Plants Have their Own Purpose

Doug Tallamy

There are people gathered in Millersville right now who would be very comfortable with two concepts that recently sunk into my hard head.

Articulated by Doug Tallamy:

We need to abandon the idea that we are planting purely for the aesthetics of plants.

Landscapes need to be functional for nature.

Today, the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference begins. The conference, held at Millersville University, is a respected gathering for native plant exploration and education for home gardeners and plant professionals. I could not attend this year. But I will next year. One of the featured speakers at the conference is Douglas Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home” and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware.

At the Manada Conservancy Native Plant Sale at Meadowood Nursery, I had the pleasure of hearing Tallamy speak. I also was able to walk the nursery with him.

Tallamy’s book sheds light on the intricate web of nature and explains that native plants support insect life significantly better than alien plant species. Insects native to an area have, over time, become genetically predisposed to eat and utilize native plants for shelter and reproduction. Native Pennsylvania oaks, for example, host caterpillars which feed migrating birds. A strong argument is made for utilizing native plants in our suburban landscapes.

Gardeners, while often convinced of the importance of native plants, worry about tearing out their established gardens in order to replace their plants with natives. I asked him about the best plan for adding natives to your landscape.

Doug Tallamy“First, make sure there are no invasives, then replace your plants through attrition, ” said Tallamy. Reduce the amount of lawn you have and plant your areas densely with native plants. ” Almost everyone has more lawn than they need. ” Gardens tightly planted provide food and shelter for insects and wildlife and can gradually allow nature to rebuild the food web. The hope is to create a corridor through suburban landscapes that allow wildlife to move freely and find shelter and food.

Gardeners nurture plants. So the idea of pulling out your hybrid tea to replace it with clethra feels a little counter intuitive to us.

“People need to know it’s O.K. to kill a plant.” said Lorrie Preston, President of the Appalachian Audubon Society. Preston and Tallamy have similar thoughts about integrating natives. She suggested looking closely and really thinking about some of our problem plants. Rather than babying a plant along with additives or keeping it in bounds with excessive pruning, take the plant out and replace it with a native.

“Plants have their own purpose. We have to understand and think about how a certain plant can serve nature.” said Preston.

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About the Author

Laura Mathews

Laura is a garden writer and photographer. She writes online content for gardening websites, writes for gardening publications and blogs for three gardening blogs. Her interests are local food, organic gardening, backyard homesteading and native plants. She assists gardening related clients with social media. And occasionally, she'll offer a solicited opinion as a garden coach.

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