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Keeping native plants in the local ecosystem | Gardening

Gardening with native plants is not all or nothing. You can grow showy hybrids and tropicals along with native plants in your garden.

As more and more land is cleared of native plants to make way for development we are left to bring those plants back into home gardens and community landscaping to help preserve balance in the ecosystem.

The ecological connection between native plants and insects and animals is vital. The landscape plant material we select for our yards affects birds and the insects they need in order to rear their young. Nearly all terrestrial birds feed insects to their broods. Native plants provide food for insects, and insects provide food for birds. Without insects we would not have birds.

Many home owners spend a significant amount of money each year on insecticides. Yes, some insects are harmful because they transmit disease, sting and cause allergic reactions, some cause damage to crops and gardens, others damage buildings. Remember, however, that 95% of all insects are beneficial or neutral. We need them in our ecosystems.

When planted in the right place native plants require less water, fertilizer and pesticide than nonnative plants. Indigenous plants are adapted to their local environmentósoils, climate conditions and weather extremes. They tolerate a wide range of light and moisture conditions. They are more resistant to insects and disease than exotics.

Native plants donít require the chemical pesticides and fertilizers necessary to keep nonnative plants thriving. They are low maintenance for the homeowner and nontoxic in the environment. That makes them healthier for the gardener as well as wildlife.

Many of us seek eye-catching flowers, brightly colored fruits or seeds and showy autumn leaf color from landscape plants. Donít ignore native plants in the hunt. They are not merely green and boring. Take a look at American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) for two season interest.

Characteristics: American beauty berry is a perennial native shrub that grows 3-6 ft. tall and 4-6 ft. wide. However, under optimum soil and moisture conditions shrubs can reach 9 ft. They have a loose open form with long arching branches. They are under story plants that grow well in dappled sun or, with more water, in full sun.

Growing conditions: Ideally soil should be rich, well drained and somewhat moist. However, beautyberry grows in just about any soil from sandy to clayey. It is not a heavy drinker and its water use is low to medium. Note: If grown in full sun or droughty conditions it should not be allowed to completely dry out. As with any other plant, put the right plant in the right place.

Foliage: It has elliptical-ovate leaves arranged opposite one another, twice as long as wide. Light green foliage becomes yellow-green in fall before the leaves drop.

Flowers: It is a summer blooming shrub with pale pink-lavender flowers that are clustered along the branches at the leaf axils. They bloom between June August.

Fruit: Brilliant fuchsia berries cluster heavily along the branches. Note: Some plants have white berries.

Pruning: Flowers and subsequent berries are produced on the current yearís growth. Beautyberry flowers in the summer so prune in late winter-early spring. The shrub can be pruned to 12 in. or so above the ground before spring growth starts. Prune to control growth or refresh an older plant.

Propagation: It is easily propagated by seed, root cuttings and softwood tip cuttings.

Ornamental aspect: Beautyberry is an ornamental stand-out with its masses of bright fuchsia (or white) berries set along the arching branches in late summer and early fall.

Wildlife appeal: Nectar attracts butterflies and berries attract birds.

Problems: No serious insect or disease problems.

Beautyberry is available at nurseries. There are a few hybrid cultivars and native Asian species, but why not choose the native Callicarpa americana?

As we bring native plants back into our yards and community landscapes we not only support wildlife, but help blend developed areas back into the surrounding natural environment.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.

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