Native plants are crucial for insects, birds and the rest of the food chain

Summersweet (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

My neighbor insists that I should have only native plants in my yard. I think it's okay to include non-natives in my garden, particularly ones that bloom to support butterflies and pollinators. Is that okay?

A study published last year was a wake-up call for Marylanders. Perhaps your neighbor learned of it. Carried out in our region using chickadees as a typical backyard bird, it discovered that only landscapes with at least 70 percent natives provided enough food for the birds to raise young and reproduce themselves successfully. That means that while birds may be present in a less native landscape, they are slowly declining all the time — a non-sustainable situation.


All birds depend on insects to rear their young. Native plants support the most insects. And, while non-native plants can support some beneficial insects, great numbers of beneficials are dependent upon a narrow menu of native plants. In fact, the whole chain of native wildlife, not just birds, is very dependent upon insects.

Of course, butterflies are a delight, and pollinators are critical! Books by Doug Tallamy are good at explaining the interplay in our backyards.

A majority of Maryland’s land is in private hands, so homeowner choices are important. Maryland has amazing native plants. Nurseries provide us with more choices all the time. Trees, especially, should be native because of their sheer volume. An excellent publication online for choosing native plants is “Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed” with photos and cultural charts.

The occasional non-native (not invasive, of course) is certainly fine, but we strongly urge all Marylanders to aim for at least 70 percent natives — more is better — a big challenge!

The end of my trumpet vine branch has started growing into the ground. What is this called? Will it begin to form roots ?

What you're seeing is called 'layering' . Many shrubs and plants reproduce themselves this way, besides producing seeds, etc. The growing tips of the plants touch the soil and are stimulated to grow roots. After the roots have established, and the portion beyond the roots has had a while to grow, the stem from the original plant can be cut and you’ll have a new, independent plant. This is a great way to propagate many of your favorite shrubs.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.