As a self taught gardener, I have made oodles of mistakes over the years. You may be ahead of me but since I want you to have the best native plant gardening experience possible, I am sharing a few in case they help you.
Newly Planted Native Plants Need To Be Watered
Who knew?! I water newly planted plants regularly to help them get established. Conventional wisdom says you should do that for the first year for perennials and up to two to three years for shrubs and trees. However, when short on time, I would often skip watering the native plants in favor of the ornamentals, thinking the natives are drought tolerant and suited to these mid-Atlantic conditions. That is mostly true … for established plants in the right location. If a plant doesn’t get a good start, native or not, it’s not going to last. Now I try to water every newly planted plant deeply once a week in the growing season for at least the first two years.
Google Latin Names Of Native Plants Before You Buy
Unless you are sure of what you are buying, of course. While folks who work at nurseries and garden centers are generally so very helpful, plants are sometimes misplaced or mistakenly labeled as native. To wit: the three Colorado spruces (Picea pungens) we have in our garden.
Years ago, I was at a Garden Center with a great reputation and a good selection of native plants. During a discussion about native evergreens, the person helping me showed me the Colorado spruce. I should have known better but I purchased them for their blue color. The spruces are native; native to North America that is; and, of course, not to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. So, while these trees provide ornamental value and a nice place for a bird’s nest, they do not benefit the local ecology nearly as much as native trees would. A better choice would have been American Holly (Ilex opaca).
A quick google search of the Latin name on the plant tag and the word ‘native’ usually makes it fairly easy to quickly tell if the plant is native to the mid-Atlantic.
Start With Shrubs And Trees
As I first started gardening with native plants, I was drawn to all of the incredible flowering plants – the intricate bee balm flowers, the lure of the coneflowers that are so iconic, the asters bursting with purples in fall and the columbines and bluebells in spring. To create a garden though, and to maximize ecological benefit, it’s much smarter to make your initial investments in shrubs and trees. Shrubs and trees, and particularly evergreens, take longer to grow so you might as well start as soon as you can. Shrubs and trees provide far more ecological benefit than perennials and create structure and winter interest from a design standpoint.
For more info:
The definitive explanation of why, and which, native trees provide the greatest ecological benefit: Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home”