To Save Native Plants: First… Remove Invasive Species
Invasive plants are a significant problem in New York State, especially on Long Island. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to an ecosystem — having great potential to cause harm to it.
Most Long Island soils harbor viable invasive seeds from their arrival via wind, birds, or mammals years to decades ago. Under the right conditions — exposure to sunlight being one — these seeds (herbs , shrubs, trees, or ivy) will quickly germinate and grow — typically on bare ground — to out-compete native plant species. (It’s extremely important to cover disturbed ground with native plants or leaf mulch held in place with twigs and small branches).
Why care? Long Island’s landscapes are changing as invasive plants out-compete native species. And when native plants disappear or are replaced by alien exotics, many food sources and habitats for beneficial pollinators, birds and other animals are lost. In parts of the world native habitat destruction has been so extensive that local wildlife populations may well be headed toward extinction. Since native plants form the base for the local food chain and the backbone of our ecosystems, their loss affects the quality of life for us all.
Get Inspired: A good book may be all it takes to get started. My number one is Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by Douglas W. Tallamy. A wonderful followup is A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future, by Benjamin Vogt. When ready, talk to others who share your interests. There are local chapters of organizations such as the Audubon Society and Sierra Club that will connect you with knowledgeable volunteers, and send Go Native LI a comment.
What is Go Native Long Island? A Long Island group of native plant lovers has embarked on an educational awareness endeavor to bring public attention to common invasive plants. This effort is designed to limit native species’ decline and loss due to invasive, non-native species incursion. Through its archived contributed posts, GoNativeLI.com describes methods that successfully replace invasives with care-free and beneficial native species for home landscapes and local parks. Once established, some native plants, Mayapple for instance, will shade out invasive weeds.
How do we begin? To successfully control an undesirable plant, learn how it grows and reproduces. For instance, mowing or cutting back at the wrong time of year may be wasted effort and expense. Attack it when it is most vulnerable. The Gallery of Invasives pages on this blog address many of the common invasive woody vines, trees, and herbaceous plants found on Long Island, with helpful photos and information about removing them successfully.
Replace invasive species with native plants without using herbicides.1 Cut, pull and dig up invasive plants following recommended methods on our Invasives Removal pages for vines, trees, and herbaceous plants. For instance, the best time to weed is just after a drenching downpour or in late fall/winter/early spring while the ground is damp but not frozen, and selectively weed out invasive plants to give natives room to grow and reproduce. Many methods require repeating the process when there is regrowth. Be patient.
Selecting the right native plants can be an arduous task, but these three references make it easy:
- First, pick ecotype plants that benefit local wildlife. An excellent reference book is The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy where the appendix lists landscape and ecological functions of Mid-Atlantic plants.
- Second, determine if your selected plants are suitable for your particular landscape. Go to the University of Connecticut’s Plant Database, which includes the characteristics of straight (natural/wild) plants and their cultivars. (Often cultivars are grown to attract humans but not the native animal species that evolved with them.)
- Third, in New York State go to NYS Flora Atlas to determine if the selected plants are native to your county. This may help narrow your selection.
Once you decide on the right plants you’ll need to know how to plant them. I would suggest referring to this book: Urban and Suburban Meadows by Catherine Zimmerman.
Next, find a nursery or garden center to purchase your trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials. Check out the suggested links in the right-hand column of this page, and make an effort to keep your garden chemical-free and healthy!
Finally, we invite you to share your tried and true experiences with us on this blog. Send your comments here.
Julie Sullivan, MEnvSci
1 Studies have linked herbicides to human illnesses; may be harmful to beneficial insects; can pollute groundwater; as well as disrupt the natural balance of microbes needed for healthy soils.