If you are like me, it feels like time to get some color in the yard and do some planting. What we plant can have a big impact on the health of the environment that surrounds us and can either support, or harm, the birds, bees and insects we all rely on. So please think about what you are planting before grabbing the prettiest plant in reach. The decisions you are making today will last long after the enticing bloom on the plant you are buying has faded.
If you want to make the best choice to have an attractive yard that also supports and works in tandem with our Cape environment, choose native species. Plants native to our region are adapted to the conditions we find on the Cape. If properly selected for the location in your yard, once established they won’t require regular watering. And, there’s no need for pesticides or fertilizers or amending the soils for them to survive. As an added value, they support native insects and birds. By planting native species, you will provide much needed habitat that has been lost due to development and the tendency of traditional landscapers to make the Cape look like everywhere else USA.
The native plant movement has been catching on and many nurseries and outlets now carry some native plants. We encourage you to do some research before buying. For example, know the scientific name of the plants you are after – common names are not reliable. Select the right plant for the right place. A plant that thrives in shade won’t be happy in the hot sun, native or not. Many online native plant catalogs are great resources to learn site requirements for each species.Go to retail nurseries that carry native species and if you are not sure if a store has natives, ask. If the answer is no, the fact that you asked and left to shop someplace else will help educate shop owners that there is a market and consumer interest in native plants. Nothing will encourage stores to add native species to their inventories more than customers walking out in their absence.
Lastly, avoid any plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. These systemic pesticides are toxic to bees and other pollinating insects. The pollen, nectar and even the dew forming on plants treated with neonics (long before you buy them) cause toxicity to pollinators. Death may not be immediate, but the neurotoxin can weaken and disorient. And, since pollen is used to feed the young, the next generation is at risk. It is not always easy to avoid treated plants because there is not uniform regulation to require public notice. Start by asking store personnel and reading the label on the plant (if there is one). Some nurseries, including the big box stores, have labels on the plants that say the plants have been treated with neonicotinoids. The labels may even say the pesticides have been approved by EPA, but that does not change the fact that they are toxic to bees. Simply don’t buy them. And tell the store why you are not buying them. It’s the only way to change the store’s practices.
Just like knowing your farmer, it pays to know your plant nursery and to “buy local” from trusted sources. Taking a little time and effort now, before planting, can yield big results over the long term. It is time well spent.