Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Dick Bono explains how bee balm and other native plants are successfuly replacing invasives on his Pennsylvania property.

Using Natives to Control Invasives

Broad swaths of red bee balm, pink echinacea, and golden Rudbeckia triloba hug footpaths through much of Judy and Dick Bono's 6-1/2 acres in York, Pennsylvania. This National Lands Trust property along Kreutz Creek is unique in intent and design.

The Bonos have successfully replaced innumerable invasive plants -- multiflora rose, burning bush, Norway maple, common daylilies -- with more than 200 species of native perennials, shrubs, and trees.

"We use the natives to colonize and to counter the invasives," Dick explained on a mid-July garden tour. Over several years, he and Judy pulled and dug out scores of invasives. "It was hard work," he said, recalling thorny struggles with the persistent multiflora rose.

Their mostly woodland property already had some excellent specimens, such as dawn redwoods and sycamores, and those treasures remain. "We had a lot of good stuff to begin with," Dick added, so they "didn't fix what wasn't broken."

Today everything on the Bono property is native. They've researched (and continue to study) the area's native flora. They prefer York county native plants, but will bring an occasional eastern U.S. native into the mix. Native plants are natural survivors that thrive where exotics and temperamental cultivars won't. Native plants are naturally adapted to their area's soil, water, weather, and light conditions. They require little to no maintenance, and little to no additional watering after getting established.

Natives Spread Naturally
Many of these plants -- white violets, lobelias, white Culver's root, black cohosh, Queen of the Prairie, butterfly weed -- have colorful flowers and fruits that attract native birds and butterflies and beneficial insects. Spicebush is the predominant understory throughout.

The Bonos choose sturdy, spreading species to fill any voids and discourage errant aggressive and alien intruders. "Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus) has the potential to be as strong as the (invasive) Japanese stilt grass," Dick explained. "Pulling out the stilt grass disturbs the soil. The senecio fills in."

They call their haven Nepenthe Nature Preserve and have labeled many plants along the pathways. The landscape flows like a rich, textural tapestry of ground covers such as woodland phlox, foam flower, wild ginger, and ferns (ostrich, cinnamon, royal, maidenhair, and sensitive). Perennials include golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), baptisia, little Joe Pye weed, great St.-John's-Wort, goldenrod, Virginia bluebells, trilliums, Dutchman's breeches, false nettles, wood poppies, Jack in the Pulpit, skunk cabbage, lizard's tale (Saururus cernuus), Solomon's seal, wild geraniums, and Turks cap lilies. Trees and shrubs are the sweet-smelling redbud, common ninebark, American strawberry, Ohio buckeye, and sweetbay magnolia.

The tapestry is always changing -- minute-by-minute, daily, weekly, seasonally. "Nature is never still," Dick observed. He eagerly pointed to one "accident" -- the unusual fringed loosestrife. "It came on its own," he smiled.

In our urban and suburban gardens, we, too, can tap nature's beauty after killing and removing invasives like goutweed. Encourage lush stands of attractive native plants to thrive before invasives get another foothold.

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