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Go Native for a Carefree and Wildlife-friendly Garden

By | May 30th, 2017


Trish McGuire tried for years to grow a traditional English garden in her yard. “It failed, year after year,” said Trish, Raritan Headwaters’ volunteer and outreach coordinator.

That’s when she decided to make life easier for herself and switch to plants that are native to New Jersey.

“Now I have a native garden and it looks great,” said Trish, our resident horticulture expert. “I don’t have to water it and I don’t have to spray it for pests. My flowers are just as showy and spectacular as non-native perennial plants.”

If you’re looking for flowers that look great, don’t need to be fussed over – and attract and support birds, bees and butterflies – consider “going native.”

Here are five beautiful native perennials recommended by Trish:

  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) – Hummingbirds love these scarlet-red flowers, which bloom from July through September and offer a welcome late summer nectar source.

    Ehinacea purpurea

  • Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) – This native honeysuckle, also known as Coral honeysuckle or Woodbine, has trumpet shaped red, pink and orange blooms that provide nectar to birds and insects. But don’t confuse it with invasive Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), which should be removed if it’s growing in your garden!
  • Butterfly weed (Ascelpias tuberosa) – This showy, drought-tolerant native has bright orange flowers that bloom in flat-topped clusters. Don’t confuse it with Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), an alien invasive.
  • Blackeyed Susan (Rudbekia hirta) – These summer favorites have daisy-like flowers with brown center disks and golden yellow rays. Bees love its nectar and birds eat its seeds. A similar species is Orange coneflower (Rudbekia fulgida).
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – These wildlife-friendly flowers, with their drooping pinkish-purple rays and orange center, bloom nonstop throughout the summer. They provide nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, and seeds for birds.

Lonicera sempervirens

While these natives will thrive with little care, you’ll still need to make sure you don’t put sun-loving plants in a shady place, or plants that need well-drained soil in a wet spot.

Trish recommends starting with three to five plants or a small section of your garden rather than trying to create an entire native garden at once. “My number one suggestion is to start slowly,” she said. “It can be overwhelming.”

Another word of caution is that not every garden center carries native plants, which Trish acknowledges can be frustrating.

But even the act of asking your local garden center for plants native to New Jersey is a positive step. “If the nurseries and garden centers know people are looking for native plants, they’ll start carrying them,” said Trish.

To find out more about New Jersey native plants and where to buy them, visit the Native Plant Society of New Jersey website at www.npsnj.org. Another great resource is the Jersey-Friendly Yards website at www.jerseyyards.org. It includes a database of native plants, an “Interactive Yard” feature to help you plan your gardens and landscaping, and a list of native plant nurseries.

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