By planting native species, homeowners can provide a habitat for wildlife, birds and bees—and help save the planet
Choose the Right Plants
Rochelle Bartolomei, a native plant specialist for Montgomery Parks, stresses the importance of choosing “native plants with the right ecotype for our region” to ensure that they match the needs of local fauna. Barbara Schubert, who’s nurtured her native garden in Silver Spring for the past 16 years, suggests choosing plants that bloom every season. She’s partial to golden ragwort, a ground cover: “The deer don’t kill it, it flowers profusely in the spring, and it can vanquish the lesser celandine [an invasive ground cover].” Native plants need water the first two years after planting, but once established they will be easier to maintain than nonnatives, Bartolomei says. Some nonnative plants, such as butterfly bushes, do provide nectar for butterflies and moths, but entomologist and author Doug Tallamy compares planting those to putting out sugar water in hummingbird feeders. Those plants don’t support the whole life cycle and aren’t the best choice, he says.
Thirteen species of native bees need goldenrod pollen, and there are varieties for any site, from sunny to shady. Milkweed (ask for native varieties) provides critical egg-laying territory for monarch butterflies. Also try asters, sunflowers, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, boneset, ironweed, cardinal flowers, mountain mint and phlox.
Shrubs, vines and ground cover
Arrowwood viburnum, highbush blueberry, Virginia creeper and coral honeysuckle support local pollinators, caterpillars and birds. Other choices include serviceberry, spicebush, Virginia sweetspire, American beautyberry, inkberry holly, chokecherry, elderberry, buttonbush, sweet pepperbush and witch hazel. Options for vines and ground cover are green-and-gold, wild geranium, native sedges, golden ragwort and purple passion flower.
“No plant makes more moths than oaks,” Tallamy says. Oak trees also store carbon and reduce runoff and erosion with their roots. Black cherry supports pollinators, moths and birds. Also consider planting American holly, birch, Eastern redbud, Eastern red cedar, black willow, beech and native plum.
For more information, check out these online sources:
Native plant sources
The Maryland Native Plant Society lists regional vendors and plant sales. mdflora.org. Find plants native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed on this database from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay: nativeplantcenter.net.
Native plant finder
The National Wildlife Federation used the research of Tallamy and his students to rank native plants on how many moths and butterflies they support. nwf.org/nativeplantfinder.
Plants for birds
The National Audubon Society’s native plant database ranks the best plants for birds. audubon.org/plantsforbirds.
Amy Brecount White replaced most of her Arlington lawn with pollinator- and bird-friendly native plants this spring.