By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(April 27, 2023) It’s that time of year when people are out working in the yard and garden shops are stocking up on plants for the season.
As residents make their choices, it’s important for them to consider not just beauty, but the impact a plant might have on the local wildlife and the environment, according to two local conservation groups, Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) and the Lower Shore Land Trust.
Together, they are encouraging residents to go native in their landscaping endeavors.
“For us, this is more than a plant sale. We utilize it as a tool to educate the community. This year we want to emphasize the crucial role oak trees have as hosts for many pollinating insects and in turn providing food for a list of threatened songbirds,” Kate Patton, the executive director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, said.
The land trust has named its 16th annual Native Plant Sale, “Year of the Oak.”
“We’ve added over 15 varieties of native shrubs and trees as a tool to reduce habitat loss along forest edges and encourage landscaped neighborhoods to re-introduce native shrubs back into the design. Two of my favorites are the persimmon tree and Burr oak,” Patton said.
This year, Assateague Coastal Trust’s 24th native plant sale zeroed in on the specific conditions in Ocean Pines to point gardeners there to the best plants.
“We looked for plants that are suitable for Ocean Pines conditions — plants that can handle shade, more acidic conditions, and a little salt. We have two kinds of ferns, dwarf iris, and false Solomon’s seal. And we have four different kinds of phlox,” said Verena Chase, who directs the trust’s Coastal Kids program.
ACT is also guiding gardeners to deer-resistant plants, butterfly attractors, and providing other tips.
“When folks come to the plant sale, we’ll have nice informative signs for each plant,” Debbie Dean, community engagement coordinator for ACT, said.
Planting native is not only good for the environment and local wildlife, it makes it easier on the gardener, the organizations agree.
“Native plants are adapted to this area … the mild winters and hot summers. They don’t need a whole lot of care,” Chase said.
The plants you choose have an impact on the local wildlife.
“There is a lot of plant/animal dependency. For instance, monarch butterflies eat milkweed, and cannot survive on any other plant,” Chase said.
The monarch butterfly is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because of habitat destruction and climate change.
ACT and the land trust are selling local varieties of milkweed so gardeners can help monarchs fuel up for their 3,000-mile annual migration to Mexico.
“A lot of our plants have a double duty of feeding pollinators first, and then the seeds are feeding the birds. Joe Pye weed is a beautiful plant, great for pollinators, and great for birds such as American goldfinches, Carolina wrens and tufted titmice. They all love the seeds,” Chase said.
“Coneflowers and asters are one of the last plants with flowers and they are super important for the pollinators as the last food before they overwinter, and they make seeds that all these birds like,” she said.
Also good for birds are winterberry and red chokeberry, which is multi-stemmed has early white flowers attractive to bees and big berries for winter color.
Both organizations encourage gardeners to remove invasive plants such as wisteria vines and English ivy.
“Both of these were introduced, and they overwhelm our naturalized areas,” Beth Sheppard, agricultural outreach specialist for the land trust, said.
“If people want to plant a vine,” Chase added, “try the Carolina Jessamine vine instead.”
Gardeners have many way to provide good habitat for birds and pollinators such as including a range of seasonal food sources, early blooming plants, summer powerhouses such as goldenrod and late winter seeds found in grasses such as little blue stem and echinacea coneflower and liatris not being cut back until the following spring,” Sheppard said.
Providing a source of water such as a clean birdbath, and some sort of shelter are also important as are limiting lawns, reducing pesticide use, and preserving trees, she said.
ACT has a variety of native plants as well as heirloom tomatoes and peppers and herbs for sale. It will also have garden baskets, succulents in planters, and mushroom logs from Goat Plum Tree. Go Green OC Compost will be available for a donation.
Attendees will have the opportunity to make bee houses out of two invasive species: bamboo and phragmites. Pre-orders are encouraged.
To order from ACT, visit https://www.actforbays.org/shop
The organization will have its plant pick up on May 6, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Patrons who cannot pick up their plants on May 6, can work with ACT on a different pick-up date.
The land trust’s plant sale has perennials, ferns, grasses, shrubs and trees available. Orders must be placed by this weekend. The organization is offering a number of packages of plants focused on pollinators, salt-tolerant, shade and wet feet. The trust’s plant sale pickup is May 5 and 6.
This is a pre-order sale only and closes this weekend. Alternate arrangements can be made if pick-up on these dates is not possible.
To order from the land trust, visit https://www.lowershorelandtrust.org.