Over the past few decades, support for planting natives in our gardens has grown exponentially. Experienced gardeners know that planting “the right plant in the right place” makes the upkeep of that plant significantly easier. Native plants are ideally suited to local environmental conditions and thus fulfill this criterion. More recently, the critical role native plants play in supporting native wildlife has gained more attention. Native plants and animals evolved together to support each other ecologically over millennia. The introduction of exotic or hybrid plants, gardening practices that rely on synthetic chemicals, and rampant land clearing and development have greatly strained wildlife populations. Home gardeners can support wildlife and contribute to the restoration and support of local ecosystems by planting more natives, reducing chemicals used to treat garden problems, and implementing environmentally-friendly practices like leaving the leaves. Fortunately, there are resources to help gardeners choose native plants to support and sustain wildlife in their gardens.
Clemson Extension’s Carolina Yards Program has a searchable plant database of nearly 300 plants, many of which are South Carolina natives. Gardeners can search the database by region, plant requirements, and the wildlife supported by each plant. Birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds are the wildlife focus of this database. Our North Carolina State Extension Service neighbors have a searchable “Gardeners Toolbox,” with a broader wildlife search that includes bats, bees, frogs, moths, predatory insects, reptiles, and small mammals and songbirds. Many of the plants in their database are South Carolina natives since plants don’t respect state boundaries!
Many national wildlife organizations are urging gardeners to heed the call to support wildlife by planting natives. The National Wildlife Federation’s online plant database, searchable by zip code, focuses on the best plants to sustain moth and butterfly caterpillars. These caterpillars, in turn, provide food for many other animals. The Audubon Society also has a zip code search to find plants to attract and support specific native birds. The Xerces Society and Pollinator Partnership have developed helpful regional planting guides specifically for pollinators. These guides are available for free on their websites.
All these organizations, state and national, are working together to move us towards a more sustainable future for wildlife. Your backyard can be a key to helping sustain wildlife in your community.