Gaardening with Native Plants DIY Guide

The DIY Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants

Last month we shared with you the benefits of gardening with native plants.  This month we’re happy to introduce a basic “how to” for getting started. Choosing to landscape local will take a bit of time.  The rewards will be many as local critters find a comfortable spot to live, the water bill goes down, and your yard flourishes.

Don’t feel like you have to overhaul your entire yard either.  You don’t have to go tear out your beautiful Japanese Maple or majestic Redwood because they’re not local. Even making the switch with a couple of plants or one small section will have an impact.

Gaardening with Native Plants DIY Guide

The DIY Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants

Pick Your Plot

What you choose to use will depend on the area of the yard you’re working in.  Select the area first of all. If you’ll be converting the entire yard, work in zones.  Consider th sunshine, soil quality, water drainage, and traffic through the area. If it’s a space kids or the dog will trample through often- make sure to keep that in mind.

Also, think about a way to make it unique.  Perhaps you can include a bee sanctuary in the back corner of the yard no one uses.  It’ll keep the family safe from any stings and provide a needed home for your bees. Or a butterfly habitat outside the family’s favorite reading window or in front of your bedroom.  Then you can enjoy it indoors and outdoors.


Consider Color, Maintenance, Critters, and Food

Before researching, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want specific colors in my plot?
    • How many colors?  
    • What shades of green do I like?
    • What might add or, or detract from, the curb appeal of my home?
    • Are there colors I’m always commenting on when I see plants and flowers in nature and other’s homes?
  • How much maintenance do I want to do?  
    • Do I want my yard to take care of itself or can I spend extra time in the garden?
  • What critters do I want to attract to the yard?
    • Should I build an entire section to attract bees?
    • Do I want to bring in butterflies, birds, bees, or a specific species?
    • Am I ok with deer, rabbits, and squirrels coming around?  
    • Where is the best shade and water availability for critters?
    • Can I bring in water or food somehow for them?
    • How will I protect my garden if I’m bringing in more critters to my yard?
  • Should I include local and wild edibles?
    • Is there a specific food from the Farmer’s Market I’m always finding myself buying that I could include?
    • What are some unique native edible options in my area?
    • Do I want to include fresh herbs or greens?
  • Do I want any medicinal herbs or remedies?
    • During your research phase, think about any medicinal and healing herbs you use.  Are any of them local to your area?

Research Phase

There are thousands of native plants to North America.  Take time to research what is local to the country, the region, the state, and hyper-local to your community.  We’ve provided resources below to help you with this. With so many options available, it could be easy to get sucked in.  As you research, make sure to narrow it down to what works well in the specific growing conditions and desires outlined above. 

Additional Considerations: 

Gardening With Kids

If you have children, make sure to take them into consideration.  Perhaps include something they can climb, hang a hammock from, or make into a fort.  Think about including local berries, a local veggie, or a fruit tree. That way they can grab a snack while they’re outdoors and keep on playing! 

Invasive & Fast Growth

Unfortunately, some plants are invasive or rapid growers.  This is especially true of weeds- which are often valued as herbal remedies!  If you have a favorite weed such as purslane or nettle, consider using a container instead.

Cost

If you’re on a budget, be careful of what you pick.  Most local options should be inexpensive but rare or endangered plants might cost a pretty penny.  Try checking out Craiglist (or post a wanted ad yourself), locally owned garden centers, or the local farmer’s market.  Asking around to local farmers can be a great way to landscape for free or cheap.

This is NOT Xeriscaping

The xeriscaping trend has slowed down a bit.  It’s important to note using native plants is not xeriscaping.  In many climates, this particular gardening approach has proven to be harmful.  For most regions, this is not a beneficial way to landscape. It has killed countless lawns, sent away local critters, and caused a lot of other problems.  If you’re in a dry climate and want to xeriscape, make sure to do research with one of the suggested resources below first.

Get Gardening

Once you’ve decided what you want to include and where- it’s time to get started.  Take it slow and steady. Remember there will be more maintenance in the first few weeks as everything gets accustomed to its new space.  Don’t forget plenty of water for you and your new plants. Make sure to follow guidelines for depth, soil drainage, sun, and spacing. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your beautiful yard.

Resources

Visit your local garden center to see if they have any courses available.  Local libraries, community centers, and community garden projects also offer these courses on occasion. 

For organizations, check out Wild Ones.  They have chapters in over a dozen states and are growing.  Wild Ones exists to educate the public on gardening with natives and native plant preservation.  

The American Horticultural Society has a native plant society in every state and Canadian province.

Last, The National Wildlife Feration has an entire “Garden for Wildlife” focus.  This includes a whole section on Native Plants with informational articles, regional examples, and a plant finder tool.

Organic Soil Maintenance for organic farms

Soil Maintenance for Organic Farms

Growing organic produce, cotton, and other crops is about more than not spraying chemicals. While avoiding chemicals is important, soil maintenance is also a main focus for organic farmers. The soil is a crucial component to growing and many organic farmers are quite mindful of their soil health and care. Building healthy, strong soil can be quite an extensive process. Conventional farming techniques aren’t generally focused on soil health. It can take farmers many years to build up the fertility and quality of their soil.
Through maintaining fertile soil, farmers increase the nutrients in the soil. Healthy nutrients in the soil subsequently increase the nutrients in their food. Many people comment on the difference in flavor between a small organic farm and a large conventional farm. Soil health is a key component to healthy, beautiful, delicious crops. Organic farming practices involve slowly released nutrients into the earth. This boosts the health of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, and protozoa that all work together to maintain soil health.
Rows of crops on farm with rich soil
Compost is often a major part of developing well-tended organic soil. Initially, many farmers use “trench composting” as a way to build up soil health. This is especially popular practice when taking over a conventional farm or beginning to farm on the new land. In trench composting, deep trenches are dug in the soil. The farmer then dumps compost into these trenches and buries it. This allows the compost to break down in the Earth which boosts beneficial organisms, micro-flora, etc. available in the soil.
Farmers will almost always maintain a compost pile as well. (tip- if you live somewhere you can’t compost, like an apartment, reach out to local farms. They’ll almost always be willing to take your compost and may even share some crops). Farms can purchase composters which help break the materials down faster in order to spread over the earth, or till into the soil.
Using “compost tea” is also a popular method for maintaining healthy soil. This is the liquid that comes off a standard compost pile. Farmers will often collect some compost and allow it to break down in a container, dilute with water and use it to water their crops. This provides a natural fertilizer and needed moisture.
Compost pile
Composting is involved in most organic farming operations
Nutrient cycling is also a main component to organic soil maintenance. Allowing plant remnants, lawn clippings, and leaves to break down on the soil helps provide nutrients to the soil. Proper and mindful watering, aeration, and pest control also allow the nutrients in the soil to cycle through naturally. By aerating the soil, water, oxygen, and nutrients are able to get into the soil and get to roots more easily. Aeration usually occurs once or twice during the farming season.
Farmers who tend to soil health also get the added benefit of more effective watering. Plants hold onto moisture better, and the soil filters out anything potentially damaging to the plants.
With simple pH test strips, farmers are able to get great information about the health and quality of their soil. There are also labs in which farmers can send samples of their soil for analysis. These labs will let farmers know percentages of minerals, bacteria, fungi, molds, nutrients, chemicals, pesticides, and more present in their soil. Farmers can actually alter the health of their soil by crop cycling, planting specific crops near one another, adding in specific organic nutrients, and by irrigation and watering with specific methods.
By developing fertile soil, crops grow stronger, pests are less likely to take hold and disease does not spread as rapidly among crops. Maintaining healthy soil is a huge benefit for organic farmers and well worth the time and effort they put into it. Try visiting an organic farm someday, dig your hands into the earth and take notice of the rich soil. The difference is obvious and beautiful.