HOME&GARDEN: Using native trees and shrubs

One of the greatest things about gardening in Georgia is the sheer number of native plants from which to choose. Georgia is one of the most botanically diverse states in the country with nearly 3000 species of trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers and ground covers native to the state. The potential for the use of native plants in the landscape is almost endless.

It is easy to understand why there are so many plants native to our state. There are mountains to the north, coastal plains to the south, the piedmont in the central part of the state and the Georgia coast. Gwinnett County is in the piedmont, a region of highly weathered soil. It offers some of the best soils in the state in which to grow plants.

A native plant community, if incorporated into the landscape and given minimal care, will be low maintenance and self sufficient over time. In many communities across our region there is a growing interest in preserving these native plant areas, often referred to as "green spaces."

Using native plants in the landscape of your home is ecologically sound and environmentally friendly. There are several types of native plants. Trees and shrubs combined create wonderful seasonal interest. The many native ferns, herbaceous flowering plants and grasses can be used in a variety of ways. They are drought, heat, insect and disease resistant, and are easy to maintain when planted properly.

The use of native plants is an important component of various environmentally friendly landscape management systems such as Xeriscaping and Integrated Pest Management. A native plant usually requires less maintenance, but it doesn't mean it needs none. It needs to be grown in an environment it is adapted to. If the plant material is adapted to shaded forests with moist organic matter, like most ferns are, then the plant will not perform well planted in a hot, sunny, dry location.

In choosing the appropriate plant material for the area, consider your own particular site and location. You may have several different plant environments in your yard. Keep the plan as simple as possible.

Choosing native plants instead of exotic plants from other parts of the world reduces the likelihood that invasive plants, such as Chinese privet and honeysuckle, will be introduced to the local environment. Do not transplant natives from woodlands unless you own the land. Go to one of Gwinnett County's many local nurseries that offer them for sale. For a list of plants native to Georgia and where to get them, visit the Georgia Native Plant Society's Web site at www.gnps.org.

Timothy Daly, MS is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu