Posted on 19 April 2010 by

Native Plants in an Urban Environment

monarch6_parkpoint_7-21-06_smBy Sonya Welter

Nature is not something that only happens in the countryside.

Even the most urban of cities are home to birds, mammals, bugs and other wildlife, and those critters depend on native wildflowers, grasses, trees and other plants provide food and shelter.

Native plants also tend to be deep-rooted and work well to control erosion and improve soil quality.

In an urban landscape, you can find native plants in parks, gardens or abandoned lots, but these plants are under constant threat from development or invasive species. If you want to bring a little wilderness to your city, you can work to save and grow native plants.

First, educate yourself about what plants are native to your area. Just because you see a flower growing in the wild doesn’t mean that it’s native. Oxeye daisies, for example, are common across North America but actually native to Europe.

On this side of the pond, they crowd out native flowers and don’t offer as much wildlife benefit as natives like lupine or milkweed. A good field guide (I like “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide”) should help you sort out which plants are native and which are introduced.

Then, consider growing some native plants in your yard. Even if you only have a postage-stamp sized lot, you can still turn your front yard into a miniature prairie, woodland or rain garden, depending on your environment.

A national native plant group called Wild Ones is a great resource for picking out the right plants and dealing with fussbudget neighbors who think wildflowers look messy or unkempt. You may need to plant native into a formal garden design or incorporate elements like a bench, birdbath or walkway to give your yard a more formal look.

If you want to be a real native plant champion, you can organize a plant rescue for parcels of land that are slated for development, or volunteer to remove invasive plants like European buckthorn or Japanese knotweed from public areas like parks or school yards. For plant rescues, make sure that you have someplace to transplant what you dig up, and try to conduct the dig on an overcast day to reduce stress on the plants.

If you’re going to be pulling weeds, it’s a good idea to have some seeds or plugs to plant in their place. And of course, you should always get permission from the land owner or local authorities before doing work on property that is not your own.

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