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Native plants a good bet for Georgia landscapes
By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

If you're tired of those same old landscape plants and designs, or you're not sure what to do with that one spot in your yard, try going native, says a University of Georgia expert.

"Georgia is blessed with many diverse, beautiful and interesting native plant species," said Amy Carter, research coordinator at the UGA National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Lab in Tifton, Ga.

Georgia has one of the most abundant plant populations in the United States, she said. Only three states have more. With more than 2,800 different tree, shrub, flower and ground-cover species native to Georgia, your Georgia native landscape potential is almost endless.

Devilwood, possum haw, hairy ruellia, black gum, sourwood, flowering dogwood, wire grass, switch grass, muhly grass, magnolia, wax myrtle, saw palmetto and many others are all Georgia natives.

Native plants offer many advantages over exotic species, she said. But there are a few misconceptions.

A native plant usually requires less maintenance. You don't have to fight to keep it alive because it's where it wants to be. But this doesn't mean it needs no maintenance. You can't be lazy. "All landscapes need some maintenance," she said.

The native species have been here a long time. Generally, if placed properly in the landscape, they require less water and chemical insecticide and fungicide to grow. That's much better for the immediate environment.

"They've proven they can handle the weather, bugs and conditions in Georgia without much help," she said.

When many think of native landscapes, she said, they think of an unkempt area. This doesn't have to be so. It can be as kempt as any flower bed.

To get started, as with most landscape plans, you first want to assess the landscape area. Is it dry? Wet? Is the soil acidic? Shady? Sunny? How will it look from the house?

You then want to choose the right trees, shrubs, flowers or ground covers for the area. Consider where you live in Georgia. It's a big state, with many different ecosystems. What grows well in the north Georgia mountains may not do well in south Georgia or along the coast, she said.

Don't try to get too complicated with the planting, either. Keep it simple, she said, and your new native landscape will bring you much pleasure and pride.

"Natives can give you a sense of place or let you know where you are," she said.

For a list of plants native to Georgia and where to get them, visit the Georgia Native Plant Society's Web site (www.gnps.org.)

A U.S. native plant is generally considered a plant that thrived in an area before Europeans settled it, said Carter, who also manages and conducts tours of the UGA Coastal Plain Research Arboretum in Tifton. But as Europeans settled, so came the exotic plant guests.

"At that time, instead of buying a nice foreign car, the rich (people) would purchase and bring over exotic plants to show off in their landscapes," she said.

Because of this practice, she said, there are some plant species that have become so common and abundant here that many have mistaken them for natives. But they aren't. For example, camellias, boxwoods, mimosas and some azaleas are foreigners.

To learn more about how to establish a native Georgia landscape or to tour the Coastal Plain Arboretum, contact Carter at (229) 391-6868, or e-mail her at acarter@tifton.uga.edu. Or contact your county UGA Extension Service office.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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