KC Gardens

How native plants are great for pollinators, soil health and removing carbon dioxide

Echinacea is a type of native plant that can help the ecosystem in our area.
Echinacea is a type of native plant that can help the ecosystem in our area. Johnson County K-State Research and Extension

I am always expanding my knowledge about plants.

Last week I attended the Plan It Native conference in Kansas City. Deep Roots, a local grassroots organization promoting the importance of native plants, sponsored the first-ever conference, which attracted nearly 200 people.

Plant enthusiasts from the region came together and geeked out about plants, sharing ideas and learning from the industry’s best.

Natives play an essential role in developing not only a sustainable environment but, more importantly, a regenerative ecosystem. And regenerative is the current buzzword.

Sustainable means to keep the status quo or to maintain as-is. Regenerative means to restore, bring back or improve.

Many of the topics presented at the conference focused on this definition, with native plants being the workhorse to help regenerate our environment.

Many gardeners are aware of the benefits of planting natives to attract a variety of pollinators, including all types of native flies, wasp, bees, birds, bats and animals. Many of these beneficial pollinators are out of sight and out of mind. However, these plants are dependable food sources for the pollinators and vital for a healthy food web.

Native plants provide an abundant source of pollen and nectar to feed the larvae and the young pollinators. Native plants produce fruits, berries and seeds feeding birds and other animals. Without this food source, the population will decline. The poster child for this plight is the monarch butterfly, which has lost habitat with the decline of milkweed.

Conference speakers highlighted other benefits for our environment. Native plants grow deep roots that stabilize the soil and reduce erosion. Dense foliage and roots slows rain water and cleanses it before it reaches the streams. Native plants also naturally help the soil soak up water as their roots repair soils from construction.

Did you know about the role these plants play in helping to remove carbon dioxide from the air?

Native plants are highly efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and moving it deep into the roots to be released and trapped in the soil — so the bigger the root system, the more carbon dioxide trapped.

For example, a tall fescue lawn has a root system of about 6 inches deep. Roots of native plants can reach 2 feet into the soil.

There are many species of native plants at home in the mixed perennial garden. They provide not only beauty but also a healthy ecosystem in your backyard.

It is time we all take a renewed look and incorporate more natives.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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