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Michael Wheeler: Try using native plants in your landscape this fall
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The choices of plants for the garden are endless.

And it seems these days you can get almost anything you would want to plant in your landscape. You can make your landscape into any type of garden because of all of the choices. Generally choices like this are wonderful. Who wants to be limited to just a few types of plants, right?

However, gardeners need to consider a few things plant shopping. But today, in particular, let’s discuss native versus non-native.

Plants can be considered one of three group: native to the area, naturalized but not native, or non-native invasive.

Native plants are plants that naturally occur to a particular region. Some native examples are chestnut oak, Southern magnolia, American beautyberry, strawberry bush and rhododendron.

Naturalized non-native plants were introduced by humans to an area, but do not pose a threat to other plant species or the ecosystem. Some are English ivy, Japanese barberry and tree of heaven.

Non-native invasive plants are those 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 — like once usable farmland, for example — and prohibit a productive use. They also crowd out other plants from establishing by proving to be too much competition, and thus reducing plant diversity.

Plant diversity is what is needed to provide wildlife valuable resources for shelter and food.

When it comes to establishing a low-maintenance, tough landscape, using natives is a sure way to go. Although make sure they are native to the area.

Furthermore, 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 go with native plants that have roots in the northern part of Georgia, you will usually not have too much trouble with the plant thriving in your landscape.

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

Native plants also provide many benefits to wildlife. After all, deer, birds, insects and other animals have been adapted to the same conditions as the native plants they use for food, cover 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 also improve bio-diversity by encouraging many different plants to grow in the same area. In return, many species of insects and wildlife are encouraged.

One aspect of using native plants that is purely aesthetic is native plants mimic naturalized areas when planted in a completely man-made landscape. Native plants in a flower garden or in a special feature of your landscape will improve not only the looks of your place, but make the maintenance a lot cheaper in the long run. You will not have to frequently apply fungicides and insecticide to keep them healthy. You will not have to spend as much time watering and lugging garden hoses around the yard.

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 www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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