How to Add Native Plants To Your Garden

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When establishing Moss Mountain Farm, I kept preserving the native landscape at the forefront of my mind. I always recall a quote from English poet Alexander Pope when I begin to build or design: We should first “consult the genius of the place.” To me, that means understanding the land and working with its inherent properties.

This can also mean considering native plants and other species when choosing items for the garden. I try to plant a diverse range of vegetables, flowers and fruits to attract beneficial insects and pollinators, but I’m also making a concentrated effort to cultivate the native wildflowers and species into the landscape. Pollinators feel most at home with these flowers, so it makes sense to include them.

SEE MORE: How to Grow a Shade Garden

However, it’s tricky work. Wildflowers are more difficult than you might think. We live under the illusion you can take a packet of wildflower seed, throw them on the ground, and suddenly they emerge and bloom at your feet. That’s hardly the case. There’s a lot more involved in getting those plants established and integrating them into the ecology. For example, the pasture at Moss Mountain Farm had cattle grazing for many years, so it’s a challenge to re-establish native wildflowers. But I still try! Another benefit to native plant species is they rarely require pesticides and use less water, because they’re already adapted to the landscape. Reducing those two factors can improve the water quality of a community and its aquatic life.

I’ll often find wildflowers on the road nearby and gather seed before they mow. I did that this year with baptisias and echinacea pallida, which is one of our native coneflowers. I planted those along my driveway to get them started. I also harvested seeds from the native coreopsis and rudbeckias, and sowed them in different places around the farm. Usually I leave with a good case of chiggers, but it’s worth it. When gathering seeds, a good rule of thumb is to use around 40 or more seeds per square foot, depending on your landscape. Not all will germinate, and this is a good place to start. You must also consider the land, however. If there’s runoff in the area or if it’s on a slope, you may need more.

Despite the hazards, I’d encourage you to cultivate your native plants as well. Here are a few ideas to get started with “wildscaping” or incorporating more native flowers into your Tennessee homesteads to offer shelter and food for pollinators and other wildlife:

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Hummingbirds will flock to tubular-shaped flowers such as honeysuckle and cardinal flower. Songbirds will feed on mulberry, hackberry, black cherry trees and beautyberry, which can be found in the most surprising places at the farm.

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