by David Salman

Diversity of plant types and species.
David's yard showing diversity of plant types and species.

(Bugs Are Not Yucky)

Perhaps you read my blog in March, titled "Creating Living Landscapes: The Importance of Native Plants And The Role Insects Play". The work of Dr. Doug Tallamy has been a tremendous influence on my evolving thoughts about the role plants play in our lives and the lives of wild creatures that share our living spaces. In a nutshell, when it comes to plant selection, what we plant, or don't plant, is pivotal in terms of being "habitat friendly". Including native plants in our yards is a cornerstone in this pursuit.

One of the most important things plants do in nature is provide habitat and food for insects. I know that much horticultural literature and advertising about plant care has to do with instilling the fear of "bugs" and the need to kill them. And, yes, there are many injurious insects that can cause major damage to specific plants, especially woody trees. But it is imperative to separate control of specific insect pests that are a problem in your region from the thousands of others that provide the bottom rung of the food chain for songbirds, reptiles, amphibians, bats and many other creatures.

Purple penstemon pikes with bee.Purple penstemon with bee.

"It's Spring, Honey. Call the Tree Service to Spray the Yard"

Wrong, wrong, wrong! And don't do the same thing to your lawn by allowing your law service to routinely apply preventative insecticides and fungicides to your turf. Indiscriminant insecticide/chemical applications are absolutely the worst thing we can do to nature in our yards. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Plants have evolved to be feed upon by insects. It's called the "web of life". A yard with a diverse population of insects is a healthy place.
  • Blanket pesticide applications kill pollinators (bees and butterflies) as well as beneficial insects and spiders that keep injurious ones in check and disrupts the balance of nature. Kill off the good ones and populations of the bad ones can increase to damaging levels. Don't invoke the "nuclear option" as it creates a biological wasteland.
  • It's not safe for humans, our pets and all the resident birds and other creatures to have exposure to synthetic pesticides. Year after year of spraying results in cumulative absorption of these pesticides on a cellular level.
  • You're robbing songbirds of essential food for their chicks. Birds depend on caterpillars, lots of them, to raise their young.
Chilopsis linearis Hope also known as the White Desert WillowThe native White Desert Willow from Los Lunas.

Plant Diversity

It's always best to have less lawn and a wider a diversity of plant types (annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees) in your yard. This encourages a more diverse population of insects which supports more species of songbirds and pollinators. And in this increased diversity of plant species, it is essential to mix in as many native species as possible. I'm not advocating a "natives only" approach, just strongly suggesting that when you have a choice of native or Old World (non-native) plants that provide similar attributes, go native.

Plant Selection

Research is showing us that native plants are essential habitat for native insects. What's the answer to the question, "do I plant the Asian native Bradford Pear or a US native Black Cherry tree?" The answer is to go with the native cherry tree. This choice will provide the songbirds in your neighborhood with infinitely more caterpillars for their chicks. (The pear provides almost none!) And you won't even be aware of the fact that your tree has caterpillars (remember the "web of life").

As we move west into the Great Plains, the Intermountain West and other parts of the country where deciduous trees are not the dominant plant type, native shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses become the primary native insect food plants. (And many of these plants will feed and shelter songbirds and other small animals as well.) Here are some of your best choices for gardeners west of the Mississippi:

Berberis fendleri  or Fender's Barberry with bee.Fendler's Barberry with bee.

Native Trees, Conifers

  • Desert Willow (Chilopsis)
  • Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
  • Oak (Quercus)
  • Redbud (Cercis)
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ) and cultivars

Native Shrubs

Native Ornamental Grasses

  1. Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'

    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild popula...

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    Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild population in its Indiana habitat. Grow this special native cultivar to add unexpected color and an interesting conversation starter to your pollinator garden. A 2021 High Country Gardens Introduction.
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  2. Superstar Aster Collection

    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. F...

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    Superstar Aster Collection Superstar Aster Collection
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $47.95 Sale $43.15
    Per Collection of 5
    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. Featuring five varieties of Asters for an array of colors and varying heights, this collection will refresh the garden with late season flowers, just as summer’s blooms begin to fade. Collection of 5 plants. (Symphyotrichum)
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  3. Honeysong Pink New England Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae Honeysong Pink

    Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for a...

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    Honeysong Pink New England Aster Honeysong Pink New England Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae 'Honeysong Pink'
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for adding height to the back of the perennial border. A pollinator favorite, this easy to grow native cultivar will bloom from late summer well into fall, filling the garden with late season color and visiting pollinators.
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  4. Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'

    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many A...

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    Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many Asters, it will brighten the garden with dense foliage and sweet pink flowers. A favorite of butterflies, this native cultivar is essential for late-season blooms in the pollinator garden.
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