Gardening with native plants

Eleanor C. Sweeney with the Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center, gives a presentation on gardening with native plants at the Mifflin Community Library.

Berks County is eager to see the season of spring; where the flowers start to bloom, the trees start to bud and the birds travel back north. Residents flocked to the Mifflin Community Library, 6 Philadelphia Ave., Shillington, March 26, to learn about the importance of gardening with native plants.

Eleanor C. Sweeney, of the Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center, 2910 New Holland Rd, Reading, presented a slideshow presentation and talk about plants native to Pennsylvania. “We don’t have to give ourselves over to a wild landscape,” she suggested, “You can have a garden supporting local wildlife.” Sweeney explained “exotic, non-native plants don’t interact in their environment.”

Often, people see insect damage as being harmful to their plants, but Sweeney said insects are going to eat the leaves. “Plants and insects have evolved to coexist,” she said, which is what makes a natural environment. A plant should have relationships with other species, like insects. Sweeney said that plants are the workers in the ecological community and to have a successful environment, they need pollinators to pollinate the vegetables. That means insects aren’t always a bad thing. If bugs don’t come to the plants or flowers, they are often times not native to the environment.

Planting Cardinal flowers, Jewelweed, and Buttonbush are good to plant in soggy, wet areas of the yard.

Sweeney said people don’t have to look for exotic plants for color or flowers because both of those can also be found in native plants, which thrive in their natural environment. She also warns not to pick Lady slippers or Spicebushes from forests or public places because they are picky where they grow and will most likely not thrive in your yard.

“Native plants are more adaptable to the conditions” which makes it easier for the gardener to tend. Planting native plants in your yard or garden reduces the need to water or use pest control. Invasive plants grow rampant in the environment, shade out other, native plants and have no insect predators.

Trees are essential to creating a positive and healthy ecosystem. “Plant as many trees as you can get away with,” Sweeney strongly encouraged.

Native plants that draw in wildlife include the Pawpaw supports the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, Mountain mint is a real attractor for insects, Trumpetvine and Cardinal flower bring in hummingbirds, and Virginia creeper provides late winter food for birds. Sweeney cleared up some common incorrect beliefs about plants. Goldenrods don’t actually make people sneeze. It’s Ragweed that causes more allergies because the pollen is “spiky.”

Virginia creeper is often mistaken for poison ivy, because it has pointy leaves and grows on a vine. Virginia creeper has five point leaves, where poison ivy has three point leaves and a hairy vine.

If you have kids, Sweeney suggested planting Jewelweed because their seedpods burst open. Their leaves also appear to have a coat of silver when placed underwater. Jewelweed also can be used as a treatment for poison ivy with the sap from the stems.

This spring, plant native flowers, plants and trees to help keep Berks County beautiful.