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Plan gardens wisely, plant natives

By Staff | Jan 14, 2014

These cardinal flowers, native to Pennsylvania, can be seen growing along the riverbank at Montgomery Park. They can grow up to 5 ft. and produce blossoms that attract pollinators until late summer.

MUNCY – This season, as gardeners, we may have to do things differently, according to Master Gardener expert, Louise Fulmer who presented a program to the Muncy Garden Club at their last program for 2013.

“There have been varying degrees of pests, stink bugs, bats disappearing, dying bees, fewer monarchs; are we next?” she asks. She indicated that climatologists have claimed that destroying habitats can be caused with global warming, a process contributing to extreme weather conditions. Hurricanes and droughts are more widespread, and last November tornadoes were most devastating in parts of the country.

Issues with food crops are widespread. “Fungus, diseases and pests come from imports,” she explained, “and they spread and can take over our gardens.”

There are things gardeners, concerned citizens, and boroughs can do to promote healthy groundwater and air, and reduce the carbon footprint. Reparian buffers are added to leach out pollutants before entering catch basins. “Urge planning and zoning code commissioners to insist on environmental protection and preserve lost species. We have 800 now on the endangered list. In Pennsylvania, 156 species have been lost,” Fulmer added.

Gardeners can make things better. Think ahead on what to plant this spring. Native plants are ideal. They are more disease resistant, hardier, and require less maintenance. With proper lighting, mulch and appropriate organic fertilizers, natives will survive year after year. Raised beds and containers are a good option because they provide proper drainage.

Louise Fulmer from Pennsdale and the Lycoming County Master Gardeners presented a program to the Muncy Garden Club on global warming and destroying habitats.

There are several factors to consider when choosing among the varieties of available native plants such as wind barriers and sun exposure. Plant for all seasons, bulbs for spring, annuals for summer. Shrubs and vines can add fragrance and color. “Different plants have different levels of resistance,” added Fulmer and recommends to rotate crops every year for best results.

Research shows that native plants are 4 times more attractive to pollinators than non-natives, so planting natives will supply pollinators with the nutrition they need to thrive.

Jim Green from the Lycoming Audubon Society promotes introducing native plants for gardening to attract birds and pollinators. “Native perennials will attract pollinators and native trees will produce fruits, nuts and berries and are well adapted to our geographic area.” He suggests Silky Dogwood, a native shrub that is easy to grow and produces a white flower in May or June and a berry in late August or early September.

Serviceberry is another native with multiple attractions all year long. Another good native in our region is the Black Elderberry. It is easy to care for and requires only partial sunlight, but prefers soil that is not dry. Also called the American Elder, it is fast growing and produces a plentiful crop of berries, a feast for the birds according to Green.

For flowering perennials, try the Cardinal Flower (Lobelia Cardinalis) a beautiful native that attracts hummingbirds. Native to PA it can grow up to 5 feet tall producing an array of crimson flowers. They grow well in partially shaded sites and live long until late summer, producing prolific seeds, so expect lots of volunteers to emerge the following season. These flowers have been growing quite well along the shores of the Susquehanna River at Montgomery Park.

Fulmer said not to stop there, but to get our children and grandchildren involved also in learning about natives and gardening. “Give them a deeper purpose for a connection in the world we live in, and make it the best it can be. The next generation can continue doing the work we have now learned.”

For more options and sources on native plants, visit DCNR’s website, the PA Native Plant Society or the Lycoming County Penn State Co-op Extension Office on County Farm Road in Loyalsock Township.