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Turn Over a New Leaf

Education is everything, especially when it comes to the environment. The smallest change can have a profound impact, and it all starts in our own backyard.

Jersey-Friendly Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) Photo: Becky Laboy

Little did we know that the plants we buy today at local nurseries are not what we should be planting. International diversity is ideal for humans, not the environment. Japanese Barberry, English Ivy, and the aromatic Japanese honeysuckle are no-no's in NJ's native world. The invasive plants are damaging eco-communities by out-competing native vegetation.

Why should we care? Well, it’s all about birds and the bees. Without them — aka nature, and the natural cycle of it — our chances of survival for future generations is greatly diminished. Just watch David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet to put things in perspective. The film addresses some of the biggest challenges facing life on our planet, giving a snapshot of global nature loss in a single lifetime. But there’s hope. Attenborough shares the solutions to help save our planet from disaster — again, it's the small changes that can make all the difference.

Give insects a fighting chance

Too many people have learned to fear bugs, dirt, and everything in between, killing off everything in the food chain with pesticides and fertilizer among other poisons. The ‘perfect lawn,' once considered a sign of wealth, has now become a signal of ignorance.

Karen Walzer of the Barnegat Bay Partnership says, "We can thank pollinators for one out of every three bites of food we eat! Insects are food for birds and other wildlife, and keep garden pests in check."

The other 1%

Reclaiming land for nature by fostering native plants, even on just 1% of a residential or commercial property, can help the natural world keep nuisances in check, like mosquitos!

A Jersey-Friendly Yard. Photo: Becky Laboy

Hello Jersey-Friendly Yards!

Thanks to Jersey-Friendly Yards, we have resources at our fingertips for incorporating native plants into the landscape. Learn how your landscape can provide an essential habitat for pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Want to know which decorative grasses are best suited for our region? The Jersey-Friendly plant database lists more than 20 species of native grasses (although a few are sedges, not grasses...technically).

New species are getting added all the time. Recent additions include Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix), Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea), and favorite native grass for many, Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis).

A bee enjoys the nectar from a Early Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides). Photo: Becky Laboy

Jersey-Friendly Yards' website also features a helpful Interactive Yard tutorial that lets you see what to plant and what not to plant. We recommend taking a couple of minutes to go through the steps to see how to carve beds and where to add native plants, and which invasives to remove.

From everyday homes to the sanctuaries of botanical gardens, you can experience native gardens, in person or virtually. Native Plant Channel gives life to native plant landscapes by featuring garden tours. It’s helpful to see which plants you like and what may work well in your yard. The Jersey-Friendly Yards website provides a list of gardens to see native plants in their habitat.

Jakes Branch County Park in Beachwood, NJ maintains five native plant gardens that offer homeowners an opportunity to see and learn about the many native plants available for sunny, shady, dry, and wet landscapes. These were installed as part of Ocean County Soil Conservation District's Soil Health Improvement Project. Visit the gardens to see the varieties of native perennials, grasses, trees, and shrubs that can thrive in your yard with little maintenance.

NJ Native Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica on bloom at Jakes Branch. Photo: Becky Laboy
NJ Native Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) in bloom at Jakes Branch. Photo: Becky Laboy

Where to buy native plants

When you’re ready to purchase native plants, Jersey-Friendly Yards shares a list of companies that sell them online. These include: Pinelands Direct, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, The Pollen Nation, and Wild Ridge Plants. Jersey-Friendly Yards also lists local nurseries that sell native plants such as Brock Farms and Coastal Nursery, based in Freehold; Cicconi Farms in Jackson; and Hoch’s Landscaping & Garden Center in Barnegat.

To help you during your native plant journey, consider these three great books, Planting in a Post-Wild World, The Living Landscape, and Garden Revolutions. They're keepers, so you might want to pick them up from your local bookstore or check them out first from the library.

Irrigate like it’s 2000 BCE

Once you have your native plants ordered and en route, initial irrigation will be important. Shari Kondrup from Brick Utilities educated webinar attendees about ollas in the recent program “An Ancient Watering Method for Today’s Garden.” Ollas (pronounced oh-yahs) is a technique of irrigation, ollas that is gaining popularity (again) because it saves the gardener time, energy, and water. Plus, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to maximize your garden output while minimizing overwatering, runoff, and water loss. The principle is simple: a clay pot is buried with only the opening on top visible above the soil surface. It is then filled with water. As the plant roots, it creates a suction force. If soil is dry, the water inside the olla will release faster as the plant roots “pull” it out. Likewise, if there is a recent saturating rainfall, the water in the olla will remain until the surrounding soil dries. Kinda cool, huh!

Start your journey

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," ascribed to Laozi. So true!

The great folks at Pinelands Adventures give guided tours, and a host of other adventures, in the Pine Barrens.

Start your journey today with the goal of incrementally increasing native vegetation in your property. We highly recommend taking to the waters deep in the Pine Barrens with an expert from Pinelands Adventures to see native life in its most pristine state. We did recently and only wish that we had done it sooner! Based in Shamong, NJ, Pinelands Adventures gives guided paddling and hiking tours, and host of other adventures. Make it a point to go on an excursion with Pinelands Adventures every season to see the changing vegetation. You'll be glad you did.

Be sure to share your native plant experiences with friends and on social media so more people learn about the importance of replenishing our world with native plants. Maybe then, we can grow incrementally from 1%... to 100% native landscapes, feeding life to our world!

So turn over a new leaf. You might be delighted with what you see!

Until next time, peace!


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