Beautiful pictures are the content of ads and marketing for plants. Then, in the fine print, you’ll perhaps find something about size, sun versus shade, and hardiness zones. These are the tools mainstream horticulture utilizes to sell customers on which plants are this year’s top varieties. For example, well-known brands will advertise in several national gardening magazines and regional publications, plus create countless social media posts, and use billboards, radio, trade magazines, and much more to market their plants. What a budget — it is all extremely impressive. If mother nature had a similar marketing budget for native plants showing their ecological benefits, then maybe there wouldn’t be such a concern about the decline in birds, bees and butterflies. Thankfully there are many impressive efforts outside the horticulture world regarding native plants that are and will influence our current and future customers. They are all doing a wonderful job marketing plants for birds, bees, and butterflies.
Get familiar with many of our national conservation societies and associations. The Audubon Society, The National Wildlife Federation, The Xerces Society, Bee City USA and many more organizations throughout the U.S. are encouraging their members and associates to plant native plants. Not to mention all our local, community-based organizations scattered across our country that embrace that effort. Every community seems to have groups of people encouraging us to “Save the Monarchs” and more.
The Audubon Society (600,000 members) says: “By simply choosing native plants for our yards and public spaces, we can restore vital habitat for birds in our communities and help them adapt and survive in the face of climate change.” Audubon has 23 state programs, 41 centers, 450+ local chapters, and holds countless events across the U.S. Audubon’s Plants for Birds program is designed to enable anyone to have a positive impact by planting for birds, right where they live. These programs have been in place for years.
The National Wildlife Federation (6 million members) states: ”Native plants are the most environmentally-friendly choice…. Native plants are also the plants that native wildlife have formed symbiotic relationships with over thousands of years, and therefore the most sustainable way of offering habitat.” Their 45-year-old Garden for Wildlife program (which includes the Certified Wildlife Habitat program) has 2.5 million members. The Mayor’s Monarch Pledge program includes mayors of cities all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Their regular newsletters, emails, social media programs and other forms of outreach continually remind all the recipients to plant natives. (www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife)
The Xerces Society is effective, too. It states: “Tens of thousands of people have attended training courses and workshops or helped with citizen-science projects. Hundreds of thousands of acres of new habitat have been created on farms and in parks, and thousands of gardeners are welcoming bees and butterflies to their yards.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists, rallied 101 other conservation organizations in November 2017 to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to substantially increase funding for monarch butterfly conservation and habitat restoration. The advantages of using native plants are not myths.
A good spot to see how many organizations are involved in these efforts is the partners page at the National Pollinator Garden Network website (millionpollinatorgardens.org/partners). They are the ones responsible for the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. It is also a cautionary tale. Perhaps by trying to get so many on board is why their statements about neonicotinoids is so conservative. And the network’s blanket statements that all flowering plants help pollinators does not line up with statements from supporting groups. But the challenge is certainly a great effort.
The list of organizations promoting gardening with native plants is extraordinary. What does all of this mean? This outside mainstream horticulture marketing taking place everywhere, all of the time, is encouraging people to plant more natives and be our clients. There are millions of customers, potential customers, and future customers that will want native plants. And they may see through the claims of pollinator friendly for non-natives and many cultivars. It is important that our industry play a big part in marketing natives because it will not only be good business, but also enhance horticulture's place as good environmental stewards.
Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GIE Media, Inc.
Bill Jones is president of Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, N.C., a specialty grower of native shrubs, perennials ferns, and grasses. www.carolinanativenursery.com