Saturday, May 19, 2012

Non-native invasives crashing the garden party

sammybutterflyIt’s finally warm, which means I spent the morning in my garden, planting (which I love), weeding (which I don’t love), and listening to country music on the MP3 (which makes the weeding more bearable).  I love planting all the different vegetables – tomatoes, of course, but also zucchini, okra (fried, oh yeah!), snow peas (they went in earlier), radishes, lettuce (hoping it doesn’t bolt too soon), eggplantPhoto of Kudzu cloaking vegetation. (always a challenge), sweet potatoes, and beloved basil!  After the vegetables are planted, my eye wanders to the rest of the garden.  The blueberries, raspberries, and figs will be on our table soon, if the birds don’t get them first.  And I’m always looking for some nice perennials that will bring in the butterflies and feed my honeybees.  I just planted some bee balm, right next to the joe pye weed that’s a favorite of the butterflies.  Planting wild indigo (for the wild indigo duskywing butterfly) was a stroke of genius – it fills my garden with beautiful blue blossoms in the late spring and early summer.  Don’t forget the milkweed, which is necessary for the monarchs (as in the picture to the left).

Unfortunately, there are also unwanted invaders in my garden.  Usually, plants (and animals) that we want in our gardens, or forests, or any other natural area, are native to the area.  They’re species that have evolved in the region; they are well-adapted for life in a particular climate with particular neighbors.  But there are other species, the non-natives, that were somehow brought to an area and allowed to establish themselves.  Sometimes, non-native species are not a problem for the ecosystem.  They stay where they’re planted and don’t outcompete native species for resources.  Examples of common non-native plants are roses, tulips, or Japanese cherry blossoms.

But then there are the non-natives that aren’t so innocuous – they’re referred to as “invasive non-natives”, because they can outcompete native species and have a tendency to turn a landscape that once had much biodiversity into a landscape with just one main species.  Not exactly a healthy outcome for an ecosystem.  Common invasive non-native plants include English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, periwinkle, garlic mustard, porcelain berry, and kudzu (the photo at the right is kudzu taking over an area, from  As we’re planting our gardens in the spring, the goal should be to minimize introduction of these harmful plants into the ecosystem.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, because many plant nurseries sell these plants!  Be sure to go to the nursery armed with a list of invasive non-natives to avoid for your geographical area.  We also want to try to remove the invasives from our gardens and yards as much as possible – again, not the easiest thing, because you don’t want to cause erosion (by leaving big empty spaces) or remove large swaths of bird habitat.  Take your time, be methodical.

But really, why should we give a flying flit about invasive non-native removal if we just want to plant one or two?  Because invasive non-natives affect ecosystem health, economic health, and human health.  For more information on invasive non-natives in your area, check out   And Happy Planting (natives only please)!

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