If you are a homeowner, you are probably now spending at least part of your free time communing with mother nature and focusing on landscaping. This year, when choosing a new tree or shrub to enhance your property, you can give the ecosystem and the local economy a needed boost by planting a native species while increasing the value of your home.

In the broadest of definitions, native plants are those plants which occur and reproduce in an area without cultivation by man, and have done so long enough for the insects in the environment to use them as a nutritive mainstay or breeding ground. According to ecologist Douglas Tallamay, the general understanding of the way the ecosystem works is: “All animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. Insects are the group of animals most responsible for passing energy from plants to the animals that can’t eat plants. This fact is what makes insects such vital components. In fact, so many animals depend on insects for food that removing insects from an ecosystem spells its doom.”

And a doomed ecosystem ultimately can’t produce any food for the species at the top of that food chain — mankind. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we could lose the kingdom all for the want of “horseshoe nails,” so repopulating our yards and properties with native species of trees and shrubs really does matter. Just one flowering Red Bud supports long-tonged bees and many species of moths and butterflies, and also serves as larval host to the rare Henry's Elfin butterfly. Our beautiful native oaks offer us the opportunity to help grow and support over 500 species of caterpillars — all of them nutritious bird food.

Tallamay suggests that to give our ecosystem a boost, we need to triple the number of native trees in our lawns and underplant them with shrub layers. Homeowners can do this by planting the borders of their properties with native trees such as White Oaks, Sugar Maples, Tulip Poplars, Eastern Red Cedars, River Birches, and Shagbark Hickories. Those trees should be underplanted with woodies like Button bush, Roughleaf Dogwood, Spring Witchhazel or Oakleaf Hydrangea.

Want a second reason to plant native trees and shrubs? They are money makers. According to Executive Director Sarah Heyer at Keep Carbondale Beautiful, the American Nursery & Landscape Association predicts that general tree cover adds 2 to 9 percent to the value of existing homes and 7 percent to new homes.

“If your home has more trees than the nearby homes, it’s perceived value is higher” she said.

Add some sophisticated landscaping incorporating large plants, evergreens and trees that have seasonal color variation, and the perceived value of a home can further increase. And business owners take note: The Arbor Day Foundation reports that commercial areas with trees also attract more customers (and they stay longer and spend more money), and apartments with trees have reduced tenant turnover.

During Keep Carbondale Beautiful’s recent, annual native tree and shrub sale at the Home Expo at SIU, Heyer further elaborated that planting trees and shrubs also helps prevent soil erosion and helps with water detention on larger properties.

Heyer reminds us that choosing a tree takes time, which is why people should survey their land for locations and gather information before deciding.

“Planting smaller trees, for instance, can provide beauty and some shade without the risk of roof damage in a storm. Something like a Pagoda Dogwood would look great next to the house, while you might want to save a Bur Oak for the back 40,” she added.

In addition to planting native trees, it’s important also that they be local. Heyer said that native species are more likely to thrive if you plant them in a climate that is similar to where they were grown.

“This is important because these plants are adapted to the local climate. Trees from box stores are often grown in Oregon or Tennessee. They would require some special attention as they adapt to their new home,” she said.

Trees sold at the home expo fundraiser came from Forrest Keeling, a nursery 60 miles north of St. Louis. Some trees were purchased from Tabor Wholesale Nurseries, just south of Carbondale. That's local!

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