Going Native!

By Terry Reardon

Invasive plants are destructive and virtually impossible to remove once they become established.  Look at a kudzu-draped forest or a waterway choked with hydrilla. These invasives are killers, cutting off oxygen and sunlight to native plants, weakening them and eventually outcompeting them. Millions of dollars are spent annually trying to eradicate invasive plants without success.

Another type of costly invasive that we’re all familiar with—and even nurture—is grass.  Many of the varieties in our lovely green lawns are not native to Prince William County, Virginia, or even the United States. For example, Kentucky bluegrass, despite its name, originated in Europe, Asia and northern Africa.

There are several significant drawbacks to the maintenance of a sweeping expanse of grass. The custom of growing a luxurious lawn originated in England, where there was sufficient rainfall to support the native plants. Many areas of the US are too dry to cultivate a large area of non-native grasses without using a huge amount of water—50 to 70 percent of residential water use in the summer.

Another drawback to the maintenance of a flawless green lawn is the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are detrimental to our waterways and, locally have taken a heavy toll on the Chesapeake Bay.

Lastly, and less well-known, is the concept of a monoculture, meaning that most lawns are made up of a single species of plant. A monoculture, especially a chemically nurtured monoculture, reduces biodiversity by reducing food and habitat for wildlife, and is less able to resist disease, infestations, and invasives. 

If you think your yard is too small to cause all these problems, think about your yard, all the yards in your neighborhood, in Prince William County, and beyond. A massive water guzzling, chemical consuming monoculture! 

How can you make changes that are good for the local wildlife, the environment, and your pocketbook? Tear up the sod and plant your yard in native plants. Natives have developed over the eons to live in a particular area so they don’t need extra water or expensive chemicals to thrive. 

Also, healthy and established natural communities are better able to fend off an attack by invasive plant species. And, most delightfully, once established, these plants will provide food and habitat for songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

Which plants are native to Virginia? You can choose from a large variety of grasses, ferns, wildflowers, shrubs and trees to fulfill any landscaping need including lawns and gardens. There are many beautiful and showy wildflowers native to Virginia, such as black-eyed Susan, columbine, and bee balm. Native grasses include several bluestems and sedges, while nine varieties of ferns will give a suburban yard a lush, lacy beauty.

There are many resources available on the Internet that list native plants, where to find them and how to plant them. A good place to start is the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website here. This site has plant lists, how-to’s and lots of information. The Virginia Native Plant Society has a comprehensive list of nurseries that stock and sell native plants here. This site also has resources, publications, and guides to educate the new native plant landscaper. 

Convert your yard from an expanse of green to a riot of color, texture, and variety using native Virginia plants. You’ll save yourself money, benefit the environment, and have the pleasure of watching and learning about the wildlife living in your own backyard.

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