There are countless benefits to growing ecologically-friendly native plants in whatever space you have available.
The makeup of our gardens has a powerful impact on the local environment. If you’ve cultivated a garden for some time, you’ve likely noticed how some native plants are able to attract pollinators like butterflies and bees while others can effectively repel hungry deer. Conversely, you might have already had to wage war on invasive species like bamboo or English ivy.
Switching out plants that are foreign to Northern Virginia for native ones can improve the surrounding air and water quality while helping the land maintain its natural character. Native plants also provide food and shelter to some of the smallest but most vital players in the ecosystem, protecting the insects that feed birds and butterflies, bats, bees, beetles and flies that cross-pollinate plants.
We’ve gathered a short list of invasive plants best to be avoided in your garden and suitable native substitutes that are just as pretty to look at but have also evolved to thrive in the region and as a result are easily maintained.
For a more extensive directory of native plants, consult the Plant NoVA Natives online guide and the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora as well as the local parks department. Some trustworthy seed resources are Sustainable NoVA’s online seed catalog, Maple Avenue Market, Kickshaws Downtown Market and Mom’s Organic Market.
Instead of the chocolate vine and Japanese honeysuckle …
While its brown flowers and chocolatey aroma might be alluring, the chocolate vine is an aggressive perennial. Likewise, the Japanese honeysuckle kills native plant species by out-competing them for sunlight and water, and it can destroy everything from smaller plants to trees with its enormous weight alone. It has very few predators in North America and consequently keeps the door open for other invasive species to flourish.
… plant yellow jessamine or trumpet or coral honeysuckle.
The yellow jessamine vine boasts yellow flowers, which attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Trumpet and coral honeysuckle have a mix of red and yellow flowers and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, finches and robins.
Instead of the Bradford pear tree …
This tree is of Chinese origin and was introduced to the U.S. in 1964. Contrary to what was believed at the time, the tree isn’t sterile, and it began cross-pollinating at a rapid rate with four-inch thorns on thickets that can only be removed by steel-tracked bulldozers. The thickets are slowly causing the death of native pines, dogwoods, maples and oaks.
… plant flowering dogwood.
This official state tree of Virginia is also the source of Virginia’s state flower, the dogwood flower. It is a smaller tree with flowers from spring to fall that turn from white, pink or yellow to bright red.
Instead of the burning bush shrub …
These bright red shrubs are both poisonous and invasive.
… plant witch hazel.
This plant is the source of the topical astringent of the same name, and you can grow it yourself. Deer hate it, and it’s bird-friendly. It’s also safer for kids and pets than the burning bush shrub.