Going native in the garden

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 04:58 AM

North Carolina boasts some amazing native plant and shrub species that are guaranteed to delight your senses and, better yet, are more likely to survive and thrive in our unique soil and climate.   

Why natives? Well, if you enjoy welcoming the birds and butterflies to your yard, you’ll find that their favorite habitat will be the one that is most familiar to them — native N.C. plantings. Exotic plants, while lovely, may introduce a significant threat to both the landscape and natural life (think Kudzu). “Natives” are helpful in maintaining the balance that nature had in mind and their use in your landscape goes some distance in offsetting the impact of development and community growth.

Whether starting from scratch or refurbishing, think in terms of a varied and well-integrated landscape plan that will provide a beneficial habitat for wildlife. Some trees familiar to all of us include the Red Maple, River Birch, American Holly and Dogwood — and all are well-suited to our locale. But, why not check out some lesser-known but spectacular species such as the Fringe Tree Cionanthus Virginicus, which will flourish in sun or part shade, or the Serviceberry, a small, drought tolerant tree that will bear white blooms earlier than the Dogwood or Redbud and later, berries that will be a tasty delight for wildlife.   

If it’s shrubs that you’re that have caught your eye, consider Virginia Sweetspire Itea Virginica, often used in rain gardens, it does well in both sun and part shade; be aware, however, that the deer also love this one. Sweetspire is a deciduous shrub that will add brilliant fall color to your garden. Perhaps the Possumhaw Viburnum Vibernum nusum would fit nicely as a background planting again a deciduous shrub that reaches 6 to 10 feet at maturity but is suited to both sunny and partly shaded spots. Lastly, we can’t overlook the spectacular American Beautyberry Callicarpa Americana, which is native throughout N.C. The brilliant magenta berries that appear in late summer and fall will bring an abundance of songbirds to your garden, including goldfinches.

Before we leave the topic of N.C. natives, we should consider some of the many perennials that thrive in our soil and climate, including the Eastern Columbine Aquiligia Canadensis, that blooms in March, attracting wonderful pollinators, Carolina Phlox Phlox carolina whose magenta blooms come in early summer, and the Butterfly Weed Asclepius tuberosa with its bright orange flowers, spring into summer. This plant will provide a perfect host for visiting monarchs.   

As with all planting, it is essential that you pick the right plant for the right spot. Pay close attentions to the soil in your garden, as not all conditions are natural — some are man-made and must be corrected for drainage and nutrient accessibility. Also, track the path of the light in your garden throughout the day. Full sun means a minimum of six, preferably eight, hours of direct sun each day. The list of beauties native to N.C. is a long one. The engaging article, “Return of the Natives” will be a rich resource as you plan your garden (http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/71/Natives%20NCMGVA%20Conf.pdf) and will give you all the information you need to plan your native garden and, for more information, contact the Master Gardener Volunteers with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County at (919) 775-5624.

Happy native gardening. 

Celeste M. Bissell is President of the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.