Inexpensive Landscaping with Native Plants

by Susan Pitman


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Landscaping your yard with native plants is a frugal way to garden. Native plants require less water, fertilizer, and care than most commercially grown plants. However, buying native plants from a nursery or through mail order can be expensive. Growing them from seed can be chancy since seeds of many native plants have a low germination rate. Also, if you are not very familiar with the plants native to your region, you might purchase a plant that is indigenous to another part of the country and will not thrive in your yard. How can you get the right plants for your yard frugally?

Going on a plant dig is the most frugal way to furnish your yard with native plants that are right for your region. For the cost of a little gas and a few hours of your time, you can come home with a wide variety of native plants to grace your yard. This is how I got ferns, azaleas, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, wild ginger, and many other plants for my own yard.

I went on my digs with my local native plant society. We dug on land that was shortly to be developed, always getting permission from the developer first. If there is no similar group in your area, talk directly with the landowner yourself. You might be asked to sign a waiver releasing the landowner from all liability if you are injured while digging the plants.

You don't need fancy equipment for your plant dig. You probably own all the things you need already. Take a shovel if you plan to harvest small trees or shrubs. A trowel will do nicely for ferns and other small plants. You should also fill clean, empty milk jugs with water to take with you. You will need several gallons, as you should water your new plants as soon as you get them back to your car. Bring plenty of plastic grocery bags to carry your plants home. They are lighter than boxes or pots when carting your harvest through the woods and the plastic will keep water from soaking everything in your vehicle after you have watered your new plants. If you are on a dig with several people, make sure to put your name on your bags.

Over four digs, I got three azaleas, ten wild ginger plants, a dozen ferns, a few hepatica plants, several Jack-in-the-Pulpit corms, and several other types of plants. If I had bought the azaleas from a nursery, they would have been $15 to $20 apiece. The wild ginger plants, ferns, and hepatica would have cost $4 to $6. The Jack-in-the-Pulpit corms probably would have been available only through mail order, and prices would be in the $5 to $6 range for corms and $15 for a very small amount of the seeds. For perhaps $10 in gas and a few hours of my time, I got plants for my yard that would have cost over $200 if I had bought them at a nursery. The savings go on after you bring your plants home and plant them in your yard. Although the plants should be watered thoroughly and consistently for the first year after you plant them, they will probably not need to be watered afterwards. The plants will not need to be fertilized. A little mulch is all they need. You can use them to replace part of your lawn. This will cut down on the gas and oil you need for your mower and will save you time on yard work. My wild ginger is spreading nicely in a wooded area where I always had a hard time getting grass to grow anyway. The azaleas are thriving in the pine island that has replaced much of my front lawn. The ferns and Jack-in-the-Pulpits are growing well in a shady area in my backyard where water would collect after every rain. Every time I sit on my patio and gaze at my yard, I have the satisfaction of knowing that all that beauty was mine for a little work and not much money.

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