FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Native plant landscape questions are often numerous and varied. Here you will find answers to some of the most common questions we typically receive at Sanctuary Native Landscapes.
Will you include non-native plants in my landscape design?
At your request, we will include non-native (non-invasive) plants in the landscape design. However, we will always offer a native alternative for consideration before finalizing the design.
In our experience, many homeowners simply aren’t aware of the array of native alternatives. With limited experience, they think that “nothing will grow in the dry shade except my hostas.”
We’d like to have the chance to change your mind. These’s a whole palette of beautiful natives we’d like you to consider—interesting plants that will look great and contribute to your backyard ecosystem.
What do you consider a native plant?
The native plants that we include in our designs have existed right here in northeastern Indiana and the Midwest for hundreds or maybe even thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived. These plants evolved and grew alongside the wildlife that lives here, too—part of the balance of nature.
Because the plants and animals of an area evolved together, they are often perfectly adapted to each other. For instance, some insects’ mouthparts are specially designed to eat a particular species of plant. Some birds only eat those insects, and it all adds up to create a balanced ecosystem.
When you talk about native plants, you need a geographic qualifier. You can say that a purple coneflower, for example, is a native of the Midwest. A Colorado blue spruce, while it’s considered a native tree in Denver, isn’t a native here.
What is an invasive plant?
Invasive species are the “bad guys” of our local plant world. They upset the balance of an ecosystem, often displacing native species. They contribute little or nothing to the local food web. More specifically, invasive plants are defined like this:
- They’re non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration
- Their introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Here’s the thing: because they didn’t grow up here, invasives don’t face natural checks and balances in the ecosystem. They often don’t have “predators.” Local wildlife won’t eat them.
So these plants, essentially worthless to the food web, spread ruthlessly. That’s why you’ll see stands of purple loosestrife running rampant along river banks, burning bushes popping up in nature preserves, and garlic mustard choking out woodland plants.
Are all non-native plants invasive?
No, not all non-native plant species are invasive. In some cases, non-native plants are known to “play nice” in the traditional landscape and not present a clear danger to our native habitat. A couple of good examples might be Japanese maples or astilbe.
However, many of the plants now listed as invasive (and banned from sale in many states), were once considered perfectly acceptable landscaping options. In some cases, it can take over 80 years or more before a plant will escape cultivation and pose a threat to our native habitat and wildlife (e.g., Callery pear trees and the numerous other ornamental varieties).
How do native plants support wildlife?
Native plants are the ecological basis upon which all life depends, including birds and people. As explained by the National Audubon Society, “Without native plants and the insects that co-evolved with them, local birds cannot survive.”
For example, research by the entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy has shown that native oak trees support over 500 species of caterpillars. Ginkgo, a commonly planted landscape tree from Asia, hosts only 5 species of caterpillars. It takes over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees, so you can see how much more useful the oaks are to parent chickadees-not to mention other animal species.
How do you feel about cultivars of native plants (nativars)?
In general, we strive to incorporate as many “straight-species” plants (those designed by mother nature) into the landscape as possible. Cultivars of the original plant are typically “designed” by scientists to meet certain character traits for mass commercial appeal. Unfortunately, in some cases, the benefits to wildlife are either lost or removed during the design process and biodiversity is almost always diminished. That we do not support.
Should I spray my native plants to kill the bugs?
Not normally, no. First, why do you want to kill the bugs? All native plants and animals have co-evolved over centuries, developing and honing their defenses over time. Under normal circumstances, insects will feed off the plants without killing the plant (think milkweed plants and monarch caterpillars). And many insects are key food sources for birds and other animals.
The outcome changes, however, when invasive bugs enter the equation. Dealing with invasive bugs should be considered carefully and you should contact us or consult your local extension office for treatment options.
What is your service area?
While most of our work is done in northeast Indiana, Sanctuary Native Landscapes is able to support clients throughout Indiana on a case by case basis. Give us a call to discuss!