Chances are you’ve never thought about the space around your home as a wildlife preserve that is indicative of your geographical location. While we used to allow our surroundings to grow naturally and take on the very essence of where we live, we gave that up decades ago as suburban landscapes took over the horizon.
Now it’s all about what is hardy and easy to grow, what can quickly turn a profit through your local big box garden store. And as such, we see a lot of plants coming into our landscapes that simply aren’t meant for our environments.
We’re taught from the time we’re children that gardens are for beauty. That we plant and grow them based on our personalities and desires rather than what is better for the lay of the land.
It’s our property. It’s our landscaping. We want to make it our home. And we want to grow it to suit our needs.
That’s often the approach you’ll see as you drive around your own neighborhood. Most don’t think twice about what plants are native to Oregon when they select a new bush or tree.
We’ve forced plants and animals to evolve according to our requirements, rather than inviting native species into our yards to keep a delicate ecosystem intact.
Whether you are designing your landscape for new construction, or are redesigning your yard to take better advantage of what’s native for our region, here are a few tips for you.
Reason #1: Native plants are what’s best for the environment
Instead of thinking about what looks most beautiful in your yard, selecting native plants plays a functional role in creating a better ecosystem.
Plants from anywhere in the world can be both beautiful and low maintenance. That’s what you’ll usually find at your big box garden center. But bringing in other plant life from countries from around the world won’t support the rich web of life that a native plant does. If we want to keep a cycle of bugs, birds, and animals coming home to be a part of the world they are indicative of, we need native plants. The more we get back to what thrives in Oregon based on its history, the more we’ll see all forms of life return to their natural ways.
Reason #2: Native plants contribute to a natural food chain
Think back to your days of basic biology. The food chain has a natural rhythm to it, with single-cell life forms being consumed by more sophisticated beings, eventually being consumed by bugs, birds, and animals. If you take one piece out of the chain, it changes our world forever.
Native plants are a huge part of that chain. If we have native plants, it attracts native insects. And as they live, grow, and die on the native plant life, they attract many other types of organisms back into the area to thrive on them.
For example, you can’t help but notice songbirds if you head out for a walk on one of our many trail systems here in Oregon. The vast majority of songbirds feed their young insect protein. Those insects only thrive if they have enough compatible plant life for them to exist. If we want our native songbirds to thrive, we MUST attract the insects through native plants.
Reason #3: Native plants promote the right bugs
Head out into your landscape, and you’ll probably find a lot of bugs. And for a lot of us, bugs aren’t exactly things we enjoy.
Do you have to put up with pesky bugs just to attract songbirds? Are the bugs going to eat up all of your plants just so that you can give life to the food chain? Luckily, the answer is no.
Bugs come in all shapes and sizes. And because we’ve already impacted our native plant life structure, some of those bugs thrive while others die off. Not all bugs are good to have in your gardens. Some are classified as pests.
That’s where the experts come into play. We help people every day determine the difference between good and bad bugs. And we can help keep the bad bugs away while giving healthy plants a chance to thrive and live with the good bugs. It’s the best way.
Reason #4: Native plants grow well
Your yard is only so big. You only have room for a certain amount of plants. How do you know which ones are the best to plant? And if you already have a healthy garden in place, do you really need to rip things out to make room for more native species?
Keep in mind that different resources will have different goals in mind. Some plant reference materials you’ll find online will call a plant “native” if it’s from the same continent, or even from the very state you live in. Have you been to eastern Oregon? Yep, there’s a vast difference between the native plants there and what’s native to Portland. Therefore, it’s important to dig a little deeper when you’re trying to pick the perfect plants.
Start with resources you can trust. OSU has a native gardening section filled with advice and links to everything you need to make wise choices for your garden.
You can also ask experts in the field to provide you with a list of possibilities. We’d be happy to make recommendations.
Reason #5: Native plants extend biodiversity
All of this sounds great, but is this really something you should concern yourself with? Will your tiny little yard make a big deal in the overall scheme of things?
Yes. And here’s why.
Biodiversity losses are a sign that we are losing the very life-support systems that sustain human life. The ecosystem is designed to support all life – it makes no distinction between plants, bugs, animals, or humans.
It is biodiversity that generates oxygen. It creates our water supply. It creates topsoil that buffers us from the harsh elements we see. It prevents things like droughts and floods. It helps recycle what we put back to have things to take away.
And we’re threatening it’s very survival. Humans can’t live as the only species on this planet. We need a thriving ecosystem to coexist and provide us with all we need to survive. Every time a species goes into extinction, we are pushing toward our own demise.
Even the most conservative increases in plants native to Oregon can have a significant impact on the increase in the number and species of breeding birds. And as a gardener and a steward of our land, even a small step is all we need for our future.