Friday, April 9, 2010

Think before you plant natives

Yes, even gardening nowadays has become politicized. What was once a simple lawn has now become a symbol for decadence and imperialism and a waste of dwindling resources. But should you feel guilt every time you go to the park and play Frisbee on the greens? I don't think so.

While I'm not a lawn advocate by any means, I also don't think that better behaved non-native species should be totally demonized and removed. Non-native lawns here in Portland for instance can require very little resources if a person is so inclined. I encourage my clients to fertilize their lawns by letting the grass clippings add nitrogen back into the soil and to let the lawn go dormant in the summer in an effort to save water. In my mind, this a responsible way to manage lawns, and come on, lawns are great for laying in the sun and playing ball with your toddler.

When it comes to planting natives for the benefit of local fauna I say go ahead. But just because you buy a plant labeled "native" doesn't mean that it's going to naturally thrive in your yard. If you purchase, say, a plant that has naturalized to an alpine environment it may not do so well in your hot, fenced back yard.

Just because a plant is native to your region doesn't mean that it won't be an invader in your front yard. Salal and Mahonia for instance can go a little crazy if left unchecked and they can be difficult or at least annoying to remove. Use your brain and do some research on a native plant just as you would any other plant. Know what kind of soil it likes and what kind of exposure it can take.

If you're really into "going native" make a plan. Do some research on what your neighborhood looked like before the Plaid Pantrys and the Burger Kings went in. Was it a woodland environment? Wetland? Grassy plain? If you do it right you could potentially attract birds and other wildlife that haven't visited your neighborhood since the Civil War and who knows, you might become the next Lady Bird Johnson...

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