Native plants are increasing in popularity – but many town laws are designed for conventional landscaping. This creates conflict with the needs of pollinator gardens and native plant ecosystems. Luckily, there are several steps towns can take to support native plants!
1) Make sure nuisance laws exempt native plant gardens.
All too often, the wild beauty of native plants butts heads with local nuisance laws. These laws can mistakenly classify native plants as weeds and force community members to remove them. To prevent that from happening, towns can construct well-considered nuisance laws that define native plants as separate from weeds. They can also create guidelines for no-mow lawns (which replace turf grass with native grasses and sedges) vs. unmown lawns (which is just turf grass that is not being maintained).
2) Require 70% native plantings in public spaces.
There is no need to rip out all your existing landscaping. A good rule of thumb is to make 70% of your gardens native species. As a town, you can write that guideline into law for all public landscaping.
3) Require native plantings in community solar and wind projects.
As our society moves towards sustainable energy, more and more communities are developing solar farms and wind farms. Gravel or turfgrass are often used as ground coverings under these projects. Yet native plants can just as easily be used – and they’ll cost less to maintain. (Hint: there’s no reason you can’t set the same requirement to use native plants as ground cover under cell tower projects, too!)
4) Require buffer zones around native plant gardens.
Pesticide and herbicide drift is a real problem for native plants and the pollinators they attract. Wherever possible, it is best to eliminate the use of these chemicals. However, where they are needed – which is likely far less frequently than you are used to – require a buffer zone or blockade so that neighboring native plants and pollinators are less likely to be damaged and killed.
5) Remove invasives and seed with native plants.
When non-native species are planted in a new environment, the predators that keep them in check do not accompany them. This means the non-native plants may spread aggressively and crowd out native species. As many pollinators require specific native plants for food or to raise their young, this can severely reduce pollinator populations. For this reason, towns should incorporate invasive plant removal into their maintenance routines, along with reseeding with native species.
6) Provide plant substitution lists to community members.
Members of the community may look to the town for guidance on transitioning to native plant gardens. By providing a list of recommended substitutions for your area, you can help your entire town. For example, if you live in the northeast, your list may recommend substituting Downy Serviceberry for Bradford Pear trees.
7) Provide info on native plant sources to community members.
Your town residents may also look to you to help them source native plants. By providing information on local and online native plant nurseries, you can help your community access native plant seeds, plugs, and bare root plants.
8) Educate your community on the benefits of native plants.
Not everyone has heard about native plants and pollinators. Some people may have outdated understandings about insects being “pests” and native plants being “weeds.” By providing trainings, signage, and posters, you can help your whole community understand the benefits of native plants.
9) Place educational signs in a native plant garden.
If your town has a City Hall, public park, community center, or even a sidewalk strip, you can create a native plant garden for all to enjoy! And, by adding signage about pollinator lifecycles and native plants, you can create a gentle learning opportunity at the same time.
10) Promote “leave the leaves” and “don’t cut back in autumn” and “No Mow May.”
One of the biggest differences between native plant landscaping and conventional landscaping is end–of-season care. Pollinators need leaves and stalks so they can safely overwinter. Your town can help people unlearn habits of bagging up leaves and cutting back gardens with educational signage and information campaigns. You can also teach them the importance of early spring nectar with No Mow May initiatives.
Photo by Emily Cao on Unsplash