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Native landscape options plentiful in Georgia

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia has many native plant species that can be viable, low- maintenance choices for home landscapes.

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

Virtually endless

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

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 Georgia natives.

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).

Native plants offer many advantages over exotic species, Carter 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 tidy 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 or street?

Then 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 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 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.

Fancy?

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 would purchase and bring over exotic plants to show off in their landscapes," she said.

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

Contact your county UGA Extension Service offices to find out more about how to establish a native Georgia landscape.

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

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