Coreopsis lanceolata (Photo: MSU Extension)

Native plants are the most significant trend in gardening throughout the nation, including Mississippi. With Earth Day coming on Friday, experts and business owners in the state point out why natives are so important.

“Yes, I would say we are having an uptick in our customers buying native plants in our store,” said Joel Edwards, the native species specialist for Hutto’s Garden Center in Jackson. “I think people just like having that look in their backyards. It’s hard for me to compare to other states, but I can say that people are buying more here.”

Native plants are species that occur naturally in an environment. Because these plants thrive without interference, they are incredibly hardy and low maintenance. That also makes the easy-to-care-for plants a good choice for beginning gardeners. They don’t require a lot of care to grow successfully. 

Echinacea Bravado coneflowers (Photo: MSU Extension)

Robert Ballard in New Albany created a nursery called Camp Creek Natives that focuses specifically on native plants.

He says native plants fill a role in the ecosystem. Some provide for pollinators, some for the birds, but native plants ultimately provide for all by sustaining the local ecologies.

“East Coast and West Coast were heavily moving toward native plants and I knew it was just a matter of time for us here in the Mid-South to catch on,” Ballard said. “It wasn’t really hard. You see the trend toward natives, and you just know that is the direction you have to move in. I knew in my heart this was the right thing to do.”

Robert Ballard

Examples of some species that are native and successful in Mississippi that are being sold right now, according to Edwards, are the Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Mayhaw trees, Grancy Gray Beard trees and Elderberry shrubs.

A way to make a difference in your backyard

Ballard said he wants to make sure new gardeners are successful in the early going.

“Black-Eyed Susan and Cone Flowers are examples of natives that people can have a high rate of success with, and, at the same time, they are benefitting the ecology by using them,” he said. “Especially, with new gardeners, we want to make sure they have success early on so that they will want to continue.”

Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Photo: MSU Extension)

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Dudley Phelps, Research and Development associate at Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries in West Point, says there is no doubt that the average consumer is more conscious of buying native plants.

“I think people are just now starting to understand natives,” Phelps said.

He said there is even a new buzzword going around called pocket prairies, where people will plant natives around mailboxes and allow them to grow organically.

Pocket Prairie grown in backyard in West Point, Mississippi (Photo: Sarah Dill Reily)

“People are absolutely buying in. We started out only selling trees,” Phelps said. “We have shifted our focus to native trees, native grasses, and native wildflowers because of the demand. The trend has taken over.

“Our focus has been the private landowner who hunts, and now the hunters are becoming enthused with natives as well. Then you have the person who just wants to do something in their backyard to make a difference. It’s fun to plant a native milkweed. Then, you see the monarch butterflies land on the leaves and lay their eggs. You get to watch that whole process.”

Switching to electric also helps the environment

Felder Rushing

Felder Rushing, a Mississippi horticulturist, columnist and podcaster, recently gave a talk in Meridian on planting native plants in their landscapes. He said he also believes electric equipment impacts the ecosystem and environment.

“The one thing that I am seeing that has actually made a difference is that people are switching over to electric gardening equipment,” Rushing said. “Electric mowers, electric string trimmers, electric hedge trimmers – switching over to electric is a huge thing and has made a big, big difference. Collectively, all of those have made a big impact in what everyday folks are doing to impact the environment.”

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