by High Country Gardens
Understanding Native Plants: What Are They and How Can You Use Them?
What is a native plant? The definition is not all that easy and opinions differ, even among experts. Most would agree that a plant found growing and reproducing naturally in a region over a very long period of time (and prior to any human interference) is native to that particular area. But consider this:
Let's assume that we find a plant near Socorro, New Mexico. We gather seed and plant it in Santa Fe. Is it still a native plant even though we've moved it to an area where it is not found in nature? This is where opinions vary greatly. The plant is a native to New Mexico but perhaps just to a particular area of the state. However, it will grow elsewhere if transported by man. Is it still native?
Understanding Native Plants and Microclimates
To truly consider a plant native to your area, it should be found within the same type of ecosystem within your region. For instance, the Santa Fe region is considered Southern Rocky Mountains, while Socorro is part of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert.To truly consider a plant native to your area, it should be found within the same type of ecosystem within your region
But as we all know, there are many microclimates to consider. Altitude, rainfall, and soil type all influence which plants grow best within a particular area. Add the effects of our manmade environment and we change things again, making some areas moister with better soil, or slightly warmer or cooler due to proximity to a structure.
However, because many common native plants have wide ranging distribution in their native habitats, they are usually quite adaptable as long as their basic soil and moisture preferences are met. That allows us to use plants that may not be a true native to our area but could thrive in the conditions we have.
What are the Advantages of Gardening with Native Plants?
- They have evolved to grow reliably in less than ideal conditions without significant care once they're well established.
- They are resistant to common pests and provide food (foliage, fruit or seeds) and cover for songbirds and beneficial insects.
- They thrive in the soils and climatic conditions of the local area. But make sure your landscape contains similar conditions. For example, a plant living in a wetland or riparian area would not be suitable for a xeric location and vice versa.
Hachita Blue Grama Grass Plugs (Bouteloua gracilis) is the most vigorous selection of this beautiful native grass from the western Great Plains. Beloved for its "eyelash" seed heads,...Learn MoreHachita Blue Grama Grass Plugs Hachita Blue Grama Grass Plugs Bouteloua gracilis Hachita$59.95Per Tray of 70Learn More
Hachita Blue Grama Grass Plugs (Bouteloua gracilis) is the most vigorous selection of this beautiful native grass from the western Great Plains. Beloved for its "eyelash" seed heads, it can also be mowed once a month to create a soft, inviting lawn. Quite xeric, 'Hachita' Blue Grama thrives in both sandy soils and clay! You can also interplant plugs with wildflowers to grow a colorful, low-care short grass prairie. For a turf type lawn, plant plugs 6" apart. We recommend using Organic Plant Magic as a root dip to spur grass plug growth. 4" tall (15" with seed heads).
Sporobolus wrightii Windbreaker (Lunas Form of Giant Sacaton Grass) is the largest of all our native grasses growing to enormous size at maturity. Blooming in mid-summer, the flower...Learn MoreSporobolus wrightii Windbreaker Los Lunas Form of Giant Sacaton Grass Sporobolus wrightii WindbreakerAs low as $10.99 Sale $9.89Per Plant - 3.25" PotSporobolus wrightii Windbreaker (Lunas Form of Giant Sacaton Grass) is the largest of all our native grasses growing to enormous size at maturity. Blooming in mid-summer, the flower spikes vary in color from blonde to bronze. This ornamental grass is a drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric). Exclusive.Learn More
Compactum is hands down one of the very best native wildflowers for water-wise gardens. This tiny shrub has a profusion of bright scarlet flowers in late spring and tidy, tight growi...Learn MorePenstemon pinifolius Compactum Compact Pineleaf Beardtongue Penstemon pinifolius CompactumAs low as $10.99 Sale $7.69Per Plant - 5" PotCompactum is hands down one of the very best native wildflowers for water-wise gardens. This tiny shrub has a profusion of bright scarlet flowers in late spring and tidy, tight growing branches of evergreen pine needle-like leaves. Perfect for borders or accenting larger perennials. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).Learn More
Exclusive. Little Treasure is a dwarf yellow flowered form of a columbine native to the shady canyons of southern New Mexico. The bright flowers face upwards to the sky and attract...Learn MoreAquilegia chrysantha v. chaplinei Little Treasure Dwarf Golden Spur Columbine Aquilegia chrysantha v. chaplinei Little TreasureRegular Price $9.99 Sale $7.99Per Plant - 5" PotYou save: 20%Exclusive. Little Treasure is a dwarf yellow flowered form of a columbine native to the shady canyons of southern New Mexico. The bright flowers face upwards to the sky and attract hummingbirds. A High Country Gardens introduction.Learn More
Why Not Use Them More Often?
Native plants have traditionally been perceived by farmers and ranchers simply as weeds that must be eradicated from cultivated fields and pastures. While local townspeople often consider them too common to deserve a place in their gardens. People mistakenly think wild plants aren't as attractive as cultivated species. But browse through books or catalogs that contain native plants, take a hike with a knowledgeable plant person, or view a botanical garden that has native plants and this is easily refuted.
Use of native plants in your landscape gives your property a sense of place that reflects the region in which you live. You probably wouldn't move to Colorado because it reminds you of Ohio.
In a perennial border native plants can stand alone or be mixed with cultivated species with similar needs. A few western intermountain favorites are:
- Aquilegia caerulea (Rocky Mountain Columbine)
- Mirabilis multiflora (Wild Four O'clock)
- Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon)
- Zinnia grandiflora (Prairie Zinnia)
Native shrubs and trees provide structure to the landscape and often provide food, shelter or both to birds and other animals. Fail-proof but pretty favorites include:
- Fallugia paradoxa (Apache Plume)
- Forestiera neomexicana (New Mexico Privet)
- Rhus trilobata (Three-Leaf Sumac)
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