Right plant, right place

Native flower, Aster novae-angliae /iStock

It’s spring! The long-awaited season where landscapes fill with color, and we look forward to finally spending time outdoors, enjoying the sounds of birds, newly unfurling leaves, spring flowers and the buzz of bees all around. Most gardeners are itching to start that next project, be it a new bed or revamping an old one. It turns out, what we do in our gardens can have positive repercussions for wildlife in our stressed landscape.

Wildlife needs native plants to survive. Birds, for instance, need to feed insects to their young, especially juicy protein-rich caterpillars. Those insects depend on native plants; they are not able to eat ornamental varieties from other parts of the world. Many birds also need calorie-rich native berries in autumn as the weather turns colder. Unfortunately, many of our yards are the opposite of a vibrant native plant community. Instead, they offer little in the way of food, water, shelter and space for insects, birds and other wildlife.

Much land in the U.S. is covered in suburban housing, just like the ones in our community, with manicured lawns and tidy garden beds full of ornamental plants. These plants are beautiful, but to a pollinator, it is the equivalent of being served a wax replica of a meal at a restaurant—beautiful, but not edible.

What if we could rethink our yards, and make them wildlife magnets? Consider making your yard an oasis for insects and birds by adding native perennials with a range of plants that bloom from spring to fall. Your yard will be both beautiful and functional. And native plants, once established, don’t need much water or care, because they have evolved to thrive in our area. Who doesn’t want to do less work and still enjoy a beautiful garden? Throw in some trees, shrubs and “host plants” that caterpillars can munch on and you can sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

OK, you are on board. But where to get these plants and how to know where to plant them? Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy to the rescue! After a successful first plant sale last year, we are bringing a larger variety of native plants to the sale this year with the added concept of plant bundles that will help you build beautiful mixed plant beds that look as good as they function. It’s hard to pass up a bundle with a name like Songbird Sustainer and Deer Don’t Dine—deer resistant plants! Plant bundles are organized for sun or shade, clay soils or dry soils, for erosion control or for attracting pollinators. There is even a bundle full of plants that can replace your lawn with ground covers that don’t require mowing and provide habitat value.

Unlike plants from conventional nurseries, these plants are small plugs, which keeps the cost to the consumer down. But rest assured, if planted in the right spot, they will grow and establish just like their nursery counterparts. It will just take a little patience, some water and some netting or other deterrent to keep deer, rodents and rabbits from eating the plants while they are still getting a foothold. All plants are locally sourced and adapted to our environment.

Ready to learn more? Please check out our website. Our online plant sale goes live on April 1, and you can pick up plants on May 20. A big shout out to the Unitarian Universalist Church for providing us the space for the plant sale!