April 2023
Backyard Conversation
Connecting Community + Conservation
Welcome to the Backyard Conversation! Each month we'll be sharing a conservation topic from a more personal viewpoint for our readers. To make this successful, I want to hear feedback from you! I'll include a poll at the bottom regarding our topic and share links to some of our partner organizations with similar messages. So, let's get to it!
Happy Native Plant Month!
Choose Native Plants to Benefit Water Quality and Wildlife
April is Ohio Native Plant Month. At Franklin Soil and Water, we are big fans of native plants. They are beautiful plants that serve multiple purposes.

An Ohio native plant is a plant that was present in Ohio and naturally occurring before the European Settlers arrived. These plants naturally occur here without human interference. Non-native plants are the opposite - they were not here naturally before European Settlement. Non-natives were brought over from other regions and continents. In general, native plants have more benefits than non-native plants. Let's discuss why.
Why You Should Choose Native Plants
Ohio native plants have been here for many, many years and have adapted to our climate and environment over time. As a result, they are very resilient and easy-going once established.

In addition to resiliency, native plants are incredibly beneficial for water quality. They have deep, extensive root systems that work to capture water for the plant's growth. Non-native plants and annuals do not compare to native plant roots. See the graphic below!

They also have incredible ecological benefits for our native wildlife and pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths, and birds. Again, because they are adapted to our environment, wildlife have adapted to depend on these plants for food, shelter, or even reproduction. Many wildlife species are dependent on a select one or few species in order to survive.

The classic example of this is the Monarch Butterfly and milkweed. The Monarch has to lay eggs on milkweed for the larvae to eat. Without milkweed, the Monarch cannot complete it's life cycle and survive. In particular, Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed are all native to Ohio and commonly available.

In fact, there are lots of native plants that are considered "keystone species" that are critical to many different species - not just one. Learn more about keystone species in our region from the National Wildlife Federation here.
Where to Buy Native Plants
Native plants are becoming more commonly available for purchase, but it can still be difficult to find them in big box stores and large retailers. However, there are even native plant specialty stores and businesses in Central Ohio that specialize in native plants.

Native plant specialty stores:

Local garden centers and nurseries carrying native plants:

If you know of any other locally owned native plant specialty businesses or garden centers with a good native selection that weren't listed above, please let us know! We are always looking for more native plant sellers to help us spread the word about native plants directly to Central Ohio consumers. Don't see any natives at your favorite garden center? Tell the store you want them to carry natives!
What is a Nativar?
A "nativar" is a cultivar which is a specific variety or hybrid of a native plant. Sometimes, native plants are intentionally bred for specific characteristics such as size or color. How can you tell if something is a cultivar? If a word or phrase is in single quotes after the name, it is a cultivar. One example is Purple Coneflower 'Cheyenne Spirit' is a popular cultivar of the Purple Coneflower with different flower colors than the straight Purple Coneflower.

Now, onto the sometimes controversial side of nativars. The straight native species is generally preferred for the ecological benefits compared to nativars. Research has indicated that ecological benefits are reduced when leaf or flower traits are changed. This is because wildlife does not recognize the new colors or leaf shapes of cultivars when these are changed. However, we understand that it can be difficult to find straight native species in large garden centers and big box stores, and it is generally very confusing to the average consumer. So, we'll try to make it simple. Try to follow this general rule of thumb: try to stick with nativars that have similar leaf or flower colors and sizes to the straight native species when possible.

Let's put this general rule of thumb into practice. Say you want a Purple Coneflower - a great choice for butterflies and birds! If you can't find the straight native, then try a cultivar that looks similar to the straight species such as the Purple Coneflower 'Ruby Star' cultivar instead of the 'Cheyenne Spirit' cultivar. This is because the 'Ruby Star' is much closer to the natural pink/purple color than the 'Cheyenne Spirit' which is a mix of red, orange, yellow and pink. Hence, the 'Ruby Star' would be a better choice for ecology than the 'Cheyenne Spirit.' It might take a little bit of work and some research, but it is a way to make ecologically conscious plant purchases when possible.
Purple Coneflower
Scioto Gardens
Purple Coneflower
'Ruby Star'
Prairie Nursery
Purple Coneflower
'Cheyenne Spirit'
High Country Gardens
Community Backyards Rebate Program
Open early for Earth Day!
Community Backyards is open early to celebrate Earth Day, Arbor Day, and Native Plant Month! We have lots of workshops coming up, and the online course is open now.

Franklin County residents can participate in a workshop or the online course (you only need to do one or the other - not both), and receive a voucher for a rebate on a rain barrel, compost bin, or native plants.

Learn more and participate at CommunityBackyards.org.

Don't live in Franklin County? Check with your local county's soil and water district for programs available to you!
Conservation Stewardship Fund
The purpose of our Conservation Stewardship Fund is to raise money for the implementation of conservation projects that improve water quality for the benefit of wildlife, recreation and drinking water. While focused on water quality and rainwater runoff, these projects will also benefit wetlands, forestry, carbon offsets, pollinators, native plants, and bird populations throughout Central Ohio. The Conservation Stewardship Fund is the funding source for our annual mini grant program, which funds projects implemented by local nonprofits that improve soil and water resources in Franklin County.

One of the projects funded through the Conservation Stewardship Fund Mini Grant last year was a tree planting by Friends of Franklinton Forest. Franklinton is an neighborhood of Columbus with historically low tree canopy cover (only 15%). With the help of their mini grant award, Friends of Franklinton Forest, with the help of Green Columbus, planted 250 native trees with protection materials and engaged Franklinton residents and landowners in the process.

The Conservation Stewardship Fund is set up through the Columbus Foundation. To donate, click the button below.
Question of the Month
How many native plants do you have at home?
Mostly natives
Some natives
No natives
I don't know
N/A - no yard, etc.
Get the Scoop from Nature Scoop

Want to learn more about backyard conservation, pollinators, and more? Read the latest edition of the monthly newsletter Nature Scoop by Toni Stahl, National Wildlife Federation Habitat Ambassador.

Nature Scoop April 2023 - How to create a successful wildlife habitat; Monarch Tips; Info for our yards and gardens & More!

Learn more at www.backyardhabitat.info and on Twitter @NatureScoopOhio.
Mikaela Mohr
Outreach Program Specialist
Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District
1404 Goodale Blvd. Suite 100, Columbus, OH 43212 
p: 614-486-9613 | e: mmohr@franklinswcd.org
Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District | (614) 486-9613 | www.franklinswcd.org