As humans, we prefer what we know. Psychology calls this the familiarity effect. It applies to places, shapes, people, even sounds. Whether we realize it or not, the familiarity effect impacts how we make decisions. We are faster to recognize and process things we know. In this way, it turns out we’re not so different from plants.
Many traditional commercial landscaping plants are alien species imported from other terrains and places in the world. These nonnative species, at worst, can disrupt the food web, become invasive, or diminish the natural habitat. But even plants that are not directly harmful can leave benefits on the table that native plants provide in spades. With a smart landscaping approach, we consider plant and grass species that improve its ecosystem. Most often, these species are ones that already naturally occur in the area.
Native plants have evolved with and are suited for the local climate and soil. Because native species occur naturally, they need significantly less maintenance week to week and year over year. They prefer familiarity as much as we do.
Require less chemical application.
Nonnative grasses require vast amounts of regularly applied fertilizer and pesticides to maintain. These products, in excess, can run off into our waterways and affect aquatic life. Because native plants are suited to the environment already, they require fewer chemical applications.
Use less water.
In urban areas, irrigation for lawns can use up to 30% of total water consumption. Native plants tend to retain water better, reducing stormwater runoff, preventing flooding, and lessening the demand on irrigation systems.
Provide for wildlife and pollinators.
After planting native species, you may notice more birds, bees, and butterflies stopping by. Planting native builds natural, diverse habitats (something hard for closely cropped lawns to do).
Research has shown conventional landscaping to cost $20,000 per acre over 20 years versus $3,000 per acre for native-plant landscapes.
Ready to take action? Here are 15 Native Plants to Include in Your Kentucky Landscape and 10 to avoid. Consider improving your landscape by installing a prairie.