Native wildflowers are not only beautiful they have many benefits to you and the native fauna in the area they are planted. They are less work and worry than non-native plants and will still bring you loads of joy with their striking colours and beautiful growth forms. Here are a few reasons to make space for them in your garden.
Adapted to Your Climate and Conditions
Growing flowers and vegetation that are native to the area can be much easier than if you are growing ornamental from half a world away. Native wildflowers are adapted to the abiotic factors such as climate and soil conditions of your region and are more likely to thrive without regular maintenance and watering than plants that evolved under different conditions. Since the plants are used to the soil conditions there is no need for constant amendments and fertilizers. Truthfully, wildflowers should not be fertilized as they are used to competing for soil nutrients. Fertilizing wildflowers will also promote weed growth that can eventually blot out your wildflowers sun availability.
To ensure your wildflower success, make sure you choose a site that is compatible with the wildflowers sun, soil, and water requirements. There is a spot for everything to thrive. A good way to choose wildflower species for your space is to check what natural habitats the plant is found growing in. Plants adapted to the forest floor, like Bunchberry or many ferns will do best in a partially shaded site. Plants found in prairies will tolerate dry conditions and full sun.
Co-evolution With Insects
All around the world there is a close relationship between native insects and plants. Over time they have evolved to rely on each other to ensure the survival of both. In the case of moths and butterflies and some other groups of insects, the plants feed the insects as well as provide shelter or somewhere to lay eggs and insects help with the reproduction cycle of plants.
Sometimes plants and insects have relied so heavily on each other throughout their natural history that they become obligate to each other, meaning an insect will only feed from that plant or that plant can only be pollinated by that insect. You may think that just because a pollinator is visiting a flower it is good food for said pollinator. This is not true. The ratio of nutrients in native wildflowers is the most compatible for native insects and pollinators. Native pollinators may be able to consume the pollen and nectar of non-native plants but it will not have the same nutrient profile for the insect and if that is the only source of food, it may cause deficiencies or slower growth for larva. For example, studies show that one of the biggest factors in the success of a Bumblebee colony is the diversity of native plants in the pollen diet of larva through their development. Colonies or nests that gather most of their pollen from introduced, non-native flowers are much more vulnerable to illness and poor larval development.
Other important insect-plant relationships that you can sustain in your wildflower garden are between moths or butterflies and their host plants. Lepidoptera represent a large and important portion of North America's biodiversity, and they need specific plants or groups of plants to survive.
This Primrose Moth (Schinia florida) lays eggs in the flower buds of Common Evening Primrose, eat the plant as a caterpillar, then rest in the opened blossoms as adults. Relationships like these are integral to biodiversity and you can support and observe them in your backyard!
Most wildflowers are perennial! Others have shorter lifespans but will self-seed once established. Some perennial native plants may eventually need to be replaced, but once you have a mature plant established they will produce their own seeds that you can keep to start new plants the next year.
Feeding and Housing Wildlife
If you've ever been disappointed by a lack of wildlife in your garden space, or you want to encourage more of what you do observe visiting your space, wildflowers and native shrubs are the best long-term way to sustain and attract wildlife. Birds, insects (as mentioned above), and other creatures thrive when we add food and habitat for them through planting native.
This is especially true if you are mindful to select a combination of plants that offer food throughout the entire year. Berries that remain on a shrub through the winter, like Winterberry or Staghorn Sumac help feed your backyard birds. Early blooming shrubs and trees like Pussywillow or Maples help feed native bees when they need it most. Red, nectar-rich wildflowers like Cardinal Flower help feed hummingbirds without the risks of traditional hummingbird syrup feeders.
Cut Flowers for Your Table
"Weeds" and wildflowers offer different but equal beauty to garden roses or peonies. If you aren't persuaded to plant wildflowers for the bugs or birds, then plant them just for you.
Whether you have a yard, a farm, a balcony or just a window, there are wildflower options for you that will make both you and local wildlife happy. When you're shopping for plants and seeds to add to your space this year, we hope you consider all these reasons to plant wildflowers.