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The Benefits of Gardening with Natives

To help us understand all the benefits we gain when we plant our gardens with native plant species, we can start by taking a broader view of ourselves and all the other creatures that live with us on our planet. We share a finite amount of space in a living system that is self-perpetuating as long as the different species in that system exist within certain parameters. This is the "food web" we all learned about in elementary school. At the center of those webs we always have the plants, and, if we take them away, the system collapses.

Why are native plants better than non-natives in the food web? Because many of the animal species will only eat the plants with which they have evolved. So, as we humans take up more space with our homes and gardens and replace the native plant species with those the animals can't eat, we are literally starving them out of existence.

This doesn't have to happen. By switching to native plants and more naturalized landscapes we can plant gardens that are not only friendly to our fellow creatures, but also less expensive and less work. We can give up our obsession with our huge lawns which are of no benefit to wildlife. Instead we can save the time we used to spend with a lawn mower and the money we used to spend on gas and chemicals and invest them in replacing lawns with native trees, shrubs and perennials.

If we choose the right plants for our site and spend their first season making sure they become established through watering and weed control, we soon have a low or even self-maintaining garden. The time that was once spent spreading weed killer and pushing a lawn mower becomes a time to watch a butterfly sip nectar from a native wildflower or a mother bird feeding her babies in a nearby native shrub. Our gardens can evolve from a struggle to control nature to a celebration of all that nature has to offer.

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