they are incorporated into the plant, so even plants that are supposed to be good for butterflies or bees may be killing them.)
So what can we do?
Yes, plant a native garden, and do it with your kids. Food webs and biomes and botany and the life cycles of plants and animals aren’t things that are happening somewhere in the woods and in books. They are relevant, and happening in your own backyard. My mom is a biology professor, and when she learned we were moving to Minnesota she immediately bought me “Landscaping with Native Plants in Minnesota.” We have watched Monarch butterfly caterpillars chowing down on our swamp milkweed plants, and counted bees for The Great Sunflower Project. We were ecstatic to see hawks nest in our oak tree for a few years, and we’ve seen shrews and an opossum and even a woodchuck in our urban yard, not to mention all the rabbits.
Click here to read the rest of the article, with lots of suggestions about how to plant environmentally friendly gardens with your kids!