How do I get started with my native plant project?
If you are anything like us here at Natural Shore, we are totally obsessed with native plants. Driving around the Twin Cities, we often comment to one another about how an area infested with invasive plants or a turf grass shoreline could be restored with an amazing native plant community. We are sort of nerdy about looking for ways and talking about the most efficient means to incorporate more native plants into the landscape. It’s always fun to envision an area prior to human settlement, and imagine the plant diversity and how the native plant communities were covering the land.
Probably one of the most common questions that we receive from enthusiastic DIYers is: “How do I get started with my native plant restoration project?” We have the real pleasure of working with a wide variety of clients, from ones that want to address petite residential lots to managers that are in charge of large commercial campuses. Their reasons for ecological restoration and the types of properties vary, but how we go about first addressing a project stays pretty constant. Below are a few general topics that we start out with when coming up with an initial plan.
This will help to get the creative juices flowing and put you on track for a successful project.
- Natural beauty
Native plants spruce up your landscape with a spectacular array of colors and textures. As seasons change and years go by, your landscape becomes dynamic. A diverse landscape of plant species attracts bees, butterflies, birds, and other critters. Increased wildlife visiting your property provides a great opportunity to sit and relax while you enjoy the beauty of nature right at your own home. On the contrary, conventional landscaping is often quite bland and lackluster, due to its lack of color and large open spaces of rocks or mulch.
- Ecosystem services
Human response to nature goes well beyond simply observing its beauty. Natural areas both directly and indirectly support our survival and quality of life. Studies have shown that natural, ‘green’ spaces benefit communities through health improvement and crime reduction. In addition, native plants provide enhanced ecological benefits compared to a turf lawn or invasive plants. Turf grass is often referred to as a food desert because it provides little food and habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. The addition of native plants to your landscape provides a wide variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects to support the greater network of wildlife.
- Education – especially kids
Restoring part of your landscape with native plants creates the perfect learning opportunity, not only for kids, but for adults too. Ecological restoration demonstrates the connection between human impact and ecosystem health. A degraded landscape is transformed into a diverse plant community, reflecting what it might have looked like prior to human settlement. Learning about the environment around us instills a sense of compassion for conservation. It is especially important for children to connect with and learn about nature at a young age, as they become future conservationists.
Landscapes composed of native plant communities provide many education opportunities for all ages. A small restoration in your backyard can be a child’s first exposure to nature and what benefits it provides. They can be used to demonstrate natural beauty, ecology, the connection between plants, insects, and birds.
- Erosion control – improving soil
Often times, clients contact us due to an erosion issue on their property. A combination of steep slopes, poor soil, and water movement can cause many erosion problems. Additionally, our shorelines face several issues: constant wave action due to wind and recreational activities, soil saturation from fluctuating water levels, and turf grass directly to water. Erosion can be prevented by improving the existing soil. Native plants build and improve soil health through filtering of pollutants, adding organic matter, and sequestering carbon. In addition, native plants produce deep roots that do a very good job at holding soil in place.
- Slowing water flow and increasing infiltration
Native plants are genetically adapted to their local environment, boasting a vast network of roots that extend deep into the soil. Unlike non-native plants, that lack local genetics and require large inputs of water, fertilizer, and toxic chemicals to stay alive. The absence of deep roots decreases infiltration of water into the soil, contributing to runoff and soil erosion. The deep roots of native plants increase infiltration, slowing water flow, reducing runoff and mitigating flooding. In contrast, Kentucky bluegrass produces shallow roots that extend only inches below the ground surface. Shallow roots lack the extensive surface area that deep roots offer for greater infiltration.
- Resources – time and money
The process of incorporating native plants into your landscape can feel overwhelming, time-consuming, and expensive. Consider working in phases, starting with one area and expanding from there. Use your desires and budget to determine how big that area will be and address bigger problems first, such as erosion. The more you replace and restore, the greater the benefit. Restoring various areas on your property can create a dynamic landscape, offering a wide degree of colors and textures. Consult with your local watershed district, many have cost-share grant programs to promote ecological restoration.
The excitement of seeing a project develop and change over time drives us to continue adding native plants wherever possible. Seasons change, colors come and go, plants continue to grow, species begin to move around, and wildlife visits. There are many options to add native plants to your landscape. Get creative and enjoy the beauty of native plants!