It’s Gardening Time: Use Native Plants!

Author: Secretary Reid Wilson

A few years ago, there was a news headline that read, “Kudzu Spreading Like, Well, Kudzu.”

While kudzu might be the most visible example of a non-native plant species, it’s not alone. Think mimosa, privet, nandina, or Bradford pear trees. Many non-native plants are invasive and can cause harm because they spread rapidly, displacing native plants and decreasing habitat diversity for wildlife.

Are native plants really that much better? Yes—for so many reasons!

Let’s start with the environment. Native plants are adapted to North Carolina’s climate and soils and are more likely to thrive, especially during drought conditions. Unlike non-native invasive plants, they do not overwhelm natural ecosystems.

Native plants also support pollinators essential to food production and ecosystem health, and boost otherwise declining bird populations that depend on insects associated with native gardens. Native plants, especially grasses, are better able to store carbon, thereby reducing greenhouse gases.

In addition, natives are also an important part of North Carolina's natural and cultural heritage. Think flowering dogwood, redbuds, sycamore, phlox, or, of course, the longleaf pine. North Carolina is home to more than 3,900 native plant species, making our state one of the most diverse for flora in the South.

Early spring is a great time to add native plants to your garden, giving them time to establish themselves before the hot summer sets in.

This past summer, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources launched a new policy directing the use of native plants at departmental locations and at local government parks receiving grants from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Going forward, landscaping for all property allocated to DNCR will only use seeds and plants that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified as native to the Southeastern United States. Additionally, landscaping for all projects funded by the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund shall only use these seeds and plants. Exceptions exist for plants for crop cultivation, scientific research, botanical or historical gardens, turf grass, plantings for wildlife, or plantings for exhibits or for animal consumption at museums, zoos, and aquariums.

We commemorated the new policy by installing a new 100% native plant garden in front of the DNCR headquarters building on Jones Street in Raleigh, and will soon add a native plant meadow to replace the remaining grass at the site.

Just last month, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 305 which extends our department’s native plant policy to all the other cabinet agencies that report to him. The order also sets a deadline of 2040 for the state to conserve an additional one million acres of natural lands, restore an additional one million acres of forests and wetlands, and plant one million trees.

This is state government leading by example. We encourage others – homeowners, businesses, and government agencies – to also plant beautiful native plant gardens. Planting natives is a small but significant step we can all take to help protect wildlife and our environment.

Please join us!

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