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CONSERVE WICHITA COUNTY: Native plants provide abundant benefits for farms, yard

Conservation in your community

Eileen Vale, Texas District Conservationist

February 25, 2013
By Eileen Vale
District Conservationist

Vale is a district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. She works in the agency’s Wichita County, Texas office.

Native plants
 

NATIVE PLANTS:

Find your state’s native plant society to learn what’s native to your area: www.nanps.org

Check out NRCS’s PLANTS Database for in-depth information on our nation’s plants: www.plants.usda.gov

When it comes to sprucing up the farm or yard, native plants are a great option. These plants are indigenous to a particular area and provide advantages when used in the right place.

Native plants are typically low maintenance and resistant to pests if planted in a place similar to their natural surroundings. They also provide food and habitat for native wildlife. Natives boost these advantages because they are adapted to their local surroundings, including the soil and climate and have mastered surviving and thriving there.

Many farmers recognize the benefits of native plants and are incorporating them into working lands, a practice commonly called “farmscaping.” Farmers incorporate natives into field borders, hedgerows and buffer strips – all conservation activities that help agricultural production and the environment. On farms, native trees, shrubs and plants help:

  • Reduce the need for pesticides because native plants attract beneficial insects and birds that eat agricultural pests and also help pollinate
  • Protect farmsteads, crops and livestock from wind and dust
  • Keep soil in place, enabling it to become healthier and not wash into and pollute waterways;
  • Provide wildlife habitat
  • Increase the beauty of the farm landscape

By native plants attracting native birds and bats, it can be an effective way to control insect pests. Birds feed on aphids, snails and codling moths and other insect pests that cause problems for farmers. For example, research from San Jose State University shows how birds like woodpeckers and chickadees ate 84 percent of codling moth larvae during one winter in California apple orchards. Some insects, such as ladybugs and spidermites, also provide biological pest control and native plants are an efficient way to lure the beneficial bugs to the farm.

Native plants attract native pollinators, which are often considered more efficient pollinators, according to the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation. By attracting good insects, birds and bats, they serve as pollinators for many of the plants that provide the food we eat.

When native trees and shrubs are used, they provide a buffer against wind and dust that protects crops, farm buildings and machinery from damage.  These buffers play a valuable role in preventing the loss of soil by wind and water, as plants’ roots hold the ground in place. Plants, including natives, keep fertile soil on the farm and out of the air and water. Finally, natives can increase the aesthetic value of the landscape, with seasonal, colorful flowers and leaves.

Since the settlement of the U.S., there has been a rapid decline of both native plant and animal species. Some introduced plants have become invasive, taking over where wild native plants once thrived. The NRCS encourages growers to use native plants in their farmscaping for all of the advantages and services that these plants provide. Farmers are playing an important role in allowing natives to thrive.

But natives aren’t just for farmers. They’re also perfect for your home, especially if you want to lure birds and butterflies to your yard or add some additional beauty. Natives are perfect for spiking curb appeal. Arrange similar plants in clusters for a more formal look. Mix grasses and shrubs for a more natural look. Natives come in a vast array of colors, blooming and adding interest to your landscape throughout the year. Many have colorful, decorative leaves in a variety of shapes.

Native species can be found at most nurseries. Keep in mind that natives do not grow universally well in a particular area; they must be planted in an area similar to their natural environment with the right amount of sun and water.

So the next time you get a green thumb, be sure to explore your local native options when it comes to plants.