Go “Native” with Your Landscape

by Robbie McCormac, Master Gardener and Volunteer Chair, Elachee Spring Plant Sale

Elachee's Spring Plant Sale will help you introduce color and variety to your yard with a diverse selection of 'native' plants not always available at local nurseries. 

Celebrate Earth Day at Elachee. It’s Spring, and Elachee will again host its annual plant sale for the north Georgia region. The Spring Plant Sale is Saturday, April 22, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the parking lot at Elachee Nature Science CenterElachee's Spring Plant Sale is on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

We are fortunate to partner with wholesale growers who have a reputation for supplying healthy and unique plant selections. Through the years we have featured over 700 different varieties of plants. Each year, Elachee tries to promote “native plants.” Although not all of our plants are native, those that are not have other redeeming factors like being a food source for wildlife, a good pollinator plant or a deer resistant plant.

Why “natives,” you may ask?

There are many definitions for native plants, but primarily we are referring to species that were present in the United States prior to European settlement. Georgia has more than 4,000 native plant species, due in part to the wide variety of growing conditions and microclimates in our state. 

A native plant community, if left undisturbed, is low-maintenance and self-sufficient. Native plants provide “watchable” wildlife habitats, because native birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and other animals evolve with native flora and are sustained by it year-round.

Very few gardeners exclusively use native plants. Perhaps you moved into a home that has existing plants, trees and shrubs that aren’t native. Maybe you have sentimental favorites (I planted lilacs because they remind me of summers at Grandma’s house). It’s not wrong to plant what you enjoy. However, if you try to add native plants whenever possible, you’ll be rewarded with plants that are more drought-tolerant, more insect-resistant, more pollinator-friendly and more ecology-sustaining.

Following are the different groups of native plants that you will find at Elachee's Spring Plant Sale. 

Native Plants – Perennials

Elachee Nature Science Center annual Spring Plant Sale is Saturday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.In the last decade, there has been a resurging interest in perennials as home gardeners and commercial landscapers become more aware of their attributes. There are so many good reasons to plant perennial plants, most notably the fact that you only need to dig once and the plants bloom year after year! The initial cost of perennial plants may be slightly higher than well-known annual flowering plants, but the investment more than evens out.

My side garden was planted 25 years ago when I moved into our home. I carefully tended it, added new plants often and kept it weeded. I enjoyed watching the birds bathing in a shallow level of the pond. And it was a pretty great garden. But when the pond needed to be removed, the garden changed. 

Now I have a very large rocky boulder that holds constant water for the birds. But equally important, surrounding the rock are native perennials full of pollen in spring and summer, and dried seed heads in the fall. The birds initially come for the water but hang around for the native plants.

Native Plants – Shrubs and Trees

Many plants can be seed propagated, but most home gardeners prefer to start with a larger plant for immediate reward. That’s where shrubs and trees come in as an important part of your landscape. With special selection you can have beautiful flowers, good fall color, support wildlife with pollen, nuts, and fruit and provide host plants for butterflies and moths.  Native shrubs withstand both the heat and high humidity of summer plus the fluctuations in our winter temperatures.

Just weeks ago in my garden, I watched a large flock of cedar waxwings crowd onto the boulder fountain to get a drink, then ruffling their feathers taking a bath. There were more than 50 birds coming and going for at least an hour. I made a point of watching where they went in between drinks, and was rewarded to see them visit my yaupon hollies, my beautyberries and my winterberry bushes, sometimes for shelter but mostly for the berries. Sure, they could have gone anywhere, but these birds have come to my garden for several years, so I think I must be providing something they like!

Native Plants – Ferns

There are native ferns in every corner of North America. They come in two basic types – those that send out runners and those that form clumps. Knowing these differences can help you understand why native ferns are a little more polite than non-native varieties, since most our native ferns will clump. Ferns are useful in shady areas, are drought tolerant and insect resistant. They offer a wide variety of sizes, growth habits and textures, and provide a unifying element to a woodland or shade garden.

If you’ve ever made the mistake of planting one of the aggressive non-native ferns you know how hard it can be to eliminate it once it gets established (think kudzu). Stay away from Japanese climbing fern and Marianna maiden fern if possible. Not all non-natives are so aggressive, but when you have so many great ferns that are native why choose something else?

Native Plants – Grasses

Southern favorites like switchgrass and little bluestem are host plants for many butterflies. Native grasses come in many textures, heights, and colors. Native grasses will be available for purchase at Elachee's Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Planting native warm season grasses offer many benefits. Stands of native grass provide both food and shelter to wildlife and birds, and help to stop erosion. These grasses provide nesting sites for wildlife, insects for food and protective cover. Small mammals eat their seeds, and are in turn then eaten by larger hawks and owls, continuing the food chain. 

In my garden are many places that animals and birds use for protection, and I leave my grasses alone without trimming until I see new growth at the base. The same birds and wildlife that come for a drink at the boulder fountain seem to hang around to enjoy the seed heads and tufts of seeds on the grasses that are planted. I have Red Switchgrass waiting for a Skipper butterfly to lays her eggs when she stops by for a drink, and the chipmunks have a place to hide if that red-shouldered hawk flies by!

Need help deciding which plants to choose?

Special guest Julie Evans, partner at The Fockele Garden Company, will be on site during Elachee's Spring Plant Sale to answer your gardening/planting questions. Assisting her will be volunteers from Elachee's garden crew and from Hall County Master Gardeners.

Spring Plant Sale Details

Date/Time: Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Location: Elachee Nature Science Center parking lot

Plant Sale Admission: FREE
(NOTE: Admission to the Nature Center Museum and Live Animal Exhibits is $5 per adult, $3 for children ages 2 to 12)

Plant Sale Payments: Cash, Checks, Debit and Credit Cards (No pre-orders)