Why Native Plants Aren’t Always The Best Choice

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Why Native Plants Aren’t Always The Best ChoiceNative does not mean no-maintenance. When selecting plants for a Kauai landscape, there’s a tendency for property owners to request native plants, assuming that because these varieties grow lush and strong along beaches and throughout our Garden Isle’s varying microclimates, they’ll thrive on a commercial landscape.

But here’s the catch: There’s really nothing native about a resort or retail property. In developing the land, we interrupt the natural environment and disrupt the original “landscape.” That’s the nature of building. So to force native plants into a man-made, “non-native” environment — well, it just doesn’t always work as you’d expect.

Here’s an example: Naupaka is thought of as a bulletproof plant for Hawaii, which is why it’s a common choice for retail and commercial properties. The plants are heavily fertilized and irrigated, and they’re actually more susceptible to disease than when they’re growing in their natural environment by the ocean.

Why doesn’t the Naupaka want to grow with ease at a resort? Why does it require so much maintenance there when the plant thrives on the beach? Because a resort is not the beach.

So before you assume that native plants are the best choice for your property, consider these rules of thumb and talk to your professional landscape contractor about your property’s own “microclimate” and what types of plants make the most sense from a maintenance perspective.  

Do Your Plant Homework

Why Native Plants Aren’t Always The Best ChoiceLearning about plants before you place them on your property will go a long way toward preventing landscaping mistakes that can be costly, especially when considering the costs of replacing plant material because the original plants couldn’t survive in your property’s environment.

Find out the growing habits of plants in consideration. How tall will the plant get? Will it spread, and how much? What type of soil does the plant like, and will it hold up against strong tradewinds, or does it need a more protected setting?

Certain groundcovers, for example, are planted with the intention that they will grow within a perfect square of space. If that groundcover naturally wants to spread, you’ll spend more time and money to tame it into a manicured state than if you had opted for a slower-growing, more compact variety.

Choose The Right Plant For The Right Place

You know the gardener’s Golden Rule: right plant, right place.

As you do your plant homework, get to know your property’s environmental conditions and consider these as you choose your landscaping. What are the soil conditions? Does your property tend to get lots of rain, and during what time of year? Does sea spray whip through your land? How much exposure to salt must the landscape bear?

Also consider sun exposure, and potential drainage issues, from too much water to not enough.

Remember: Even The Right Native Plants Still Need Care

Why Native Plants Aren’t Always The Best ChoiceIf a native plant is the best selection for your property based on its environmental conditions that is not a license to drop your landscape maintenance program. Native plants need TLC, too. That means proper fertilization and weed/disease control, along with cultural practices that help keep plants healthy such as proper pruning.

Often, native plants that are considered “a failure” in the landscape could have done quite well if they were cared for, but property owners might have neglected the plants because of their “native” status.

Remember, just because a plant grows on the beach does not make the variety a win for a manicured resort, retail or commercial setting.

Rely on the Plant Experts at No Ka Oi

Speaking of natives, No Ka Oi and team are rooted in Kauai and we bring special plant knowledge to clients. We love the land, we grew up on the land, we appreciate the land, and we know what plants will thrive and look beautiful on your property.

Let’s talk more. Call us any time at 808-335-5887, or fill out our simple web contact form and we’ll get in touch with you!

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