Are Native Plants Different?
I recently had a conversation with someone who had planted some native plants and had spotty results. Some of the plants did well and some did not. Since it is hard to know the variables in the soil, light and moisture conditions of the location where they were planted it is hard to say what went wrong. During our discussion this the person made the statement; native plants are just different. That got me to thinking a little bit about the differences between natives and the man-made cultivars. So here are my thoughts on what I think the differences are between natives and the cultivated plants.
First off, the cultivars are showy. You can see them a block away, there is no denying that planting of petunias or mums is eye-catching. Contrast that with some of the smaller native plants such as dogtooth violet, gold star grass, or dutchmen's breeches. These plants are short and the blooms small, you really need to bend over to get a good look at them.
Here lies the appeal to those of us who have gone to the effort to develop an appreciation for these plants. Years ago, I became interested in photography and spent a lot of time photographing wildflowers. This required a lot of time on my hands and knees with my camera on a low angle tripod peering through the viewfinder of my camera and a macro lens. The results were some nice photographs and an appreciation of what I was looking at. These plants are truly beautiful, it just takes a closer look to develop an appreciative eye.
Another difference is that once established, native plants are hardy and require less maintenance. If you think about it, a native plant lives on what moisture and nutrients occur naturally where ever are growing. No one is going to water them. Having said that I want to add that in the first year after planting native plants will require adequate watering during the summer. If they are planted in the spring, they will not have very long to establish their root system before going dormant at the onset of dry weather.
This is a good place to say a word about fall planting. Fall planting has the advantage of several extra months' time for the plant to develop a root system Even though the plant is dormant the plant continues to put forth roots and establish a capillary relationship with the soil. The bottom line is native plants are different, their beauty is subtle, but they are can be very low maintenance.