We at NSA are big advocates of native plants and believe strongly

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We at NSA are big advocates of native plants and believe strongly that they should be put to much greater use in our planted landscapes. In fact, we believe that our community landscapes should become refuges for native prairie plants, since much of our best prairie habitat was long ago lost to the plow. There seems to be a growing trend in using native plants in the landscape, and natives are becoming more available in the nursery trade. This is a terrific trend and we will work hard to extend it even further. Despite our love of native plants, however, we’re the first to admit that they’re far from perfect and aren’t always the best choice for every landscape situation. Tall prairie plants can be especially difficult to use where space is limited (which is much of the community landscape), and many native plants, including some of our most attractive western beauties, can be finicky and difficult to establish for novice gardeners. Finally, it’s worth noting that our only eastern Nebraska native evergreen, the redcedar, has become an invasive weed in many landscapes. We’re not ashamed to admit that we often advocate for well-behaved, nonnative plants here and there to add visual interest, fill space, enhance the bloom season and to attract pollinators. Such use of non-natives is sometimes frowned upon by overzealous native plant enthusiasts who desire purity where it is neither warranted nor possible. When you stop and think about it, every community landscape is a contrived landscape that must first function for a wide variety of humanoriented purposes and activities. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that much of the community landscape needs to be maintained at a relatively low height to allow for play, visibility, safety and neighborliness. Thus lawns and shortly-cropped landscape areas have evolved to dominate much of the ground plane of the community. For such areas a return to native prairie just does not make sense. And because of the enormous value that trees provide, much of the community becomes shady over time. Again, sun-loving prairie plants are not the best choice where trees dominate. The clear truth is that well-behaved, non-native, herbaceous plants are valuable to making our community landscapes both beautiful and functional and many help sustain pollinators and other important insects. One of the most important things about non-natives such as catmint, yarrow, salvia, sedum and Russian sage is that they are easy to grow and extremely reliable across a wide range of soil conditions. They allow us to cover the ground with a good variety of things that novice gardeners will have success with. Most non-native plants are not the enemy of a good environmental outcome for communities but critically important to our efforts at soil conservation, stormwater management, water conservation, pollinator health, beauty and a better quality-oflife. On the other hand, it’s very important to note that many non-native plants brought to our region have become serious problems by invading into wild areas. This includes such things as purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, honeysuckle, multiflora rose and phragmites to name just a few. Before using non-natives, it’s always smart to do an internet search to learn their potential for invasiveness. Every state maintains such lists and a good place to look for our region is the Nebraska Invasive Species Program (neinvasives. com). Finally, we would all be wise to stick with native plants when landscaping around important natural areas such as woodlands and unplowed prairies. Though these situations are somewhat rare, they really do require extra diligence in trying to prevent invasive plant problems. If we could snap our fingers and instantly convert our community landscapes to native plantings, we would be tempted. But we would ultimately not do that since we know the limitations of native plants in our human-active communities. For us a better goal would be to strive for at least a 50/50 balance of native and non-native plants. We still have a LONG way to go to achieve that.