About the SFMGA

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The rewards of gardening with native plants

by Joy Mandelbaum, Master Gardener

Why use native plants in your landscape? They are the perfect choice for easy-care gardens. Once established they need little attention.

But the sheer enjoyment defies description! Many are delicate flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees that maybe you have seen on hikes. If you want to learn about these plants that you have seen in the wild, what better way than to try growing them in your own garden. No plants attract the pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds better than our own native plants. Let nature be your guide as to where to plant them in your garden, just observe where they grow in the wild and what grows with them. An added benefit is the feeling that you are cooperating with nature, not amending soils, watering and fertilizing to MAKE something thrive in an alien environment. You can re-create the harmonious communities we see in nature.

Native plants require the art of observing the more subtle textures, forms, fragrances and colors – the are for the connoisseurs. Native plants create a sense of place; you don't have to wonder what state you are in, or even what part of New Mexico you are in. You can read the elevation, moisture, sunshine of an area just by observing the native plants that grow there.

Unlike exotics, native plants maintain an interactive and beneficial relationship with other plants and animals in their environment, as they provide food and shelter for a wide range of organisms. They live in true community – supporting life forms as diverse as mammals, birds, butterflies and other insects, fungi, bacteria and nematodes. They are already adapted to local conditions and thrive within the water available, soil fertility and tolerate natural levels of insect populations and pathogens. You can literally read an area by what grows there – like 4-wing salt bush can be an indicator of organic matter in the soil, like ancient burial sites. Miners could tell where mineral deposits were by what grew there.

Not only do native plants provide edibles for wildlife, but also for us. Many parts of plants are collected for herbal remedies, teas, medicines. These plants have a rich and varied history, telling us a lot about the peoples who preceded us.

So, check out your local nurseries for native plants. Do not collect them from the wild, as they have little chance of surviving being transplanted and we do not want to deplete what grows in the wild. Here are a few try:

Check the Native Plant Society of New Mexico at npsnm.unm.edu for more information. I also recommend the book Native Plants for High-Elevation Western Gardens by Janice Busco and Nancy R. Morin, which includes site preparation, planting, and starting plants from seed.

  • Rocky Mtn Red Columbine
  • Heartleaf Amica
  • Foothills and Wyoming Paintbrush
  • Rocky Mtn Bee Plant
  • Richardson Geranium
  • Scarlet Gilia
  • Rocky Mtn Iris
  • Dotted Gayfeather
  • Spurred Lupine
  • Bergamon
  • Stemless Evening Primrose
  • Scarlet Bugler
  • Crandall, Sidebells, and Rocky Mtn Penstemons
  • Rocky Mtn Townsend Daisy
  • Pine Dropseed
  • Sideoats Grama
  • Blue Grama
  • Fringed Brome
  • Nodding Wildrye
  • Mtn Muhly
  • Indian Ricegrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Rocky Mtn Maple
  • Big Sagebrush
  • Fendler Ceanothus
  • Alderleaf Mtn Mahogany
  • Red Osier Dogwood
  • Littleleaf Mock-orange
  • Wild Plum
  • New Mexico Locust
  • Sumacs: Cutleaf, Grolow, Threeleaf, Staghorn, Scarlet
  • Rocky Mtn Ash
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Narrow Leaf Cottonwood
  • Rocky Mtn Juniper
  • White Fir
  • Oaks: Scrub, Burr, Gamble, Emory, Wavyleaf

  • Golden Currant
  • Serviceberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Blueberry 'rubel'
  • Banana
  • Red & Yellow New Mexico Palm
  • Twisted Leaf
  • Santa Fe Cholla
  • Cow's Tongue
  • Engleman's Pencil Cholla
  • Claret Cup
  • Santa Rita
  • Spineless Prickly Pear
  • Scabra
  • Harvard Perry
  • Americana
  • Spanish Broom
  • Lena's
  • San Francisco
  • Moonlight