Native Gardening

Some Inspiration

I was reading an article about native gardening in the February/March edition of the National Wildlife Foundations magazine. I saw a few good ideas for incorporating such a creature in your yard slowly, so as not to disturb or shock the lawn only neighbors. It kind of inspired me to share my little gems of wisdom. Over the years (not that Ive had many, Im only in college after all!) Ive only ever worked in an organic garden. My Dad tried to grow the lawn with chemicals and stuff for a few years, but it did terribly. It definitely didnt grow as well as our flower beds, and we spent much less time taking care of them than he paid attention to the green! (Green is also a way to refer to a yard, but it usually means a sports field or park. I guess I can twist my language around if I want to, though, cant I?)

For reference, a ‘lawn’ means just grass, and a ‘garden’ means flowers and plants in the U.S. A lawn is usually grown in the front ‘yard’, the yard being the word that refers to the total of all outdoor space a homeowner owns. The direction in front of ‘ means either front yard= the part of the yard located in front of the house, back yard means the part of the yard behind the house. yard’ The garden is usually located in the back yard, though there may sometimes be a few choice flowers in the front yard. Do all of my non American readers now understand all of this regional vocabulary? Great if you do, send a message if you are confused. Im not sure it matters, as you could still get the gist of the meaning just by reading, but I like to be specific about these things. And who cares if I never mention any of they keywords again? Youve just learned something, and knowledge is always valuable.

Regional Gardening

Thats actually a huge pet peeve of mine. People taking plants from wherever they consider home to be, and sticking them into their yard in a new home, which is located in a different region. For one thing, a lot of the plants you bring will just die. Thats why they have the hardiness zone maps, because plants like to live in their little areas, and are very reticent about moving. For another thing, you could be destroying native flora and fauna. Have you heard about rabbits in Australia? They are an invasive animal species, as they are native to European/North America type climates. Now native animals are being starved, because rabbits are eating all of their food.

Plants have the same problem. Almost every plant that you think of as a weed is actually a fast growing plant that is not native to your area. Anyone ever heard of a dandelion? I think most people that live stateside kind of loathe them. They are actually an invasive species brought in by the pilgrims! Invasive plants not only spread really fast, they also choke out native plants. Because they aren`t native to the area, no animals eat them. That means that there is less space for plants that the local animals eat to grow, and there is also less for the animals to eat! Are you trying to starve cute fuzzy animals here? No? Then stop propagating invasive species!

I happen to dislike this plant, but so do the (rampantly overpopulated) deer. It means that I`ll have at least one plant growing besides the trees...

I happen to dislike this plant, but so do the (rampantly overpopulated) deer. It means that I`ll have at least one plant growing besides the trees. At least this one is variagated!

West Coast

Going back to native gardening, I have a few solid ideas about easy ways to incorporate native plants. The first one, for me, is to go with the type of plants that make sense for your region, slowly incorporating specifically native plants once youve got at least regionally correct plants down. Basically what I mean there is that you shouldnt be planting ridiculous things like bleeding heart and ladys slippers in the middle of your Arizona garden. First of all, those are plants that love moisture. Second of all, they love shade. Honestly, you have none of that. go for the succulents and cacti, my friend. There are many flowers available for desert gardening, including some lovely cacti that are as pretty as roses.
<h3 style="text-align:center;"><span style="color:#22dd5d;">East Coast</span></h3>
If you live on the East coast, my advice is rather the opposite. Instead of clear cutting your yard of all of those pesky trees and sticking in five tons of rocks, cacti and succulents for a nice bit of New Mexico, stick with the marigolds and hostas. Hostas are lovely plants that will love to grow under your trees, and they actually look a bit like the succulents, such as aloe, that you remember from back home. Ferns are also great choices, though they are softer looking and aren
t similar to anything that grows in the dessert, except for the fact that they are green.

The Region of Your Backyard


sun calc

Site`s picture

You should also grow plants based on how much light you have in your yard, just for practicalitys sake.   If you have a ton of trees in your land, you should grow shade loving plants. (Remember those bleeding heart and ferns we talked about earlier? They love shade, as long as it is paired with moisture.) While you can gauge for yourself just how much light you have in different parts of the yard, you need to remember that you are measuring lifht throughout the day, not just at the time you are looking. The most practical and definitive solution is to use some light measurement stakes. Using the keyword 'garden light meter' on Google, I found 11,600,000 results. Ive actually used the Sun Calculator brand for a science experiment before, and I thought it worked pretty well. But of the four I had, one was broken, so Im not sure if that is a quality problem, or I just got a lemon. Overall, I really liked it though.
<h3 style="text-align:center;"><span style="color:#22dd5d;">How Much Rain Do You Get?</span></h3>

an assortment sold at etsy

an assortment sold at etsy

<p style="text-align:left;">Do you live in an area where it rains all of the time? You should have plants that like having a lot of water. If the ground is always wet, you should go for plants that prefer bogs or living on the side of rivers or lakes. Unless you have an actual lake, the waterlilies won
t be happy with ground that is simply damp- they want to take a bath 24-7! Is the water a little less dependable, and your ground less than soggy? You might want to consider planting a rain garden. There is a very practical tutorial at ecosystem gardening that also gives a firm explanation of why rain gardens are so useful to the environment. Do you occasionally have Summer dry periods, or do you have yearly droughts? You should get plants that can handle the lack of water. Usually flora with really waxy leaves will retain moisture best, such as succulents like hen and chicks, or the variety mix at the right.

We`re on a Hill

Is your garden on a hill? You may find that groundcovers, such as periwinkle, creeping thyme, and walk on me, (I only know folk names, most American gardeners don`t bother with the scientific names) do the best job of resisting erosion, and even preventing it! Is the top of the hill rather windswept, or are you on a plain or high lands area? There is a whole article on the subject here, but I can give you some quick ideas for plantings. Planting a few wind hardy trees is probably the best solution, as they will help shelter the plants and act as a sort of wind shield. the Gardenista blog recommends ginkgo and a green ash tree, among others. My father recommends white pine. I prefer the ginkgo, but then, I`m not a huge fan of coniferous trees. He has a Masters in tree stuff, so I guess he`s qualified to give advice on trees. (I`m not really sure what the Masters is in, as he has too many Masters degrees to keep track of. Actually, last count, he had three. I think he`s going to work on a History Masters once he is at least semi retired. Though I can`t even remember how to spell my own Mother`s name, so maybe it is just a matter of faulty memory.)

Soil Type


Trees can help wind ravaged gardens

What type of soil do you have? Plants with strong roots will successfully break through very dense clay soil , while plants with excessively shallow roots will happily live in sandy soil. There are actually a total of three basic soil types. Loamy soil is what we think when we say soil, as it is rich in nutrients, relatively loosely clumped, and sweet smelling. Most every plant will survive and thrive in this type of soil, as it is the plant world`s version of Goldilock`s just right porridge. Sandy soil is literally just sand, though there may be a bit of loam mixed into it in some regions. Dune grasses and other plants you`d find at the beach are happiest in this type of soil, though there are many more colorful options available as well. Clay soil is where the clay that makes sculptures and ceramics comes from, though not all clay is bright white. The clay in my back yard happens to be almost a dark orange! There are many great plants you can use in clay soil, and a common practice is to use those to break up the soil a bit before introducing plants with slightly tenderer roots. If your clay soil is so dense that not even these will work, I suggest putting a thing layer of compost on top, and planting those same plants there. They`ll be grounded in the loam on top, and gradually gain the strength to break up your stubborn soil.

Soil Acidity

You remember using those Litmus strips in middle school to explore the range between acidity and base? This is one real life application, and you can look up a few more details at this site. Even if you could have cared less about that lesson, your plants are rather obsessed with it. While a rhododendron may be cool as a cucumber when planted under your pine tree, your boxwood will hate you. There are some plants that are like your younger self and rather disregard pH, like the famous hydrangeas that color just like a Litmus strip themselves! A hydrangea will be blue in basic soil, and pink in acidic soil. You can amend the soil so that your plants will be happier, by adding lime to make it more basic or composted pine needles to make it more acidic. OF course I`d prefer it if you kept your soil natural and worked with it, but I can understand the frustration of not being able to grow that one flower you love. My whole yard is in deep shade, and you don`t know how much I`ve mourned the fact that I can`t really grow a vegetable garden. Maybe I should plant some mushrooms?

It is ideal to group plants of a similar acid preference in the same beds so they can giggle and chat and share nutrients. What, you don`t think plants giggle? Plant some roses. Then you`ll understand. Preferably miniature roses, as they are just the cutest things. I have a patch of grocery store roses that were supposed to die a month after I bought them, because they were super cheap. Instead of dying, they thrived and grew. That`s more than I can say for my knockout rose, which cost three times as much!

Your Plants

Hybridization is, to an extent, a natural process. Genetic modification isn`t!) Always check with your local gardening resource centers. They actually have people paid to give you gardening advice, so you might as well use them. They can give you advice on what plants will grow in your area, and what will kill off the bunnies or other critters. Do your research before you buy plants for your garden. Many popular garden plants are actually invasive, and if you are concerned with good gardening practices, you might also look into the ethics of genetically modified garden plants. You may want to look into heirloom plants as well, as they are plants that have been bred through natural hybridization and kept for centuries.

The main thing about native gardening is just respecting where you are. Take into account every facet of what makes your site unique, and grow for where you are now. If you do that, you may be surprised to find that the result is even lovelier than what you thought was your dream garden!

What are your tips for regional and ecologically friendly gardening? How do you work with difficult gardening situations, like poor soil or poor climate?


9 thoughts on “Native Gardening

  1. This was super interesting! Living in Texas means not much rainfall, so you see lots of desert plants like cactus around. Thanks for sharing!

    – Jonathan

  2. Poor climate, there’s not much can be done other than a greenhouse. Poor soil can be amended. It is easier to work with the natural conditions rather than against.

  3. Really wonderful blog! This made me motivated to start thinking about what I want to plant outside. I live in a very shady area with a good amount o moisture, so this was helpful. I think I’ll start looking into some ferns. =]

    • That`s my whole yard right there! It is terrible for trying to grow grass or sunflowers, but I use moss as my lawn plant and all kinds of plants for my flowers. You can also look into hellebore and bleeding heart, lady`s slipper, a million types of orchids… There are lots of options, even in a shady garden! Thank you for dropping by 🙂

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