Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA: Native Plants A Cool Choice For Fall Planting
By Harry Campbell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA Office Director
As you find time to put away deck furniture, winterize gardens, and give the lawn its last good mowing, consider adding native plants to the landscaping. They can pay dividends for years to come.
According to our Chesapeake Bay Foundation restoration specialists, who know a thing or two about plants, now through Thanksgiving can be the best time to put beneficial native plants into the ground.
Native Pennsylvania plants are commonly defined as those that grew in the Commonwealth before European settlers arrived.
Whether it be flowers, trees, shrubs, or grasses, there is a native plant for every purpose and desire. (Photo by Clair Ryan/Chesapeake Bay Foundation.)
“Plants planted in the fall, especially trees and shrubs, tend to put their energy into root growth, instead of leaf growth,” says Clair Ryan, our watershed restoration program manager in Harrisburg. “This gives them a strong foundation for rapid growth in the spring.”
Many plants also go dormant in the fall and winter and don’t require much moisture to survive until the spring. With plants already in the ground, they are ready to take advantage of spring rains.
Native flowers and herbaceous plants often need less water, fertilizer and other maintenance. Native plants absorb and filter water, a significant factor in reducing the amount of harmful nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff that pollutes Pennsylvania waterways.
Food and habitat are among other benefits native plants provide.
“Native plants offer our native wildlife a food source that they are used to and need,” says Ashley Spotts, who works in York, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Chester counties. “It’s the beginning of the food chain.”
“Natives can usually tolerate extreme heat, cold, drought, and flooding better than non-natives, because they are adapted to the area,” Frank Rohrer adds. “This means less replacement of dead and injured plants for homeowners.”
Frank works in Centre, Clinton, Lycoming, Union, Snyder, Juniata and Mifflin counties.
Native warm-season grasses provide nesting and winter cover for many types of wildlife. Their sturdy, thick stems provide a shield from snow, weather, and predators better than short-growing, non-native grasses.
Planting in wet areas in the fall should be avoided at all costs. Steve Smith says, “depending on the severity of the winter, plants installed in the fall tend to heave out of the ground, sometimes completely, resulting in high mortality.”
Steve is in Potter, Tioga and Bradford counties. Kristen Kitchen works in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Franklin counties. Jennifer Johns works in Bradford, Susquehanna, Sullivan, and Wyoming counties.
Fall is the best time for planting containerized seedlings, while bare root seedlings do best in the spring. Clair Ryan adds that for trees and shrubs, using stakes and shelters can provide support and protection from wildlife damage. These practices are often used in establishing buffers.
Steve Smith suggests considering several factors when selecting native plants. “What are your priorities for the planting area,” he asks. “Are you trying to enhance an area near a stream? Do you prefer certain species such as pollinators, songbirds, in-stream critters, fish species, or wildlife in general? Are fruit and nut products important?”
Think about the soil and the planting area itself. Do not plant a tree that needs upland type soil in a wetland. Be careful to choose shade tolerant species for shady areas and those that like full sun in sunny areas.
Select plants that will survive in your cold hardiness zone, Frank Rohrer suggests. Consider the size of the plants at maturity and be sure to choose species that will not get in the way of driveways, fences, paths, or roadsides.
From the myriad flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses, and ferns, there is a native plant to serve every purpose and desire.
A terrific resource for selecting and installing native plants can be found at the Native Plant Center website. There you can find the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Guide, “Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”
Take it from the pros who know. Getting back to basics with native plants can make our waters cleaner, and life easier for the gardener.
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