Native Plants & Vernal Pools

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Gardeners are always looking for ways to attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, and humming birds not only to help their gardens grow, but to be a part of helping their community generally have a more sustainable ecosystem. Growing native plants is no longer a new trend. It is an establish and well liked approach for many gardeners.

Our local cooperative extension offices have all kinds of information that can help us create a garden that not only gives us a great deal of pleasure to look at and smell, but can actively help nourish and repair the environment. I contacted Carrie Murphy at the Delaware Cooperative Extension about using native plants and via email she suggested that gardeners should think holistically.

Before picking out any plants, we need to think about the entire system that supports them. So first things first, Carrie recommends that you get your soil tested so you know what type of soil you have and what needs to be done to improve it. Usually this can be done with compost. Armed with this knowledge you'll be able to choose plants that will be more likely to flourish.

Next stop is a nursery or garden center that specializes in raising native species for this region. But a great way to buy plants and get expert advice is to go to one of several native plant sales held by local environmental groups. I recently spoke to Kate Patton Executive Director of the Lower Shore Land Trust about their sale and why native plants are so important.

Their annual event has blossomed into a celebration that last several weeks. It is not only to raise money but to help educate people about why sustainable "green" gardening is so important and the symbiotic relationship between wildlife and plant life. The work with experts to find out what will not only grow best here but what will be best for our ecosystem in hopes of getting people interested in bringing these plants back to their own house.

Kate says that they recently held a wetland pond workshop to tell people about the benefits of having vernal ponds. These are small pools that form mostly the wet spring season in low spots before disappearing for the summer. They provide critical habitat for frogs and other helpful amphibians.

She goes on to say how exciting it is to work with nurseries like Environmental Concerns in St. Michael's which has been growing and selling native species for several decades. Further, she says that though the Lower Shore Land Trust usually concentrates on helping land owners with large properties create conservation easements it is possibly for the ordinary home owner to do their part.

Kate recommends reading Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy which promotes native plants and explains how our suburban sprawl has hurt the habitat of migrating neotropical birds who visit our region annually reducing their much needed food sources.

The Lower Shore Land Trust will hold their sale on May 9th at the Ward Foundation who has adapted their approach to landscaping around their museum to incorporate as much native plants as possible. And it is really beautiful. Some native plants will bloom from March until November.

Kate says it is important for gardeners to learn all they can about native plants since some varieties touted as native are actually hybrids which do not always provide the same benefits as the real deal.

At the Lower Shore Land Trust sale visitors can choose from over 60 varieties of native plants, consult with Master Gardeners, and check out a live bee hive courtesy of the Lower Eastern Shore Beekeepers Association. The Maryland State Park's Scales & Tales Program will also have kids' activities with live wildlife. Visit their website to find out more:

Another interesting event of the Lower Shore Land trust is a seed saving program which will be held on May 28th with Mark Gormel from the Brandywine Nature Conservancy. Find out about these and other home and garden events on our community calendar.

Lear more about Native Plants:
Mid-Atlantic Region Green Landscaping
Native Plant Center for the Chesapeake Region
Plant Eastern Shore (Virginia) Natives
Plants for a Livable Delaware