Sustainable farmers face a lot of daily challenges: battling crop pests without the use of dangerous chemicals, growing nutritious pastures to nourish their grassfed livestock, protecting farmland from urban sprawl. The list is unique to each individual farmer, but there’s one major threat no farmer can escape: invasive species.
Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology and author of the book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, 2007), says on his website BringingNatureHome.net: “Over 3,400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S, and that area is expected to double in the next 5 years.”
While these non-native plants are definitely a threat to America’s natural resources, they are a threat to farmland, as well. In South Dakota’s Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge, for example, Canada thistle is crowding out native grasses that cattle in the area eat, leaving pastures that can’t be grazed. In the West, medusahead is taking a similar toll, disrupting millions of acres of pastures. And in the South, kudzu has overtaken approximately 2 million acres of forestland, and with an average growth of 1 foot per day in established areas, it poses a threat to farms, as well.
These plant species and many others, which have been introduced both purposely and accidentally, cost the U.S. billions of dollars per year to control. The federal government has implemented a number of programs to control invasive populations, including the National Invasive Species Council and the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds, but there are things that you as a farmer can do to help.
The first National Planting Day, initiated by Keep America Beautiful, kicks off on Sept. 8, 2012, to support Americans in combating invasive species through the planting of native plants. Throughout the months of September, October and November, groups and individuals are encouraged to beautify public spaces and personal gardens by incorporating native species into the landscape.
“This is a young movement, and one that we need people to understand and start planting,” says KAB senior vice president and master gardener Susanne Woods. According to Woods, incorporating native plants, like goldenrod, lupine, Queen Anne’s lace and lamb’s-quarters, into your farm landscape has a number of benefits.
“They are usually more drought resistant—their roots go very deep compared to other plants, so you’re planting something that will last,” she says. “We say plant natives because it builds up native insects and native birds that feed the food chain.”
You can incorporate native plants on your farm in a number of different ways, from planting native grasses in pastures to gardening with native herbs and wildflowers, like mint and aster, to simply planting a native tree.
“Just planting an oak tree would be great,” Woods says of the tree that is native in most U.S. planting zones. “A lot of insects use oak as habitat so it helps to build up the food chain.”
To find out what plants are native to your area, you can visit a number of online resources, including PlantNative.org, which allows you to search plants and nurseries by state, and ABNativePlants.com, which provides in depth information on an array of native plants and provides suggested uses, such as in bird gardens or dry shade gardens. Also check with your local nursery to find out what native plants it carries, Woods suggests.
So far about 300 KAB affiliates and other organizations have committed to planting natives as part of National Planting Day. To learn more about the day’s activities or commit to organizing an event in your area, visit the Get Growing website.