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Native plants: What they are and why use them for a beautiful, healthy garden

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Even though snow is still lingering in places across the state, it’s time to start planning for a beautiful summer garden. Gardening is a great way to get exercise, have fun outside and build something beautiful producing fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs all summer long. There are certain plants you can plant to save time, money and help the environment.

Wyoming native plants

This is where native plants come in. The Wyoming Weed and Pest Council (WWPC) encourages everyone to incorporate native plants into their gardens. Native plants build a healthy environment and support the entire food web by providing food for small birds, mammals, insects and many other wildlife.

But what are native plants? They are flowers, shrubs, trees and plants growing naturally in a particular region, ecosystem or habitat without human introduction. 

These types of plants have taken thousands of years to develop beneficial relationships with other wildlife in the area. They are the best fit for hardy growers and the climate of Wyoming because they grow here naturally.  

A great example of these specialized pollinator-plant relationships is long-tube flowers and hummingbirds. Wyoming native plants like Rocky Mountain penstemon and scarlet gilia produce nectar, which feeds hummingbirds. While hummingbirds move from flower to flower to eat, they pollinate and help reproduce those flowers. 

But this is not the only pollinator-plant relationship. There are many other plants, animals and insects benefitting from each other.  

Native plant benefits

There are several benefits of having more native plants in gardens. It provides many benefits to the environment, but also the gardener. Native plants are easy to care for and sometimes require less maintenance and water than other ornamental plants. 

Gardeners will save time and money and still end up with a beautiful, thriving garden. They will also find the joy of seeing increased wildlife buzzing around the yard. 

By incorporating native plants, gardeners are also helping to increase native and diverse wildlife populations, such as honeybees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other local species of birds. Also, by simply planting native species, gardeners remove the chance they are planting something which could become invasive and hurt the local ecosystem.

“One of the best ways to avoid invasive species in Wyoming is to grow native plants,” said University of Wyoming (UW) Assistant Professor and Invasive Plant Extension Specialist Kelsey Brock. “We know these plants thrive and sustain local flora and fauna, and they don’t harm or destroy the environment around them.” 

And here’s the good news – planting native plants doesn’t have to be difficult. Adding just a few native plants will make a big difference in the ecosystem. Gardeners will start to see more wildlife in the garden, too. And because these plants thrive locally, they can likely survive off the rain and sun Mother Nature provides.

Planting precautions 

It is good to be aware some native plants can be poisonous to livestock, such as lupine or larkspur. They grow great in gardens, but it’s best not to plant them in a spot livestock could reach.

Luckily, Wyoming itself has many different native plants, because of the wide range of climates in the state. This means gardeners throughout Wyoming have a variety of plants to use in their garden.  The only downside to native plants is a little bit of research is often recommended. 

County weed and pest recommends these native plants for beginners: black-eyed Susans; blanket flower; columbine; dotted blazing star; Lewis’ flax; Rocky Mountain penstemon; and upright prairie coneflower, otherwise known as Mexican hat.

And these are just flowers! There are many resources to research different trees, shrubs or vines native to Wyoming. UW Extension provides a detailed list of flowers, shrubs and groundcover native to Wyoming in their Plants with Altitude publication. 

Additionally, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers an expansive directory of native plants for each state and also provides locations of where those plants can be purchased.

So, now’s the time to start researching and planning for the ultimate native garden!

This article is courtesy of the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council (WWPC). WWPC comprises of 23 Weed and Pest Districts in the state of Wyoming. The council works closely with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the University of Wyoming to keep current with the latest technology and research available in the ongoing management of noxious weeds and pests. The overall mission is to provide unified support and leadership for integrated management of noxious weeds and pests to protect economic and ecological resources in the state. 

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