Why should I plant native plants?

While bees, butterflies and many other pollinators love the blooms from non-northeast native plants, it's not just about providing food. Butterflies and moths can only reproduce on specific native plants. If these plants are missing from the ecosystem they can't exist. Additionally, native plants provide a better source of nectar and pollen for our pollinators. Plants and pollinators grew up together in the same ecosystem over millions of years and they are dependent upon each other for survival.

Pollination is required for blooming plants to produce seeds, which spread via the wind, rainwater, birds, and other animals. When tempting invasive plants are available, our native plants may lose out on reproduction. Ironically, pollinators may fail to pollinate the plants that they need not only for food, but also for overwintering, laying eggs, and feeding emerging caterpillars in the spring.

To learn more:

How do I get started?

I have some non-native plants. Should I remove them all?

The short answer is mostly a "No." The long answer is it depends on the plant and its growth habit. See below for aggressive non-natives that we recommend removing.

The beauty of adding natives to your garden and yard is that they attract and feed more than just pollinators. If there are caterpillars, there will be nesting birds. There is a wonderful rhythm, created by landscape designer Edwina von Gal, two thirds for the birds. This means that if 70% of your yard consists of native plants, shrubs and trees your landscape can support a nesting pair of birds. So help bird parents too!

Manage and maintain any non-invasive, non-native plants. When well-behaved, non-native plants do not cause a problem.

  • When possible, find native replacements for non-native plants that you don't want to keep. For non-native plants you want to include, consider buying sterile cultivars that won't produce seed.

  • Learn more about the non-native plants you have and what you can do to make sure they don't escape your yard. Keep non-native plants in check:

    • Prune new growth in the spring or fall

    • Remove suckers (new shoots) and rhizomes or roots that spread under the soil

    • Deadhead (trim spent flowers) regularly to avoid plants producing seeds, or remove seeds.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We recommend the REMOVAL of the following due to their aggressive and problematic growth habits:

  • Japanese barberry spreads quickly and colonizes natural areas via seed-eating birds and mice. It also increases tick populations by providing a perfect micro-habitat for them.

  • Asian Wisteria may have beautiful blooms, but this quick growing, woody vine spreads quickly and can overtake and kill large trees and even get into house foundations and walls to cause damage.

  • Burning bush. This shrub has escaped gardens and invaded area woodlands. It has also escaped prohibition because of its money-making popularity with nurseries; it is "regulated" in NYS.

  • For a more complete list, see this guide to NYS prohibited and regulated invasive plants.

IMPORTANT NOTE: See our information on Invasive Management which can guide whether you should remove the non-natives due to their aggressive and problematic growth habits.

I'm excited to get started or improve my garden, but I'm overwhelmed.

Regardless of the size or state of your garden, going completely native and pesticide-free all at once can seem overwhelming. Start with small steps:

  • Choose one small area of your garden to work with at a time.

  • Take time to explore what you have in your garden. Look for natives you may already be growing. Identify invasive plants that you can remove to give native plants more space to grow.

  • Be patient. Making changes can take a full year or more as you work through the different seasons—and that's ok.

  • Plant it and they will come. Whether you choose a small patch to add some groupings of native pollinator-friendly plants, add a few containers or choose to de-lawn and smother a section to be ready for planting in six months, every step will count.

  • Stop using pesticides. Attract beneficial insects with their favorite native plants or other non-toxic rememdies.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Reach out to us - we love to help! We can also connect you with a gardening neighbor who can help you get started.

I have allergies. Will a pollinator garden make them worse?

Here's some good news. Pollinator plants are pollinated by pollinators. That means that the pollen stays in the flower until physically touched or removed by a pollinator. The pollen on pollinator plants is heavy and sticky and it stays put unless disturbed. The pollen is not airborne. Allergies are fueled by plants and trees that use wind to move pollen and these are not pollinator plants. Here's a great example. Goldenrod, one of our most beautiful and beneficial native flowers, has been maligned for years as an allergen. It is not. It is pollinated by pollinators. Unfortunately for Goldenrod it blooms at the same time as Ragweed. Ragweed is wind pollinated and is a major cause of allergic reactions. So, go ahead and plant and enjoy your pollinator garden! Just stay away from wind pollinated flowers - none of which are pollinator plants.

Read more about how selecting native, pollinator-friendly plants can reduce the amount of allergens in your garden.

What about lawns?

You have several options for providing pollinator habit and keeping some lawn for recreation.

How can I get rid of pests?

One of the benefits of a native garden is native plants tend to work well to balance the types of insects in your garden. Once you have a healthy range of native plants, you will find you have fewer pest issues.

Remember, pesticides kill beneficial insects - like butterflies, bees, green lacewing, and ladybugs - as well as pests. Attracting beneficial insects that prey on pests is an effective way to control pest populations without pesticides. Plant some favorite native plants or use other non-toxic remedies to keep your garden pollinator-friendly.

What should I do with leaves in the fall?

Our top recommendation is NOTHING! Leaving the leaves in place has a number of benefits:

  • Provides nutrients for the soil and plants as the leaves slowly break down

  • Keeps valuable topsoil and nutrients in place by allowing rain and snow melt to slowly trickle into soil rather than wash it away.

  • Provides insulation and frost protection in the fall during final growth cycle and in spring for tender plant shoots

  • Keeps habitat intact for a wide range of pollinator and beneficial insect life.

  • Reduces the workload for you!

  • NOTE: Keep sidewalks and patios clear of leaves as wet leaves can be a slipping hazard for your family and other residents.

Another option is to use leaves as mulch for planted beds. Some gardeners like to shred leaves before using as mulch to keep leaves in place and help them break down into nutrients faster. While this is an option, consider that shredding can destroy fragile insect life, like chrysalises, eggs and live insects.

Will "leaving the leaves" destroy my grass?

Yes - if you leave them as is they will smother your lawn. An easy solution is to mulch mow the leaves directly into the lawn. It is easy, improves the health of your soil, reduces landfill waste, and uses nature's fertilizer. Tell your landscaper not to blow but to mulch mow instead.

I'm worried about ticks - should I avoid creating a pollinator habitat?

Ticks are a growing problem. Regardless of the management method you use, you must always spray your clothes to repel ticks when outdoors, check yourself for ticks after being outdoors, and follow other CDC guidelines to prevent tick bites. That is a must for where we live.

The good news is that you can help pollinators and control ticks at the same time. Some plants actually attract and nurture ticks (invasive Japanese Barberry bush) while some plants repel ticks ( America Beautyberry, Fleabane daisies, Mountain Mint, Garlic, Lavender, Sage, Mint and Dill). So rip out the Barberry bushes and plant more of the repellent plants. Additionally, your lawn areas should be mowed. This makes sense since in a natural pollinator friendly landscape the lawn is only used for the activity/socializing/traffic areas in the garden.

Another benefit of a pollinator habitat is that you are automatically creating a diverse ecosystem that will attract beneficial insects, birds, and animals that will find the ticks quite tasty. Did you know that Opossum eat 5,000 ticks in a season? A healthy ecosystem will keep ticks in balance.

Finally, there are tick management products that are not toxic to pollinators (or you, your family and your pets). Try Tick boxes and garlic oil (used at the Royal Gardens in England!). If you want to use natural repellents on you and and your family there are a number of options.

Will the deer eat my pollinator plants?!

We have an overpopulation of deer and that is playing havoc with our ecosystem. Lack of predators (except for cars) and loss of their habitat is placing great stress on the deer. And that is placing great stress on our woodlands and gardens. Deer often prefer native plants because they evolved over millions of years with them. They are part of a deer's normal diet. That is usually not a problem until the population of deer expands beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystem.

A hungry, starving deer with eat anything - even plants that claim they are deer proof. When deer are not starving they tend to avoid plants that are deer resistant. There are a number of things you can do to deter deer:

  • Try natural deer repellent sprays or pellets in your gardens

  • Install a deer fence

  • Purchase sonic/ultrasonic deer repellents for your gardens and woodlands

  • Use motion sensitive water spray devices

  • Use something that makes noise when disturbed

  • Create your own homemade deer repellent liquid

  • Purchase plants that are deer resistant

  • Plant deer resistant plants around plants that are deer delectable to fool the deer into skipping over the tasty plants

How do I manage my hungry groundhogs and rabbit?!

Don't despair. Here are some tips to deter groundhogs harmlessly. In addition you can plant plants they hate around plants they love. Examples of hated plants are Fleabane (native), garlic, and lavender. Finally, you can plant plants they don't eat - try to choose natives from this list.

Here are humane and easy tips for deterring rabbits. All but the last (trapping and releasing in a rural area) are valid solutions for us.

Finally, ultrasonic devices have settings for ultrasonic sounds that deter groundhogs and rabbits. Good luck!