Stop perpetuating the lie

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Don’t mislead consumers into thinking there’s a foolproof plant.

Butterfly weed
Angela Treadwell-Palmer

If I hear one more horticultural lecture, or read one more article touting native plants as easy solutions to all your gardening woes, I think I’ll slit my wrist.

Come on folks. Who are you kidding? There is no such thing as an easy, foolproof plant – unless it’s a weed. They are easy, they’ll grow anywhere and they need no water or fertilizer. What more could you ask for in a plant? They even grow in cracks and out the sides of old buildings in cities where nothing will grow.

I’m here to tell you exactly what the native plant pushers don’t want you to hear. They are no easier and they require no less initial care than other ornamentals. Some are even more difficult to grow.

Gasp…I can hear the mad emails flying in from readers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a true native plant lover and advocate, but I hate to see people mislead by false statements. Heck, I was the director for the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference for 14 years. It’s not like I don’t love them.

It is true that exotics (non-natives) will get insects in spots where natives will not because they have inherently resistant genes, but there are just as many non-native pests in today’s gardens. Native plants, no matter how resistant they are to our bugs, are not genetically resistant to bugs from Europe and Asia. Ever heard of the Asian longhorn beetle or gypsy moth?

Angela Treadwell-Palmer

Native plant pushers should be telling you to plant native plants to enhance biodiversity and to feed the good bugs. That’s right, I said feed the bugs. Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, says it best.

“Planting natives is a grassroots approach to conservation,” says Tallamy.

What a saying to get people hooked, right? He never says it is easy or carefree.

Doug’s fascinating research proves natives are essential. Without some native plants in every backyard, commercial property and wild area, there will be no native birds and insects in the future. They’ll have nothing to eat. This is a case where bugs and birds eating plants is a good thing.Why aren’t the native plant folks teaching this? Instead they teach that native plants will get no insect damage, and that they need no watering or fertilizer. That’s hogwash. You can’t have monarch butterflies unless there are common milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) for them to eat. There would be no Baltimore checkerspot butterflies without white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). Did you know bluejays feed on blue spruce (Picea pungens) pinecones (the seeds within them)?

There are so many fascinating, life-dependent, plant-insect relationships — I could go on and on. Read his book, then share that knowledge with your customers.

In most cases, native plants don’t need less water and they still need food. Plants got to eat, man. If people were to live in a place where there were virgin woods or land, this might be the case, but there are not many places left in the U.S. with such pristine conditions.

Teaching people about natives is terrific. I support anyone who tries. I teach and lecture on native plants myself.

But, teaching naïve homeowners and virgin gardeners that natives are easy is wrong. So wrong, that they will surely fail and never plant natives again. Natives need lots of love, just like most other ornamentals.

There’s no such thing as no care. I’ve previously written about how we need to stop telling our customers, especially ones who have never gardened before, that gardening and growing plants is easy. This is a prime example. It’s not easy, but it sure is rewarding, fun, oh so satisfying, and a great way to get exercise.

#GetDirty-BeRewarded. That should be our new slogan. And this from Doug Tallamy: “Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.”

Talk about hitting customers in the “feels.”

Angela Treadwell-Palmer founded and co-owns Plants Nouveau LLC., a company that specializes in introducing and marketing new plants to the nursery industry. She’s been around the world, experiencing world-famous gardens and remote areas looking for new ideas and exciting plants.