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Native Plant Landscaping

Page history last edited by Gardener 8 years, 7 months ago

What is a native plant? 

There are many definitions. One definition by the Federal Native Plant Committee states: “a native plant species is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, state, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions.” More simply, a plant growing in North America prior to European settlement. More important than the definition are the consequences of the loss of a particular native species from a particular place in our ecosystem.


Why are natives important?

We need native plants to restore our fragmented world. An average of 2.1 million acres is converted to residential use each year. Our yards are critical to reestablishing the biodiversity lost when fields and forests are stripped. The wild creatures we so enjoy will disappear if we deplete all their food and shelter. No matter how small your space there is room for native plants. Creating a web of native plant sanctuaries one yard to the next is our only hope in restoring our fragmented land. Most of our native plant eaters are unable to eat alien plants so we need to provide native plants throughout suburbia to restore our biodiversity that is rapidly disappearing. Native insects depend on specific native plants.  Monarch butterflies are dependent on Ascelpias, the milkweed plants, as are 11 other species of Lepidoptera. Plant diseases as well as alien insects have arrived on imported ornamental plants; some include Phytophthora ramorum (sudden oak death disease), Japanese beetle, hemlock woolly adelgid. 96% of our song birds depend on insects to feed their young. Read Douglas W. Tallamy's updated and revised book pub April 2009 Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants for in-depth scientific facts for native plant species and practical recommendations to make a difference in your yard. This is an excellent book with beautiful photos. For a capsulized version of Dr. Tallamy's thoughts on biodiversity and suburbia click here. Further information on the importance of biodiversity is found in the booklet Biodiversity Our Living World: Your Life Depends On It! (PSU 2001 Ke Chung Kim) and on the PA Natural Heritage Program website.


Read through the material below to learn how to transform your yard into a native plant sanctuary. In-depth details in Sara Stein's informative and entertaining book, Planting Noah's Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology.


Using the Native Plant References  page learn what plants are native to your area as well as what plants are invasive or alien to your area. Invasive plants should be removed from your property to enable native plants to thrive and prevent alien plants from further disrupting our fragile ecosystem.


Consider replacing unused areas of your lawn with native plants. Enlarge your existing beds or form a new bed. Start with a 10 foot by 10 foot area to keep the process manageable. There are various methods of removing the grass. One method is to use the flat blade of a pick axe. With the flat blade, cut under the grass roots and pull the grass clumps toward you to remove the grass in strips. Add the grass clumps to your compost pile or turn them over on the site to kill the grass roots in the sun. Once the grass is dead dig it into the bed to add organic matter to the soil. Another method is to spread 8-10 sheets of newspaper or plain corrugated cardboard on top of the lawn to be replaced with native plants. Use regular newspaper, no glossy ads; no glossy cardboard. Cover the newspaper or corrugated cardboard with about 6 inches of topsoil or compost to use immediately or cover with 2-3 inches of mulch to kill the grass over time. In about 3 weeks you should be able to push aside the mulch and cut holes in the newspaper for the plants. The newspaper/cardboard will eventually decompose. Dawn of a New Lawn is an informative article on the Audubon website giving many reasons why we should reduce our lawn size. 


Read the EcoGardening page to select appropriate native plants for your site, in other words, plants that are suitable for the light exposure, moisture, soil, and wildlife at your site. Light exposure refers to how much sun a site receives each day; less than three hours would be a shady site, 3-5 hours would be partial shade, and 6 or more hours would be full sun exposure.


Attend some of the gardening classes noted on the FrontPage.


Where can you buy native plants?  Find out on the Native Plant Sources page.


Participate in Project Budburst. This is a national citizen science field campaign to document the timing of leafing and flowering of native tree and flower species. The data helps scientists monitor responses of individual plant species to climate variations.


Backyard Buffers

Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Buffers of native plants rather than lawn create habitat for wildlife and improve water quality by filtering and slowing water as it drains off one's property. Article includes planning and choosing beneficial plants with a list of plants.


Meadows and Prairies

Helpful resources for establishing meadows and prairies:

Meadows and Prairies: Wildlife-Friendly Alternatives to Lawns PA Wildlife #5 by PSU..



The following Pennsylvania numbers were provided by Chris Firestone of the Wild Resources Conservation Program as of 3.18.08:

3432 total vascular plants

2151 native vascular plants

1281 non-native vascular plants

13 noxious weeds

These numbers vary slightly each year with further sitings as well as further losses.


84 Endangered and Threatened plant species listed on the DCNR website.


100 highly invasive plants in PA per the Wild Resources Conservation Program's Dangerous Invasions DVD ( copyright 2007).

Invasive plants have the ability to grow and spread rapidly and lack herbivores and diseases to keep them in check. See Invasive Plants page.



Read how wetlands reduce mosquito populations. Did you Know?...Healthy Wetlands Devour Mosquitoes PDF produced by the IN Dep. of Natural Resources, Div. of Fish & Wildlife. 

A newly created wetlands is in Lewisburg, just west of the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority tennis courts on N. 15 St. Walk the loop trail to see a work in progress of the existing and mitigated wetlands. Bucknell University students planted 80 native plants in the mitigated site on 28 October 2008. The Mid-Penn Engineering Landscape Architect for the site and LARA staff supervised the plantings. Boy Scouts are placing plant information posts in the existing wetlands. With consultants from near and far two bluebird/tree swallow nesting boxes were placed 4 November 2008 by two Seven Mountains Audubon members. The baffles were made by the SMA members to prevent cats, raccoons, and snakes from entering the boxes. The boxes were built and mounted by the Mid-Penn Engineering Landscape Architect. He has also donated many hours providing natural cover for wildlife. The Education Committee Chair of the Bluebird Society of PA has selected sites for future bluebird boxes. A Watsontown member of Ducks Unlimited is monitoring the site for the possible placement of a wood duck box next fall. Great blue herons, a pair of sandpipers, and a multitude of song birds, butterflies, and dragonflies have been viewed at the wetlands.


Sustainable Sites Initiative - started in 2005 when the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center joined together. In 2006 the U.S. Botanical Garden also partnered with the interdisciplinary initiative. The initiative created voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. The U.S. Green Building Council USGBC may incorporate the guidelines and benchmarks into future Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED Green Building Rating Systems.

How Green Is Your Garden? A New Rating System May Tell You - 1.7.09 NY Times article regarding the Sustainable Sites Initiative. Sustainable Sites Initiative Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks – Draft 2008 report, link to 3.10 MB PDF format. The report emphasizes the "pressing need for an economy less reliant on fossil fuels and more attuned to critical environmental challenges such as climate change, habitat loss, and water quality and scarcity issues...to support natural ecological functions throughout the life cycle of each site."


Planting for Birds

Read the Bluebirds page for plants specific to bluebirds.

Plant-Bird Database - What Plant for Which Bird? - iConserve database mainly includes shrubs/trees to attract specific birds.


Birding Resources


Climate Change



Garden Hotline

Gardening for Wildlife

Invasive Plants

Labelling Plants

Native Plant References

Native Plant Sources

Reduce Reuse Recycle



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