Native plants are those that naturally occurred in North America, before European colonization. Native plants are more likely to establish quickly, with heartier deeper root systems, and thrive in the specific conditions that they’ve evolved in over millions of years. Non-native plants, or “exotic” plants are primarily brought to North America from Asia or Western Europe. Not all, but most exotic plants quickly take over the area and become invasive. With no natural predators, competitors, or diseases – there’s nothing to keep these transplants in check.
We have become more aesthetically attached to exotic plants, and we all have non-natives in our yards – weather they are evocative plants or practical ones such as herbs. The standard North American lawn covered with foreign shrubs, non-native grasses, and a few tropical flowers is essentially sterile, and does nothing to support our native fauna.
The threat posed by exotic plants is one of the many reasons to plant native species. They are already adapted to local climate, therefore more tolerant of extreme weather conditions. In Tennessee, this often means that native plants can withstand cold winters and our confused rain seasons. Tennessee has a diverse climate that has around 3,000 species of native plants, and due to natural adaptation to the soil conditions, means that they require less to no fertilizer, water, and pesticides to survive.
When native plants thrive in their original environment, they form natural ecosystems that benefit local wildlife and promote the food chain that is desperately in decline. All in all, native gardening is a more fun, economical, interesting, and far more satisfying process that benefits the environment and brings life to any outdoor space.
Choosing species that will thrive under the conditions available is the first step, so it’s important to ask yourself a few questions –
- How much light is naturally available, and for how long of the day?
- How much water does a specific plant require?
- How much space do you have / will you be planting in ground or in planters?
- What type of soil will you be working with? Is the soil sandy, clay, loam, or peat? (Consulting your county soil atlas is a great resource if you’re not quite sure.)
By answering these question’s, you will gain a better understanding that will lead you to being able to shop for your new native species with confidence.
A few easy-to-grow Tennessee natives include:
Milkweed (Asclepias) – There are 13 varieties of Milkweed native to Tennessee, and they are the host for monarch butterflies.
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Recently removed from the endangered species list, the coneflower is a sturdy low maintenance perennial.
Coral Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera) – The coral honeysuckle vine produces attractive and fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers that grow in clusters. A hummingbird favorite.
Following are a few resources to become more educated and to further assist in the steps required to take on such the exciting endeavor of planting native species.