Landscaping with Native Plants: Benefits and Best Practices

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Landscaping with Native Plants: Benefits and Best Practices

When Sam finally purchased a home in Calgary with a small patch of land, he decided to inspect what the previous owners had left in the garden. “It wasn’t much,” he recalled. “There were a few bushes and plants, but nothing seemed to belong.”

In fact, upon closer inspection, none of the plants were native to Alberta. Yet, with some research and effort, his garden has become a treasure trove of native plants in just a few seasons, which friends and family can enjoy – and so can yours.

The Importance of Native Plants

Native plants are essential for maintaining the health and stability of local ecosystems. These plants have evolved over centuries alongside local wildlife, forming a symbiotic relationship that supports biodiversity. According to resources from the Alberta Native Plant Council and various gardening websites, “Native plants and animals form a community that works together to thrive and protect themselves from threats.”

For example, though popular in gardens, tulips and daffodils are non-native and contribute nothing to the local ecosystem. In contrast, native plants provide crucial resources for local fauna, including food and habitat, necessary for survival (though this can sometimes be challenging for those planting to enjoy the visual splendor of their labor!).

Native Plants Suitable for Calgary Gardens

Wild Rose (Rosa acicularis): The provincial flower of Alberta, known for its beautiful pink blooms and hardiness. It thrives in sunny conditions and is a favorite among pollinators. Wild Rose also provides habitat and food for various insects and birds, making it a valuable addition to any garden.

Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla nuttalliana): One of the first flowers to bloom in spring, attracting early pollinators. Its delicate purple flowers can brighten up any garden. This plant also adds a unique element to garden plantings with its round silken seed heads that remain attractive even after blooming​

Buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis): This shrub produces bright red berries that birds and other wildlife love. It is a hardy plant that can withstand Calgary’s varied weather conditions and is beneficial for providing food sources for local fauna​

Golden Bean (Thermopsis rhombifolia): A resilient plant with bright yellow flowers that thrive in the open, sunny conditions typical of Calgary’s landscape. It serves as both a host plant and a source of nectar for early-season butterflies, adding both beauty and ecological value to gardens​

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Known for its medicinal properties and ability to attract beneficial insects. Yarrow is versatile and can be used in sunny and partially shaded areas. It also helps improve soil quality and prevent erosion​

Saskatoon Berry (Amelanchier alnifolia): A shrub that produces sweet, edible berries, attracting both humans and wildlife. It thrives in well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade, and its berries are a favorite among birds​

Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): Also known as Bearberry, this ground cover plant is perfect for dry, sandy soils and provides excellent erosion control. Its berries are also a food source for wildlife, making it a dual-purpose plant for beauty and functionality​

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata): Showy red and yellow flowers important for bees and butterflies. This drought-tolerant plant blooms from late summer through fall and can reach a height of four feet​

Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Peritoma serrulata): With dainty purplish-white flowers, this plant is favored by insect pollinators. It grows up to four feet tall and can enhance pollination for garden vegetables​

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa): Known for its fragrant, lilac-colored flowers, this plant attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It grows up to five feet tall and blooms in mid-summer​

These plants are well-suited to Calgary’s climate and soil conditions. They offer both aesthetic appeal and ecological benefits, and incorporating them into your garden can support local biodiversity and attract pollinators, creating a vibrant, sustainable landscape.

The Beauty of Biodiversity

Integrating these native plants into your garden can create a vibrant, diverse environment that supports local wildlife. Each plant plays a role in the ecosystem, from attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies to providing food and shelter for birds and small mammals.

For example, Wild Rose supports a variety of insects and birds by providing essential habitat and food sources. Prairie Crocus, one of the earliest bloomers, attracts bees and other pollinators at a critical time in spring​​​. The Buffaloberry shrub produces berries that are crucial for birds while offering shelter​​. Similarly, the Golden Bean attracts early-season butterflies and adds vibrant color to your garden​.

Yarrow attracts beneficial insects that help control garden pests and improve soil quality​​, and Saskatoon Berry produces berries favored by birds while also providing edible fruit for humans​​. Kinnikinnick is excellent for ground cover and preventing soil erosion, as its berries are consumed by wildlife​​. The Blanket Flower attracts bees and butterflies, providing essential pollen and nectar throughout the growing season​.

​Gardening with native plants also means less reliance on water, fertilizers, and pesticides, making it a more environmentally friendly choice. These plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, making them more resilient to drought and disease. You can create a self-sustaining garden that requires minimal intervention by choosing plants like the Wild Bergamot, which is known for attracting a wide range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds​​.

Tailoring Gardens to Conditions

Whether you have a sunny, open area or a shaded woodland space, native plants will thrive in your garden. For instance, prairie plants like the golden bean and Prairie Crocus are perfect for sunny spots, while woodland understory plants such as the Wild Rose and Yarrow can flourish in shaded areas.

Creating a garden with a mix of native plants can ensure year-round interest. Different species bloom at various times and provide continuous support for local wildlife. By choosing native plants, you contribute to conserving Calgary’s natural heritage and creating a beautiful, sustainable garden.

By focusing on the richness and biodiversity of native plants in Calgary, gardeners can enhance their gardens while supporting local ecosystems. The variety of native species available ensures that there are suitable plants for every type of garden, helping to maintain a healthy and balanced environment.

Your Gardening Journey

Native plant gardening is not just a hobby; it’s a commitment to ecological stewardship. By choosing native plants, gardeners can create small pockets of biodiversity that support local wildlife and contribute to the environment’s health. As more people become aware of the benefits of native plants, the hope is that these practices will become mainstream, ensuring that future generations inherit a thriving, balanced ecosystem. Let your garden be part of this wonderful movement!

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