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It's Time to Add Native Plants to Your Garden

Patch columnist Julie Bloss Kelsey shares her experiences learning about native Maryland plants.

Every year when I plan my flower garden, I vow to add native plants.  And every year, I wind up with a shopping cart stacked full of the cheapest, gaudiest plants that the home improvement store has to offer. 

This year, I decided, things would be different.

I spoke with Denise Gibbs, park naturalist at Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, and asked her about the benefits of going native.

"Native plants are adapted to our soils and our climate so they often perform better than cultivated varieties," said Gibbs.  She added that native plants are better for the environment because they provide habitat and food for local wildlife. Planting native species is a way for people to put something back into their neighborhoods to make up for habitat loss due to road construction and housing, said Gibbs.  

I asked what species would be good for a native plant newbie.  Are there any plants native to Maryland that thrive on full sun and neglect? 

"Any of the Monardas [bee balms] are very easy to grow," said Gibbs.  “I don’t know of anyone who's ever killed one."

I added bee balm to my list.  Next, I jotted down milkweed and coneflowers, since Gibbs said they are favorites of butterflies.

I packed up my three kids and my list of native plants and headed down to Behnke Nurseries in Potomac.  My friends at The Natural Capital suggested this retail location for purchasing native plants when I enquired last year. Despite my best intentions, this was my first visit.

My kids and I walked to the outdoor section of Behnkes.  We were overwhelmed by a floral rainbow, with plants organized alphabetically by their Latin names.  I had no idea where to start. 

Fortunately, Orion Taylor, department manager for outdoor plants, led me to of indigenous species, which includes plants native to Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the piedmont area of Pennsylvania. 

I asked Taylor to point me toward something easy to grow.

"I would recommend the native azaleas," Taylor said.  "Swamp azaleas are very easy to grow if you have some shade ... Clethra is very popular.  Another easy to grow plant --- if you're looking for an evergreen --- would be something called Shamrock Inkberry [holly]."

In the end, due to our garden's lack of space and my preference for bright shiny things, we took home two Eastern purple coneflower plants and five phlox of varying varieties.  I spent more money than I had intended, but these perennials should add some life and vibrancy to my garden.  We even wound up taking home a ladybug!

I'm excited to see how my new plants fare.  As Maryland natives, they've tolerated all of this rain quite well.  But frankly, I couldn't afford to go 100-percent native this year.  And I miss my petunias.  I suspect that I will be back at the home improvement store soon, picking up some slightly bruised flowers at half-price to round out my garden.

Want to add some Maryland natives to your yard?  Here are two native plant sales happening today in our area.  Be sure to arrive early for the best selection:

Betsy Franz April 30, 2011 at 12:29 PM
I think you and your readers would like this new list of native DROUGHT tolerant plants that I found on the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog. http://www.metro-dc-lawn-garden-blog.com/2011/04/29/benefits/

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