Backyard gardener is big on native plants

The June 10 Frederick News-Post featured a story about native plant habitats, with photos of the landscapes of Jim Gallion and Kathy Benson. My one-third acre lot in Frederick, bordering Waterford Park, is one of those 190 properties certified by the National Wildlife Foundation as a backyard wildlife habitat.

I want to share with you some of the native plants that have done well in my relatively small space. Most are available in nurseries in this area.

We did eliminate about two-thirds of our front yard a few years ago, removing a Bradford pear and expanding areas for shrubs and perennials. The taller rear portion consists of cranberry viburnum and smooth witherod (viburnum nudum). Both of these can be pruned as needed. The cranberry's fruits last into the winter, while the pink-turning-to-blue berries of the witherod are devoured by birds in the fall.

Our yellowwood and winter king hawthorn trees are the tall focal points at the back of the yard. At the downspout, we have winterberry holly, a plant that can handle wet periods. Medium-sized plants include coneflowers (both the true native purple and a couple of white cultivars that appear to be hardy), American beautyberry, little bluestem grass, coral bells, orange butterfly weed, fireworks goldenrod (much shorter than the true native species), liatris, lady's mantle, several asters (clumping plants that attract butterflies and have great fall color), native bleeding heart (blooms all summer) and native columbine for early color and hummingbird nectar. All of these plants attract wildlife such as butterflies and seed-eating birds.

Our small side yard has a native pink honeysuckle, that blooms from early spring right through the summer, and witch hazel (love those yellow flowers in late winter). Two crabapple cultivars line the driveway; those fruits last until mid-winter when the robins and mockingbirds devour them.

The backyard includes shade or part-shade areas with different species of ferns (maidenhair and Christmas ferns grow reliably), Canadian anemone ground cover, blue lobelia, foamflower, jack-in-the-pulpit, goatsbeard, woods phlox, Jacob's ladder, native azalea, wild ginger and oakleaf hydrangia. We have a hedge of arrowwood viburnum (great late-summer food for birds), as well as two ninebark strategically placed to provide privacy. Near the downspouts we have an ironweed cultivar as well as fothergilla and Henry's Garnet itea. Trillium, Virginia bluebells, bloodroot, squirrel corn and Solomon's seal grow under larger plants, a true woodland native area.

We allow swamp milkweed to reseed in some areas but keep other spots more controlled with coneflower, columbine, hibiscus, penstamon, bellflower, marsh marigold, false blue indigo, coreopsis and evening primrose. Cardinal flowers, some violets and spiderwort reseed in some areas.

One of our joys is the serviceberry tree; from spring flowers to the berries in late May or early June that attract birds to its reddish fall color, it provides many months of enjoyment. At the rear of the yard is a massive black cherry tree "planted" decades ago by birds. It gives the canopy birds and squirrels great perching spots as well as lots of fruit.

Is the yard perfect? Certainly not. As I replace or add plants, I look to increase the percentage of natives. The jury is still out on whether the cultivars of many of the natives offer as much benefit as the true species (proper fat content, etc.) so I do try to plant the true species when possible.

We have several birdbaths, a couple of small fountains and several birdfeeders as well as lots of cover.

Food, cover, water and places to raise young are the necessary components of a backyard that the National Wildlife Federation will certify. Consider native plants and less grass as you develop your own little corner of the world.

Article by Ginny Brace, FCFCDB member

Nature Notes for 7/8/2012