Native plants have many good qualities going for them. They have evolved locally and have withstood the test of time. They also have the reputation of being resistant to insects and diseases while being adapted to our natural soils. Natives give us a sense of place in the southern ecology. Native plant communities tell us we’re at home here in the South.
Now, not all natives are as tough or as widely adapted as we would like to think. Some are even on the endangered species list, which means they are having a tough time surviving in today’s world. Others are very site specific, meaning they will grow only on very well drained soils or some only on shaded northern slopes. We also have natives that can be weedy with aggressive tendencies, meaning they can quickly over-run the landscape.
To successively use native plants, we must become familiar with their needs. We must go through our selection criteria and ask, “How hardy is it?” Many native South Georgia plants are not reliably hardy in North Georgia, for example. How much light do these natives need? Will they grow in full sun or do they require the protection of full or partial shade? Is the soil moisture adequate as well as drainage? We must go through these criteria for selecting landscape plants when using natives or introduced plants if we are to be successful.
Are natives found in the nurseries? Certainly – there are a great number of native plants readily available and commonly used in the landscape. What would our home setting be without native dogwoods, redbuds, southern magnolias, sugar maples or oakleaf hydrangea? Some natives you may have to search for in the nurseries, such as sourwood, silverbell, sweetshrub, fothergilla or the deciduous azaleas. Others are not widely available because they are unknown, hard to grow or have not yet been tried. Natives certainly have a place in our landscape and many new introductions and discoveries are coming from our native populations.
Should we only plant natives and spurn introduced plants? That would be a tough step to take. Many introduced plants are familiar friends which are well adapted and greatly appreciated. Can we give up evergreen azaleas, camellias, boxwoods, Japanese holly, liriope, nandina, Japanese maple, ginkgo or even crape myrtle? The list includes some of our most valuable and cherished landscape plants.
Is there room for both native and introduced plants in our landscapes? Definitely, both have been used since we first began importing plants. Each landscape planting has the opportunity to include only natives or introduced plants, or most commonly both. The best selection practice still appears to be “the right plant for the right place”. The right plant will be the one adapted to the site and fit the right place while fulfilling our needs.
Some of the needs appear to be ideal for using natives. Planting natives to restoring native habitats, roadsides or naturalizing parks, business or home sites makes a perfect match. Introduced plants are used as shade trees, evergreen screens, flowering shrubs, ground covers or as accent specimens. However, either native or introduced plants can fulfill these needs. In our landscapes there is room to use both without excluding either group of plants.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact Brenda Jackson at Murray County Extension at 706-695-3031 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.