Native & Non-native Plants Help Pollinators In Your Garden

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We all have our passions! I have a few to be honest. I love my family and right now they are certainly one of my greatest passions. Often folks want to hear about your hobbies, of which one of my main hobbies is spending time with my kids! I also love lacrosse, from coaching to playing or just plain watching, I just love it. This sport has been a passion of mine since the 8th grade! Lastly, as you may have been inclined to infer, I have a passion for plants. I do not have a focused passion to a certain area either, if it grows, I’m interested! My last passion is a Godly gift and that is to help and serve others.

I often get a small reprimand from my wife and/or kids because I am going off on some tangent about a plant that we just saw or a plant disease that we passed. It could be just about anything to do with plants to be honest. Apparently, I don’t even care who I’m around when these things spew forth from the depths of my brain files.

I mean, honestly, everyone needs some new plant knowledge, am I right? As an assistant coach this year for John Paul II Catholic High School, I had an opportunity to visit rival high schools across North Carolina from the beach to Charlotte. Our coaching staff were quick to ask my thoughts of the opposing team’s field. My reply was usually what field, this is nothing but weeds!

While I know some really neat facts about plants, there is always more to learn and someone from which to learn them. A passion about something will keep you consistently thirsting for knowledge, thrusting you into life-long learning. As gardeners, our passion often leads us to study and try new techniques.

Swallowtail Butterfly sipping nectar from a butterfly bush. (Picture by Jim Lawerence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Swallowtail Butterfly sipping nectar from a butterfly bush. (Picture by Jim Lawerence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

There have been numerous calls, emails, and Facebook messages this week asking about native plants. While I think some of it stems from our Beaufort County Master Gardeners, “Plant of the Week” Facebook post, I can’t help but to think that folks are becoming more and more passionate about native plants and pollinators. This past week’s post was about Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii). This was one of the featured plants this week from the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Disclaimer: this plant can be invasive and in fact is on the NC Native Plant Council’s invasive species list for the Mountains and Piedmont areas of NC. However, for our area, this plant does well and is a great source of nectar for butterflies. It will not however, support the larval stage of butterflies if that is the goal for your site. There are several other species of Buddleja spp. that can be found on the site, including  several cultivars/varieties of B. davidii that are either sterile or hybrid crosses that would be safe to plant.

When we think of natives, pollinators go hand-in-hand. Wildlife in general can benefit from using native plants in your landscape. However, that does not mean that plants which aren’t native can’t have a place in your landscape as well. One of our most beloved pollinators are honeybees, from which we get our beloved honey, is non-native. That’s right, they aren’t native, they’re from Europe. We even have a “Save the Bees” license plate, my daughter has one!!

The 4-H participants find that pollinators are important too! Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteers and I participated in the recent 4-H District Activity Day in Creswell. The participants, ages 8-18, participate in numerous categories that range from horses to cooking. We had the pleasure of helping with the Entomology and Environmental Science topics at the event. All of the presentations that we saw were on pollinators. Three of the presentations were on honey bees; two of them talked about keeping bees and one about how climate change is affecting bees. The fourth presentation we saw was all about bats, which are also incredible pollinators. These participants did a fantastic job with their presentations. Those in the room learned all about their topics.

Does every plant in your garden need to be native? Of course not. One of the most well known pollinator gardens in our beautiful State of North Carolina is in Chatham County, aptly named “Pollinator Paradise.” This garden is maintained by Debbie Roos, an Extension Agent. She has resources including the Top 25 Pollinator Plants in North Carolina. She also has a list of every plant that is in the garden and whether they are native or not. This garden is amazing and I encourage you to stop by and check it out, if nothing else, search for it online.

What it really boils down to, is where you passion lies and what you want to achieve in your landscape. Some folks want nothing but grass, some want no grass at all. Some want to provide for wildlife and some don’t want a single leaf to be chewed. Is one way right or wrong? Cooperative Extension is here to guide and educate using research-based information that gives the pros and cons of each. If you want a great stand of turfgrass, I’m your man. If you want to raise a sustainable, functional edible landscape, I’m your man. If you want to know more about a horticulture topic, I will find an answer even if it takes a while to research. This is Extension and my passion!

If you would like to know more about a plant, the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox is a great place to start. Simply click on the link or put this into a search engine and it will be one of the first sites to come up. If you are interested in Native plants, this site has a filter to select those. There are other resources on the page as well along the right-hand side. One of these is a link to NC Sea Grant where you will find native plant lists, templates for planting, and a list of native plant nurseries.

If you are itching to learn more about plant culture or have an issue in your home garden or landscape, send your questions to Gene Fox, Consumer Horticulture Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, please call at (252)946-0111. Extension Master Gardeners are available to answer your questions through our Greenline on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:00 – 12:00 or through our new Facebook page, Beaufort County Master Gardeners.

Until then, Happy Gardening!