By Matthew Chappell
University of Georgia
As a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist, I am constantly amazed by the low number of native plants available for sale. Have no fear though, if you know where to look you can find some amazing native species for your landscape.
Native plants often get a bad reputation for one reason: gardeners assume they can be planted anywhere because they are native. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Just like other plants, native plants have specific light and water requirements. They are no different than non-native species sold at retail garden centers.
Before planting any plant, remember this golden rule: right plant in the right place.
For example, if you plant the non-native lace cap hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) in a dry and sunny location, you are not going to be impressed with its performance. Likewise, if you plant a native oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in a dry and sunny location, you will not be impressed with its performance either. The native can, however, withstand drier soils than its non-native cousin.
Here are a few native suggestions for shady sites that don’t get too dry: native azaleas (there are hundreds of cultivars), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), redbud (Cercis canadensis) and anise (Illicium floridatum).
Here are a few suggestions for those sunny, dry locations: wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), fringe tree (Chiocanthus virginicus) and beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).
Did you know that our state flower, the Cherokee Rose, is not a Georgia native? It was named the state flower in 1916. This just points to a century-old trend of using non-natives in our landscape.
While there is nothing wrong with using non-natives, you may want to step back in time to the pre-antebellum days when landscapes were predominantly filled with native plants. There are native species that will fit any growing environment.
If you’ve never planted a native plant, you may want to start with the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). It was named plant of the year by the Georgia Native Plant Society. To learn more about it and other native plants, go to the Web site www.gnps.org.
For those of you who love the outdoors and love to get your hands dirty, GNPS hosts plant rescues on development sites across Georgia. I can’t think of a better way to get to know natives and meet fellow gardeners.
For more help on native plants, contact your local UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
(Matthew Chappell is a Cooperative Extension nursery production specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)