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Wheeler: Use native plants in landscape this fall

POSTED: August 30, 2013 1:30 a.m.

The choices of plants for the garden are endless. It seems these days you can get almost anything you would want to plant in your landscape.

There are so many, in fact, you can make your landscape into any type of garden. Generally, the array of choices are wonderful. Who wants to be limited to just a few types of plants, right?

Consider a few things when plant shopping.

Plants are either native to the area, naturalized but not native or non-native invasive. Native plants naturally occur to a particular region. Naturalized non-native plants were introduced by humans, but do not pose a threat to other plant species or the ecosystem. Non-native invasive plants have been introduced by humans and have the ability to spread and invade areas where they were not planted. The most famous non-native invasive in the South is kudzu.

Non-native invasive plants typically take over valuable acreage such as farmland and prohibit a productive use. They also crowd out other plants and reduce plant diversity. Plant diversity is needed to provide wildlife valuable resources for shelter and food.

When establishing a low-maintenance, tough landscape using natives is the way to go. Although make sure they are native, because not all natives are created equally. Mesquite can be considered native in a broad sense, but it would not do well at all if planted here.

If you plant natives with roots in North Georgia, you will usually not have too much trouble with the plant thriving in your landscape.

So why are native plants better to grow than naturalized ones? Well for one, they have grown generation after generation for thousands of years here. They have adapted to the weather conditions, soil and pests. They know how to survive with little to no trouble.

Native plants benefit wildlife. After all, deer, birds and insects have adapted to the same conditions as the plants used for food and shelter. Yes, deer may use a native azalea as a buffet line from time to time, but the plant is conditioned to it and has figured out ways to tolerate wildlife pressure.

Once established, native plants do not need much care, even in times of extreme weather. They improve bio-diversity by encouraging different plants to grow in the same area. In return, many species of insects and wildlife are encouraged.

One aspect of using native plants is purely aesthetic; native plants mimic naturalized areas when planted in a completely man-made landscape, since the plants occur in the woods and forests of the area.

Native plants in a flower garden or special feature will improve not only the looks of your place, but in the long run make the maintenance a lot cheaper. Frequent applications of fungicides and insecticide to keep them healthy will not be necessary. You will not have to spend as much time watering and lugging around garden hoses.

So get into native plantings and be the envy of all the neighbors because of your low-maintenance landscape that looks like it came off the cover of a magazine.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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