Native Plants Versus Weeds
Not all Australian native plants grow or are found naturally in all locations across Australia. When particular plants are taken out of their natural areas and planted in a different location with different soil types, water availability, weather, altitude (height above sea level) and animals and insects that feed on it, they can grow very differently.
Some Australian native plants that have been planted in areas outside of their natural location have grown and multiplied in numbers much greater than expected and are now considered as weeds in their new locations.
Selecting the Right PlantThe home gardener has a major role to play in the fight against weeds. By choosing to grow plants that are not invasive or choosing to plant local native species you can help to protect our natural environment. When selecting plants for your backyard habitat it is best to select species that are endemic (native) to your local area, not just native to Australia. Not only will the plant be likely to grow well and be healthier and stronger, you will also know how it grows in the local environment and what resources it will provide to local animals.
Learning to identify the species you have in your garden is the first step to helping reduce the further spread of weeds. It is also important to choose the right plants for your garden to support our natural environment. Some factors to consider when identifying a plant is where and when the plant grows, its shape, size, leaf form, flower colour and seed or fruit characteristics.
Many of the characteristics we most desire in garden plants are the same as those that make them weedy i.e. plants that are fast growing and disease resilient and those which reproduce easily by the distribution of seeds or plant parts. Many plants known to have the ability to escape into bushland and become weeds are still sold today.
Advantages to Planting Local NativesThe Queensland Umbrella Tree (Schefflera actinophylla) is an example of a north Queensland native that when grown in southern Queensland out-competes local native species and is considered an environmental weed. While not all exotic species become weeds and some can provide important habitat for native wildlife, there are a number of reasons why local native species are better suited to our gardens than exotic species. Local native plants are:
- Well adapted to the local climate and conditions, which means they require much less water and less fertilisers or pesticides.
- Better suited to meet the needs of local wildlife by providing valuable food and shelter. Some wildlife species are entirely dependant on the availability of certain native plants.
When purchasing plants always consider their growth habit and form and potential for dispersal of that species to be spread outside of your yard and potentially across the landscape and become a weed. Speak to your local nursey to assist with the identification and purchase of local native species.
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Useful Tips and Facts
- Create urban wildlife corridors and stepping stones to larger local bushland or parkland areas.
- In nature there is no such thing as waste everything is linked and contributes to the cycle. As a plant reaches the end of its life cycle it is not discarded by nature, instead it provides habitat for animals and food for micro-organisms as it lies on the ground, the waste from the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi feeding on it replace nutrients and organic material to the soil for new plants to grow.
- Plant local native species
- The best way to attract native wildlife to your backyard is to provide a variety of healthy natural foods in the form of seeds, leaves, flowers, nectar, pollen, fruits and nuts throughout the year.
- The use of pesticides and herbicides can damage your soils and kill non target species. The poisoning of insects with chemicals can also cause larger species relying on those insects as a food source to become sick or even die from eating poisoned insects.
- To create habitat for smaller native birds you can grow shrubs close together to create dense corners or pockets in your garden which will provide protection and refuge from larger aggressive birds such as noisy miners
- Wattles (Acacias). While most wattles only live between 6 - 10 years, they are an important pioneer species which colonise disturbed areas, where other plants find it hard to grow. They improve soil conditions enough to allow other species to germinate and thrive by fixing nitrogen into the soil through their roots and adding high levels of organic leaf litter.