By Emily Hugen, Education Coordinator East/West Pottawattamie County
There are more benefits than meets the eye with bringing native plants back into your landscape. Plants such as milkweed, coneflower, big bluestem, and switchgrass are just a few of the many native plants and grasses of Iowa. These plants can help beautify the landscape but they also offer a variety of environmental benefits.
Some environmental benefits of native plants include increased water absorption, reduced soil erosion, greater weed suppression, provide pollinator habitats, and require less maintenance. Let's start with the first of many advantages, water absorption. Native plants increase rainfall absorption through their extensive root system. As stated in a Mid-American Regional Council article, "A typical lawn absorbs only 10 percent of the amount of storm water that a native landscape can absorb." The difference in water absorption is attributed to the difference in the root systems between lawn grasses and native plants.
Root structure leads us into native plants next strength, reduced soil erosion. Soil erosion is greatly reduced with the use of native plants because these plants have a more extensive root system which do a better job of holding soil in place compared to typical lawn grasses. When a rain event occurs it is common for soils to be disturbed leading to soil erosion. With more roots holding that soil in place, it acts as a barrier and makes it harder for soil erosion to occur.
The next benefit of growing native plants within your landscape is weed suppression. Weeds are a problem that many lawn owners face. This can lead to spraying herbicides or utilizing other types of weed killing chemicals. These chemicals can cause problems if they runoff into storm water sewers or nearby rivers or streams. One natural remedy to weed management is to increase how many native plants are on your landscape. Native plants do a good job of shading out weeds. They also outgrow weed root systems which make it harder for weeds to establish and grow. Therefore, native plants are a great solution to weed problems!
Another advantage that native plants provide are habitats for pollinators. Pollinators are crucial to many facets of life. According to the USDA Forest Service, "Pollinators are best adapted to local, native plants." Therefore, providing pollinators with a habitat greatly influences the health of their population and ours.
The last asset to including native plants in your landscape is that they require little maintenance and upkeep once well established. Since they are adapted to Iowa's climate they are able to survive harsh winters and strong summer heat. They also are better adapted to withstand pest and disease problems.
Now that you've learned some of the environmental benefits with including native plants to a landscape, I hope you consider adding them to your landscape this upcoming spring and summer! Included below is more information about native landscaping, how to get started, and plant information based on soil moisture conditions, height, and flowering period.