Growing Green: Tips for propagating native plants
Choosing plants native to the Lehigh Valley can improve gardening success since many of these plants have adapted to the region over hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
However, not all plants native to the region will thrive in the garden. Like any other plants, some natives have very exacting requirements for moisture, soil, and even microscopic fungi. Native orchids, such as the lady slipper orchids, are one such example usually best left to be enjoyed in their natural forest environment.
Native plants can enhance almost any landscape. They can be easily integrated into small, formal gardens and perennial borders.
Natives are also wonderful choices for rain gardens where their root systems stabilize and hold the soil. And they can be used to naturalize a larger area such as a meadow or woodland.
Some native plants are more aggressive than others. Certain plants, such as sunflowers, asters and black-eyed Susans may be considered “weedy.” These often pioneer species are best adapted to tough situations because of their tolerance of infertile, dry soil and resistance to predation by insects, birds and small mammals.
These more aggressive plants are a great asset when naturalizing large areas. For smaller, more formal properties, there are many beautiful but less aggressive plants from which to choose. In these smaller areas, cultural practices such as deadheading, pinching, and division can provide a more controlled appearance.
When choosing a plant for any garden, considerations of soil fertility, pH, moisture and drainage, sun, climate and plant hardiness, and disease and pest resistance are important. Care must be taken to ensure that plants chosen for the site will thrive once established.
For example, if a sun-loving plant is placed in a semi-shaded area, it may be more prone to disease or fail to flower. Choosing plants according to their ecological habitat generally promotes success.
Spring, early summer, and fall are the best times to establish native perennials. Test your soil before planting and, if needed, amend the nutrients according to the soil test results.
Many natives do not require the addition of fertilizer and may do poorly in highly-fertilized soil. Plants that require moist soil high in organic matter will do well if compost is added. Cultivate the soil to a depth of eight to 10 inches and incorporate any soil amendments.
When planting, placing the plant in a hole at the same depth as when it was in the container is important. If the plant is root-bound, make sure you free the root system by gently pulling it apart. Once the backfill soil is added, water the plant thoroughly.
Additional water may be needed during the growing season until plants are well established. If planted in the proper environment, many natives need little or no additional water once established. Many meadow species may become leggy if the soil is too moist.
A two-inch mulch layer of shredded leaves, shredded bark, or compost will help conserve water. Be sure to keep the mulch away from the plant stems.
Do not collect from the wild. Collecting plants from the wild causes the depletion of native species and disruption of the ecosystem. Be sure to purchase plants from a reputable source and purchase only nursery propagated native plants.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-813-6613.