When it comes to sprucing up the farm or yard, native plants are a great option. These plants are indigenous to a particular area and provide advantages when used in the right place.

Native plants are typically low maintenance and resistant to pests if planted in a place similar to their natural surroundings. They also provide food and habitat for native wildlife. Natives boost these advantages because they are adapted to their local surroundings, including the soil and climate and have mastered surviving and thriving there.

Many farmers and gardeners recognize the benefits of native plants and are incorporating them into working lands and yards, a practice commonly called “farmscaping” and “conservation landscaping.” Incorporating natives into field borders, hedgerows, buffer strips and landscape plantings is a conservation activity that helps agricultural production and the environment. Native trees, shrubs and perennials help:

— Reduce the need for pesticides because native plants attract beneficial insects — including pollinators — and birds that prey on eat agricultural and garden pests

— Protect farmsteads, crops and livestock from wind and dust

— Keep soil in place, enabling it to become healthier and not wash into and pollute waterways

— Provide wildlife habitat

— Increase the beauty of the farm and home landscape

By attracting native birds, bats and beneficial insects, native plants can be an effective way to control insect pests. Birds use native plants for food and shelter. They also feed on aphids, snails and codling moths and other insect pests that cause problems for farmers and gardeners. For example, research from San Jose State University shows that birds, like woodpeckers and chickadees, ate 84 percent of codling moth larvae during one winter in California apple orchards. Bats use native trees to roost and can eat up to two-thirds of their body weight — or more than 1,500 mosquitoes — in one evening. Some insects, such as ladybugs and spidermites, also provide biological pest control and native plants are an efficient way to lure the beneficial bugs to the farm and yard.

Native plants attract native pollinators, which are often considered more efficient pollinators, according to the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Native plants attract good insects and birds that serve as pollinators for many of the plants that provide the food we eat. In Maine, native bees, attracted by native plants, are important pollinators of wild blueberry, cranberry, apple, strawberry, tomato, cucumber, squash and pumpkin.

When native trees and shrubs are used, they not only provide a buffer against wind and dust that protects crops, farm buildings and machinery from damage, they also provide food and shelter for wildlife. Buffers play a valuable role in preventing the loss of soil by wind and water, as plants’ roots hold the ground in place. Plants, including natives, keep fertile soil on the farm and out of the air and water.

Finally, natives can increase the aesthetic value of the landscape, with seasonal, colorful flowers and leaves. Our community has a variety of beautiful native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, such as sugar maple and paper birch; red-osier dogwood, Virginia rose and winterberry; and columbine, blue flag and asters.

Since the settlement of the U.S., there has been a rapid decline of both native plant and animal species. Some introduced plants have become invasive, taking over where wild native plants once thrived. The NRCS encourages growers to use native plants in their farmscaping for all of the advantages and services that these plants provide. Farmers are playing an important role in allowing natives to thrive.

But natives are not just for farmers. They are also perfect for your home, especially if you want to lure birds and butterflies to your yard or add some additional beauty. Natives are perfect for spiking curb appeal. Arrange similar plants in clusters for a more formal look. Mix grasses and shrubs for a more natural look. Natives come in a vast array of colors, blooming and adding interest to your landscape throughout the year. Many have colorful, decorative leaves in fall in a variety of shapes, or attractive fruits that last through winter.

Native species can be found at most nurseries. Keep in mind that while some natives are very adaptable, most grow best in an area similar to their natural environment with the right amount of sun and water.

So the next time you get a green thumb, be sure to explore your local native options when it comes to plants.

Check out NRCS’s PLANTS Database for in-depth information on our nation’s plants: plants.usda.gov.

For information about native plants for our community, visit Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District at knox-lincoln.org. There you will find information about the native plant sale on May 4 and 5 at the Union Fairgrounds (knox-lincoln.org/spring-plant-sale/) as well as fact sheets and other resources for selecting and caring for native plants for all site conditions (knox-lincoln.org/landscapes-gardens-maine/).

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. Learn more at me.nrcs.usda.gov. or contact your local USDA NRCS Service Center in Augusta 622-7847 ext. 3 or Belfast 338-1964 ext. 3 Visit your soil and water conservation district online: Knox-Lincoln — knox-lincoln.org; Kennebec — kcswcd.org; Waldo — waldosoilandwater.org.

Submitted by Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.