We have been trained, over generations of time, that whenever we move into an area, we are to remove the native plants growing on our new site and replace them with plants from wherever we were before, or at least with plants we are familiar with. The plants we introduce into our new setting are not necessarily the ones best adapted to that area, but are the ones that have been marketed to us as the industrial standards that are the “right” ones to use. These plants are invariably mass-produced, mass-marketed, and are therefore the plants that we see for sale all around us: available, cheap, and familiar.
If our new place does not support the plants we have been trained to want (due to climate or soils, for instance), we change the place. We remove the native plants (often considered “weeds”), take out the native soil, bring in new soil, install irrigation, and add pesticides and fertilizers so the introduced plants will be able to tolerate a climate they are not naturally adapted to survive.
What we end up with across America are the same plants, with the same look, no matter where we live. What differs is the amount of time and resources spent to keep those plants living in every conceivable climate to which they are subjected. This may achieve a certain aesthetic look, but it is not ecological in any way. Traditional landscape designs often isolate yards and gardens from the natural environment, then drain the surroundings of resources and add nothing back in return (except for tainting the whole setting with toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides).
Our best approach to landscaping is to select plants appropriate to our place, and not try to change our place to fit inappropriate plants. By selecting plants that have evolved with our region’s climate and soils, we eliminate the need to constantly add resources not supplied naturally by our climate. Plants native to an area evolved to grow and thrive in those local conditions, and do not need the place changed at all to survive. Our native plants need very little care or maintenance and need very little or no added water or soil amendments. We may be surprised to find how many songbirds are attracted to our native yard plantings, and pleased to realize that those songbirds keep pests under control, eliminating the need for pesticides.
Some of the benefits of landscaping with natives, or “naturescaping”, include low maintenance, little or no watering after establishment, no need for chemical pesticides or fertilizers, less cost to maintain, healthier home-site (no leaching of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers into groundwater), enhanced property value, and providing habitat for songbirds whose populations are dropping dramatically every year due to loss of habitat.
Let’s change our way of thinking: pick the plant that fits the place, and not change the place to fit the plant. Native plants take care of themselves because they evolved to grow naturally in your own back yard. Desert native plants, in particular, thrive in one of the harshest environments on our planet, and should be the first landscape plants invited back into our southwest desert yards.