June 19, 2013

Native plants essential for a truly green yard

As published in The Erin Advocate

Choosing native plants for your landscaping will help protect woodlands from invasive species and reduce the time and effort needed for garden maintenance, according to Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

“We want to protect and restore natural areas,” said Melanie Kramer, Program Coordinator, Residential Outreach at CVC. “Particularly here in the Headwaters, there are so many we can go and visit – how can we can support those natural areas with what we plant in our yards?"

She presented a Your Green Yard workshop last week at Glen Echo Nurseries in Caledon, which participates in the Ontario Invasive Plant Council’s “Grow Me Instead” program, which promotes native plants over invasive ones.

Conservation authorities are fighting the spread of invasives, which displace diverse native species and impact the animals that rely on native plants for food and habitat. They often escape from planted gardens and cause problems in natural areas.

“Many homeowners find manicured and high maintenance landscaping costly and disappointing,” said Holly Nadalin, Program Coordinator, Headwaters Outreach.

CVC promotes plants that flourished in the local climate and soils before Europeans settled here. They are generally drought-resistant perennials, requiring less water and effort to maintain in your garden. CVC encourages people to avoid cultivars – plants that have been bred for special features (such as colour variety) that would not grow here naturally.

Native plants are resistant to a wider range of local pests, making chemical treatment unnecessary, and they can withstand competition from other plants, which means less weeding.
Non-native favourites can still be part of a responsible garden plan, as long as they are not aggressive threats to the local ecology.

“We're not asking people to replace their tulips, but what goes well with tulips?” said Kramer. “There are quite a number of natives that, as the tulips die back, some of them are just coming into flower through early summer. There will be some after that, flowering in the fall.”

A thriving garden can also reconnect natural areas by providing a stop-over point for wildlife – though hopefully not of the type that will cause major damage.

“Even if you are not living directly adjacent to a forested area or a creek, having stopover points can make a big difference. Providing some food or nesting habitat can help to connect our natural areas which, as areas continue to get built up, tend to get more and more fragmented."

Ecological methods can achieve all the traditional landscaping goals, such as adding privacy, shade, colour and habitat for birds and butterflies, while stabilizing soils to reduce erosion.

“When you look at a forest, you see that there are the different layers – the canopy layer, the shrub layer and then a ground cover layer. How can you build on that in your yard?” said Kramer. “Ideally you are creating a beautiful space for yourself and your visitors.”

The planning process includes getting to know your soil conditions – clay or sandy, damp or dry, amount of sun – and choosing plants that are likely to do well.

For trees, CVC urges people to avoid Norway Maple, which produces very dense shade, and choose Freeman’s Maple, or Red, Sugar or Silver Maple. Avoid non-native Honeysuckles and Japanese Knotwood in favour of Red Osier Dogwood, Saskatoon Serviceberry and Joe-Pye Weed.

Among groundcovers, avoid Goutweed, Periwinkle and English Ivy, which aggressively choke out other plants. Go instead for Wild Ginger, Barren Strawberry, Bearberry and Bunchberry.

CVC also has a program called Greening Corporate Grounds to help companies incorporate ecological landscaping, including measures to reduce water runoff, such as rain gardens and permeable paving.

For more information, go to www.creditvalleyca.ca. Under the Your Land and Water tab, the Green Cities section has extensive resources for homeowners.