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Fall is a great time to install trees, shrubs, and get perennials planted since they will have all winter to become established and have greater resistance to the heat and drought the following summer. Of the many available, consider native plants for your home landscape.What exactly are native plants? They are ones that were growing in our area before the arrival of the European colonists centuries ago. These plants play an essential role in the local ecosystem in providing food sources for insects, birds, animals, reptiles, and others.Non-native plants are not as effective in providing food for these organisms since they have not naturally evolved in these ecosystems. Some become invasive, meaning they grow aggressively and compete with other plants. Examples include privet, English ivy, kudzu, and many others.Many native trees thrive and are excellent additions to the landscape. Red maples grow up to 50 feet in height, spread up to 30 feet, have striking red foliage in autumn, and do well in wet soils. Redbuds are smaller trees that can reach 20 feet tall. The trees have a light green heart-shaped leaf, with various colors such as “Forest Pansy” and deep purple. They have pink to lavender flowers with the variety ‘Alba’ having white ones. Not to be confused with the giant Southern magnolias, sweet bay magnolias grow up to 30 feet in height. They have light green leaves with a greyish coloration on the underside of leaves.The tree’s creamy-white flowers produce a cone-like structure with red seeds, a favorite of birds. They tolerate wet conditions. Common dogwoods are also native. Since they are understory trees, the trees require partial shade.Numerous native shrubs are attractive in the home landscape. The American beautyberry bush is deciduous with bright green oval leaves. They have small tubular-shaped pink flowers in the leaf axils giving way to clusters of lavender-colored berries, food for many birds.
The oakleaf hydrangeas has leaves resembling those of oaks and has white to pink colored flowers. It grows along stream banks, open areas, and wooded sites. The plant thrives in both sun and shade and thrives in wet soils but also has drought tolerance. Sweet shrubs are low-growing with deciduous elliptical-shaped leaves and reddish-brown fragrant flowers, and their seeds provide food for wildlife.A few native perennials bring beauty to the landscape. Butterfly milkweed frequently grows along roadsides and tolerates drought. It requires full sun and well-drained soils. It has bright orange flowers in clusters that appear in the early summer and serves as a host plant for monarch butterflies. Cardinal flowers grow up to 12 inches. They produce tubular-shaped red flowers in the late summer and fall that are attractive hummingbirds and pollinating insects enjoy the plant’s nectar.The plants grow best in the sun to partial shade. Coral bells or Heuchera have heart-shaped leaves that vary in color. It has small green to white bell- shape flowers on a short stalk. The plant prefers shade to part shade sites that are moist and has plenty of organic matter.A critical aspect of growing native plants is that they will thrive only in sites they are adapted. Though the plants tolerate our climate, conditions and most have few pest issues. For example, coral bells and many native ferns prefer semi-shade and moist soil; they will not survive being planted on parking lot islands in full sun.The Georgia Native Plant Society has ample information on native plants on their website at https://gnps.org/. UGA Extension Gwinnett will have a program on native plants Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. To register, please contact the Extension office.
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Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett.
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