Flame azaleas growing wild on mountain hillsides along with other native plants that make Western North Carolina incredibly beautiful are also hardy, environmentally-friendly choices for gardeners, says Bill Jones of Carolina Native Nursery. 

Speaking at a recent workshop at the Buncombe County Cooperative Extension office, Jones pointed out that native plants create sustainable landscapes while attracting birds and butterflies to gardens. Native plant species play a critical role in providing biodiversity, as well as benefitting wildlife, he said.

 “The further we get away from native plants, the less they provide ecological benefits,” Jones said. 

Another important benefit of native plants is that they prevent the introduction of damaging non-native insects such as the Japanese beetle and the imported blight that decimated chestnut trees in this country, he said.  Native plant species also require minimal pest control measures, greatly diminishing the use of environmentally harmful chemicals. 

When choosing native plant varieties for a yard or garden, it is important to use the right plant in the right place, Jones said. Look at the spot where a plant will be placed and observe the amount of sunlight in the area. Also note whether the soil tends to be dry or moist, he suggested.

There is an abundance of native plant varieties from which to choose, said Shelby Singleton Jackson of Carolina Native Nursery, discussing specific varieties and their attributes at the workshop. 

One of her favorites is the aptly-named sweet shrub that has a delightful fragrance. Arrowwood viburnum is a wonderful plant for full sun, Jackson said. And Fothergilla “Mount Airy” is a mid-size shrub with leaves that turn “fire-engine red” in the fall, she added.

Another pleasing native plant option is meadowsweet, a shrub with fragrant blossoms that has vibrant yellow leaves in the fall.

“It has a really fine leaf and blows in the wind,” Jackson said. “It adds lightness to the garden.”

Meadowsweet is a sun-loving plant that thrives in wet soil, she noted.

Many native plants have unique characteristics, such as buttonbush, a late-season bloomer that is “so neat-o” with its button-shaped flower, Jackson said.

“These plants have been around for thousands of years,” she remarked.

In addition to being decorative, many native plants have edible berries. For many people living in this area, one of the most familiar is the blueberry bush. However, cranberry, elderberry and chokeberry bushes also grow wild in Western North Carolina, Jackson said. And these native varieties can be purchased and planted around homes. Elderberry bushes grow large and like wet spaces, she noted.

For yards that are shady, there are attractive options for gardeners, including native varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons. Flame azaleas with their colorful orange blossoms are especially popular.

“We’re lucky to be able to grow this plant,” Jackson said. 

While they can flourish in shade, rhododendrons and azaleas need well-drained soil, she explained.

You can plant native shrubs and plants anytime of the year, unless there is a drought, said Jones. However, for most native species, September through November and March through May are the best time of year for planting, he said. For them to thrive, regular watering is important.

Carolina Native Nursery is associated with the American Beauties Native Plants program that makes is possible for gardeners and landscapers to create certified wildlife habitats. 

The nursery is at 1638 Prices Creek Rd. off Hwy. 19 in Burnsville.

Retail hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

For more information, visit the website at www.carolinanativenursery.com or call 828-682-1471.

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