Homefield Advantage

by Jessica Neese

Why, what and how to incorporate native plants in your yard

CLIMATE CONCERNS have risen on the list of considerations for landscaping. As a result, native plants are emerging as a smart choice. “Native” is a term describing plants that have inhabited a region without direct or indirect human intervention for thousands of years.

Why go native

Installing native plant material in your landscape is an easy way to contribute to the health of the local ecosystem. For starters, these indigenous plants tend to require less maintenance such as irrigation and fertilization. In addition, they have become part of a local habitat offering food and foliage. In fact, native plants are very successful in attracting birds and other wildlife to urban backyards.

While homeowners and landscape professionals in the past may have overlooked native options, they are now incorporated into many designs, even those creating a manicured and sophisticated aesthetic.

Gone are the days when using native plants meant that a garden must look like a nature walk or park.

What to plant

Native plants come in all shapes and sizes including trees, shrubs and perennials. Here are some local Georgia options:

  • Sweetbay Magnolia, magnolia virginiana – This popular tree is semi-deciduous, meaning it only loses its foliage for a short period. It produces creamy white blooms and can be grown in sun or partial shade and in moist soil conditions.

  • Bigleaf Magnolia, magnolia macrophylla – The unique characteristic of this tree is that it has 30-inch oblong leaves, making it the largest leaf of native North American trees.

  • Blue-eyed Grass – This perennial is gaining popularity among landscape designers. The small, clumping plant has a grass-like appearance and blooms small, periwinkle flowers in spring and early summer. The most common cultivar is Blue Note.

The plants below all feature beautiful white blooms that enhance any southern garden:

  • Bottlebrush Buckeye – This understory plant can grow twice as wide as its height. It features 12-inch-long, white bottlebrush flower clusters and produces smooth, pear-shaped nuts in the fall.

  • Oakleaf Hydrangea – This garden staple produces large, white, panicle blooms and red, fall foliage which make nice additions to cut flower arrangements.

  • Itea – When planted in mass, this striking plant creates a focus of weeping, white, four-inch flowers and then red foliage in the fall. Itea can be planted in areas with poor drainage, and it is very helpful with erosion control as the plant spreads quickly.

How to plant

Late winter and spring are a perfect time to start preparing for and installing plant material. The best tip for planting in Georgia, given the clay components in the soil, is to never install a plant too deeply. It’s beneficial to install the plant material an inch above grade. It will settle over time, and if planted too deeply, can become a pocket to collect water and have difficulty draining. Roots sitting in water tend to rot.

Another useful garden tip that helps plants thrive is to add organic matter to planting beds. Organic matter can be chopped and composted leaves, mushroom compost or alfalfa pellets. Compost can be directly added to beds and even in the planting holes. Most often used as livestock feed, alfalfa pellets spread on the surface of beds can be an excellent source of nitrogen and triacontanol, a naturally occurring plant growth promoter. Water can be used to break down the pellets and jump start the process.

Find more details at inbloomlandscaping.com, gnps.org and audubon.org.

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