5 myths about native plants

Beebalm uncles

Monarda fistulosa, also known as Beebalm, is just one of many plants native to Ontario that debunk the myth of homeliness.

Why is it that sometimes the things closest to us are the least understood? Here’s a quick myth-busting guide to native plants with some gorgeous options for adding “local colour” to a garden in Southern Ontario.

Myth #1: Native plants are drought tolerant.

A plant native to your area has thrived in your area for a very long time so it’s usually happy with what Mother Nature provides–seasonal rainfall, snow melt, etc. But we’re so used to giving our imported ornamental plants regular waterings from hoses and sprinklers (because imported plants come from all over the world and aren’t necessarily happy with our local climate) that we look at native plants with their OK-on-their-own appeal and call them “drought tolerant”. Native plants will have problems in a real drought just like any other plant. It just might take them a little longer to start complaining.

Myth #2: They don’t have great flowers.

Perhaps it’s those walks in the woods surrounded by so much green that inspire people to think native plants aren’t showy. But Southern Ontario is rich with fabulous flowering perennials. Take a look at Beebalm, with its lush mop-heads ranging in colour from pale pink to purple, or Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinals L.) with their eye-searing red fringe so popular with hummingbirds.

Myth #3: They get out of control.

Just because they’re used to growing in your neck of the woods, doesn’t mean a native plant will go rampant on you. You’re far more likely to have problems with an imported plant with a reputation for being invasive. When buying a plant, native or imported, always check the tag for information about its maximum height and spread.

Myth #4: They may be native but they can still be finicky.

A plant native to your area, or country, or continent, doesn’t have super powers to grow anywhere in your garden. Its natural habitat might be a shady mountainside or a sunny valley or a deeply shaded woodland bog. To give your new plant the best possible start in your garden, make sure it’s given a spot that works for its particular needs just like any other plant. Having said that, there are plenty of native plants that adapt well to average soil conditions such as the two shrubs shown below–New Jersey Tea and Shrubby cinquefoil.

Myth #5: You can’t mix native plants with imported plants.

There’s the perception that native plants need a wild kind of environment with untouched soil while imported plants need a manicured garden bed with lots of soil amendments. But native and non-natives can and do live happily together so long as they all share the same basic requirements. You see this happening all over older suburbs where mature trees (often native) have been kept during the construction of the housing development and then gardens are filled up with imported plants.

Click on any photo to get information about how each plant is a myth-buster and to start the slideshow.

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