My yard is almost entirely introduced species. I don’t think being native is an intrinsic good – but I do want to encourage robust and diverse ecosystems, and want my yard (and surrounding greenbelt) to be a part of that. What are best practices in this regard?
Wildflower.org has great resources for finding native plants for your garden and yard.
Google “native gardening” and your location to find organizations and resources to help.
Don’t assume the bigger garden centers know what’s native as opposed to adapted to your environment, and that’s a problem. A lot of plants that seem “adapted” to an area simply do better than other plants because they have no predators or competitors. We’re currently spending money removing them from our greenbelts and parks to keep them from crowding and shading out the native plants the rest of the ecosystem relies on.
Thanks for being proactive!
Good advice from jbecky there. The most valuable thing to find is someone in your specific area who has done some “native landscaping” themselves. Just about everyone I’ve encountered who has done this is happy to share their experiences/wisdom with someone else interested in going this direction. Offer to buy them a lunch or a coffee and chat them up about what worked, what didn’t, etc. Finding such people is the challenge. Reaching out to a community extension educator can be a good start; ask them if they know of anyone in the area who has done native landscaping. Locally-owned/operated small greenhouses, garden centers, etc. can be a very good resource as well; I’m seeing more of them offering vrious native choices, and their longer-term employees often have a good idea who locally has done some of this kind of project you might reach out to…
The more “native”, or as I term it indigenous, the more insect and bird life you may have. Many insects or birds have not adapted to surviving on exotics, thus eliminating them from the area. This could result in secondary problems where certain insects thrive as their natural predators may have been removed.
Also, the more indigenous your garden is, the less likely you will need chemicals to control things, and give you more time to sit in your garden and enjoy a greater abundance of wildlife, than spending time trying to control/maintain it.
Is there a good way to tell which plants are really harmful and which merely tend to expand their territory?
Not without carefully studying the biological community with and without the exotic species. Even with a thorough study to determine which species are negatively/positively impacted, there will be thousands of species in the community left unstudied. The full and complete impact of exotic species may never be known. For example, bobwhite quail in eastern TX have declined (become extirpated). Why? Is it because of the “improved” pastures of Bermudagrass (a highly invasive exotic)? Scientists think this at least contributes greatly because studies have shown that quail do not hang out in Bermudagrass fields. On the other hand, the fall armyworm and many grasshoppers may benefit from the abundance of food Bermudagrass provides. [edit added later: if a non-native species (one introduced by human activity) is expanding its territory, then almost certainly it is outcompeting native species and is almost certainly doing harm to at least some species.]
Could you elaborate? I’m willing to bet the majority of people here disagree with you on this. I’ve done some work in landscaping, and I can understand if you genuinely like the look of your nonnatives, or if the workload of completely replacing your yard’s plant palette seems unappealing. I’d recommend removing any plants which are the spoiled children of your garden (requiring constant fuss, see next paragraph) or species that seem likely to escape into wild areas and wreak havoc (see last paragraph.)
For us in California, if someone firmly doesn’t want to switch to native, I try to lead them away from any plants that require a lot of artificial input, be it water or fertilizer or regular mowing/trimming, and encourage people to relax their standards of maintenance a little–leaving seed heads on the plants rather than deadheading, etc. This of course does apply to native plants, but it can be done with nonnatives too.
On the other hand, you might be able to recognize plants that are problems in the making because they are “too easy.” Is any one species prone to spreading and pushing out neighbors? Is there something that comes up from seed vigorously, even in un-irrigated areas? Heaven forbid, do you have any plants your state/county lists as invasive (sometimes called “noxious weeds”?) These would be the sorts of things that would create problems if they escaped your yard.
That all depends on your standards of maintenance. Plenty of people who like their yards to look more formal do use chemicals to control natives, be it killing indigenous “weeds” with herbicide, to spraying the pest insects on their native plants. (Yes, native plants get the standard arsenal of pest insects too–they aren’t magically immune to white-flies, aphids, scale, mealybug, and ants; in fact in my area native plants in urban setting die of mealybug farmed by Argentine ants.) But as I heard one speaker say, “If you think you have an insect problem, stand ten feet farther away, and then if you can’t see it anymore, it’s fine.” But there are also the people who have entirely nonnative plants and have never applied any chemicals, so it’s definitely a decision you can make.
You might enjoy doing some googling on the “freedom lawn” movement. Also, Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes, a delightful year-long reflection and observation of her 1/10th acre slice of suburban “wilderness”. I think just playing around with native plants is a great start! Natural processes seem to take whatever edge we give and work out from there if we give it a chance.
Just avoid that the introduced species could escape, especially if you live in the countryside and close to protected areas and species and habitat that are sensible to invasions.
We’re probably in almost total agreement here, actually – my phrasing probably has more to do with my politics than my practices. So by “native isn’t an intrinsic good”, I mostly mean that my goal is healthy, diverse ecosystems, not any sort of exclusion.
I’m renting, but I’ve been trying to reign in the rampant Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle, Japanese Stiltgrass, English Ivy, and Lesser Periwinkle that make up most of the understory in my yard. I compost the leaf litter out front and only maintain the lawn because the HOA requires it. I bought a few bushes, all native.
I guess my question is whether there are good lists of species which require more extreme measures: cases like snakehead or laternfly. When there’s a risk of severe ecological harm, I figure I should err a bit more toward removal & report.
Wow, gang of five invasive species, pretty bad ones at that. I would contact the HOA and state that the planted landscaping (I assume that these were planted all over the complex) has invasive and noxious weeds in it and should be replanted with natives or suitable plants. Hint “lower cost of care” is all the HOA will care about.
Personally I would remove those and any other plants listed in your yard.
Try for a habitat or pollinator garden, yes this will require some natives but not all.
Hi Stephen. Your iNat profile says you’re in central Virginia. I see that there’s a Virginia Native Plant Society, with local chapters and their website has a Growing Natives FAQ, several Native Plant Search links and some Invasive Plant Resources.
Shears - so long as your invasives don’t coppice from the stub - like our issues with Australian wattles. For those we need either a tree popper, or approved herbicide.