Why it’s important and how to get started
By Dylan Roche
It’s almost spring, and that means it’s the ideal season for getting the family outside and working in the dirt. Seriously! Spending time in the garden is a great way for the kids to learn about nature and protecting the environment. Plus, all of you will be proud of how great your yard looks thanks to everyone’s collective effort.
But before you go selecting plants based just on how they look or what’s available at the garden store, stop and consider what plants are best for the environment here in Maryland. That’s the idea behind native gardening: cultivating your garden with plants that are native to where you live.
“Native plants are the plants that were here before colonists arrived,” explains Alison Milligan, a certified Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional. “They evolved with our climate and they’re more adapted to life in Maryland.”
Native plants will grow with less maintenance on your part as the gardener, and they will provide the local ecosystem more of what it needs. In the Chesapeake Bay region, native plants are helpful in reducing erosion, sequestering carbon, and slowing stormwater runoff before it can carry pollutants into the nearby waterways. That’s important because, as Milligan points out, stormwater runoff is the most prominent source of pollution for the Chesapeake Bay.
If all of this sounds appealing but you don’t even know where to start when it comes to converting your yard to a native garden, don’t stress—the North American Native Plant Society recommends starting small with one or two native plants at a time.
In the Chesapeake region, Milligan suggests choosing sweet pepperbush, red chokeberry, sweetspire, or winterberry for sunny areas that tend to be moist or wet. If the area has moderate sun exposure and tends to be dry, select inkberry, milkweed, or smooth blue aster.
Starter Plants for Sunny, moist areas
Starter Plants for Moderate Sun, dry areas
Take the time to consult an expert as to what plants will work best in your yard based on sun exposure, soil quality, and proximity to the water. This is also an educational endeavor you can share with the kids, by discussing what purpose each plant serves, such as providing food for birds, attracting pollinators, or simply reducing erosion.
Both the Anne Arundel Watershed Stewards Academy and the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are great resources to research what native plants will work in your yard. The Anne Arundel Bay-Wise team trains Master Gardeners who can make free visits to local yards to help homeowners learn about bay-friendly lawn and gardening practices.