Eco Integrity: Native Plants

By Jane Dwyer

Working to maintain the eco-integrity of the Beaver Island has never been as important as it is today. One way to keep the island looking as natural as possible is to landscape with Michigan native trees, shrubs, and plants. Small efforts can have a big impact on the esthetic beauty of your yard and property and help to retain the natural ecosystems that exist here. Native plants are those that are indigenous to this region of the United States before European settlement.

Using Michigan native trees, plants, and wild flowers has many benefits. Being well suited for their environment native plants requires less maintenance and watering. Native plants also provide habitats specific to the wildlife in the area. When planted along shoreline areas the root systems act as filters which can remove 50% to 100% of solid particles from water runoff which helps to prevent phosphorus from getting into our lakes. This is much more effective then a traditional green grass lawn and you don’t have to use as much or any fertilizer. If you use fertilizer, The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council recommends a fertilizer mixture developed specifically for property owners in our region. The formula is 20-0-10. Twenty parts nitrogen, zero phosphorus, and ten parts potassium. It can be found at most large garden centers.

Like any landscaping project there are several factors to consider when you are getting started. Soil composition, sunlight, and moisture determine placement and what is be best suited to the natural vegetation community. For example, wildflowers needing full sun should be placed in a spot getting 8 hours of sun per day. Also, you would want to put them in a location that maximizes your viewing pleasure. Soil composition can be evaluated professionally by sending a sample to the Michigan State University County Extension Office. You can also look around your own property and determine in a general way what kind of eco-system you live in and consult the many books and catalogs that are available. When looking around your property think in terms of what could be relocated. Many varieties of young trees, shrubs, and wild flowers move well as long as the environmental conditions are the same. Having said that, it does not mean that you can go into the woods and dig up anything you want. In fact, some things are endangered or threatened by extinction. Heavy penalties exist if you remove these plants.

If you’re going to develop a natural area and would like to minimize the adverse impact there are plant rescue programs that assist and advise in re-locating existing native plants to another location on the property or have them removed to be used elsewhere or for propagation purposes. If you are interested in plant rescue there are several sources in Northern Michigan that may help:

It is important to remember that if you have disturbed soil on your property it is important to stabilize it as soon as possible to prevent erosion and possible invasive plant development.

Using native plants is economical and produces long lasting results. There are many beautiful native plant choices for your garden or landscape that enhance the environment in a natural way and help to maintain the eco- integrity of your property. If you’re interested in planting wildflowers avoid using wild flower seeds that come in boxes or cans as these may contain invasive species. A good source for native wild flowers is http://www.michiganwildflowerfarm.com/ The Michigan Wildflower Farm has many choices including a mix designed specifically for drain fields. Many commercial nurseries now have sections devoted to native plants. The Grand Traverse Conservation District annually holds a Native Plant Sale, this years sale will be held Saturday, May 17 8am-4pm and Sunday, May 18 10am-4pm. Many plants at this sale are from plant rescue programs in Northern Michigan. Using native plants on your property is a good way to help Beaver Island remain more natural and unchanged for future generations.