Native Plants Are Best When Landscaping in Southern Ocean County

Sep 14, 2018
Courtesy of: Mary Judge When it comes to developing a healthy, thriving, strong garden or landscape around your home, using native plants is the best way to create an eco-friendly environment that can withstand harsh conditions.

During the weeks and months following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Karen Walzer heard many stories about gardens and landscapes surrounding Ocean County homes that went caput, so heavily damaged by flooding and wind that they needed to be completely overhauled. The ones that survived and continued to thrive after the storm had more native flowers, shrubs, grasses and trees.

“There were a lot of lessons learned after Sandy,” said Walzer, the public outreach coordinator for the Barnegat Bay Partnership, formerly the Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program, and co-leader of the Jersey Shore chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey. “And one of those lessons was how well native plants make the gardens and landscapes along the coast much stronger. I had heard so many stories from homeowners about their native plants remaining, and even thriving, after Sandy.”

For most homeowners, a nice-looking, functional garden area or landscaping is an important aspect to creating a more comfortable, relaxing environment. Unfortunately, many homeowners who are not botanical experts make plenty of mistakes when it comes to beautifying the grounds around their homes – one of the biggest is mismatching plants to the location.

The best solution to alleviating all kinds of potential mishaps and headaches is the use of native plants, Walzer said.

“Half of New Jersey is considered a coastal plain,” she said. “Your garden can be formal and lovely, but it’s best to use natives because they will grow better, have stronger root systems and require less input in terms of watering and fertilizing. A lot of gardeners will plant a flower they might love, but it may not thrive within our environment along the coast. And if you live on a barrier island or near the bay, the more natives in your garden, the better it will be.”

Whether you live on Long Beach Island, along the immediate coastal mainland or 5 miles inland closer to the Pine Barrens, native plants truly are your best bet for a strong, healthy, environmentally friendly garden or landscape. And, sure, creating one will take time and effort, but Walzer said it’s worth it.

“There are a lot of things to keep in mind when you’re developing your garden or landscaping,” she said. “The most important thing you need to know is the kind of soil you have on your grounds. Then you have to factor in other elements – wind, salt spray, potential flooding in your area, local wildlife, and the possibility of lengthy dry weather. Helping a garden thrive isn’t easy, but it can be done.”

Fortunately, several great resources exist to help the homeowner plan, develop and maintain a beautiful garden or landscape in New Jersey, particularly along the Jersey Shore.

Walzer said the Jersey-Friendly Yards website, jerseyyards.org, is a very helpful resource every Ocean County homeowner interested in creating a long-lasting, healthy and picturesque garden should be using. On it, you can find great information on how to develop an interactive yard that caters to pollinators and beneficial insects, a searchable database of plants that thrive in a coastal environment, a listing of locations where you can purchase native plants and much more.

One particular feature of the site is “Eight Steps To a Jersey-Friendly Landscape,” which provides extensive instruction and recommendations on the following: planning before you plant; testing your soil; watering wisely; fertilizing less; minimizing pests; reducing lawn size; creating beneficial wildlife habitats; and reducing, reusing and recycling in the yard.

Walzer said one of the best parts of the “Eight Steps” guide centers on step No. 2, soil testing. This particular portion of the website gives excellent information on how to manage healthy soil so plants can thrive, and provides a link to the Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, which provides soil-testing services for a fee. The fees range from the basic $20 fertility test to the more extensive $86 topsoil evaluation, but Walzer said the fees are minimal compared to the cost of investing in plants that will not thrive or will die after a season or two.

“It’s so important to understand your soil,” she said. “Salt conditions are higher on the barrier islands, and salt intake has a big effect on the soil in those areas. In sections of towns that were former wetlands – like Beach Haven West – the soil changes, and it might be a bit more mucky and organic. As you get closer to the Pine Barrens, you’re going to have more sandy soil.

“All these types of soils affect plants differently, but the native plants will thrive in them, even when conditions are harsh. But you want to match the plant to the place, and that means you have to know the soil. Getting it tested is a good idea, so you know exactly what you have and what you can plant.”

Once you know the type of soil on your grounds, your next best bet is to check out the plant database, which has a very extensive search filter to find plants that will thrive according to soil type, lighting, specific eco-region – barrier island/coastal or pinelands – and salt tolerance, among other factors. A preliminary search on coastal plain native plants yields 232 options among native ferns, flowers, grasses, groundcovers, shrubs, trees and vines.

Of course, while you’re planning your next garden or landscaping project, it might be a cool idea to make it eco-friendly and appealing to pollinators and birds, which not only enhance the immediate environment, but also can have valuable effects throughout the region.

“If you care for the wildlife and local ecosystems, there are lots of native plants that can benefit the local environment,” Walzer said. “Maybe you want to make the migration route for Monarch butterflies a little easier for them, or give hummingbirds a good spot to feed. Whatever it is, native wildlife benefits more from native plants.”

Whatever the preferences, the Barnegat Bay Partnership’s resource “Going Native: A Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants in the Barnegat Bay Watershed” can be an invaluable tool for homeowners. The PDF file can be downloaded at barnegatbaypartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/BBP_Native-Plant-brochure-May2012_six-pgs85x11-forWeb.pdf.

For additional resources and information about native plants, also visit the Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s website at npsnj.org.

David Biggy

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