Plant these Superstar Plants to Help the Environment


Purple Cone Flowers with butterfly

“I love the Environment and I want to help fight climate change and pollution. What should I plant?” Since I don’t know where you live or what your yard is like I can’t necessarily give you the exact plants you should plant due to different climate zones, amounts of sun and shade, precipitation, etc. BUT I can give you some solid ideas so that you’ll be able to figure out what will work for you AND help the planet.

Plants are crucial to the health of the Earth and are key in defending us against climate change and the loss of our oh so important bees. Ten highly beneficial and eco-friendly plants you should definitely consider are:

  1. Beebalm
  2. Sedum
  3. Anise Hyssop
  4. Rudbeckia
  5. Echinacea
  6. Milkweed
  7. White Pine
  8. Silver Maple
  9. Crabapple
  10. Blackberry

So now you’ve got the names of some plants superstars, let me tell you why they should be considered as key players in your garden, and why some might be better left out of your specific plan.

10 Superstar Plants You’ll Want to Plant to Help the Earth

Just about any plant, other than invasive species or poisonous ones will be of benefit to the environment. All plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. So that’s a win right there. The plants selected for this list have other benefits as well, for example, they attract bees or butterflies, can be used in “green” buildings, or are especially good “carbon sinks.”

These plants also have the benefit of needing few fertilizers or pesticides. This is really important because any chemicals you use on or around your plants can end up harming bees and other pollinators and that is definitely something we want to avoid.

Bee Balm Flower

Beebalm (or Bee Balm)

Beebalm is an easy to grow plant that attracts bees, as you might have guessed from the name. It’s also very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. For a lot of the U.S., this plant is a native species, meaning that it grows in that area naturally and thrives in the conditions in that area’s particular eco-system. I’ve got some info. below on how to find out if it’s a native to your area.

In my area, 11different species of butterflies and moths use beebalm to host their caterpillars.

Beebalm’s Latin name is Monarda, in case you’re interested in that kind of thing, and the plant is sometimes called Scarlet Monarda or Bergamot. So you might find it at your garden centered under those names.

Highlights of Beebalm: The plant is a perennial and also reseeds itself. So it could need to be thinned out a bit after a few years, but that just means you can share it with friends! Plants grow to between 2 1/2 feet high and 4 feet high.

Bonus: The leaves can be made into tea!

I love beebalm because although it grows great in the sun, it will also tolerate some shade, and I have a VERY shady yard. So anything that flowers without full sun is a winner in my book.

Pink Sedum Flower with Butterfly

Sedum

My mom always had some sedum planted in the garden and it took me a while to come around to its charms. I wasn’t that big on succulents in those days.

While sedum isn’t a native plant in my area (it might be in yours) it still has a lot going for it. One of the best things about sedum is that is can grow in really rough, rocky conditions. It tolerates hot and cold and drought. In the U.S. it is good for zones 3-10. So that’s a pretty big range of conditions.

One environmentally friendly aspect of sedum is that bees and butterflies love the flowers. You can find sedum varieties that flower in the summer and others that flower in the fall. So if you plant a few different kinds you can feed the bees and butterflies over a much longer period of time. And you get to enjoy the flowers, too!

Environmentally friendly characteristic number two of sedum is that you can find varieties that work well as ground covers. Want to replace some of that needy lawn with a hardier more useful plant? Depending on your area, sedum might be a good choice to consider.

A third reason sedum is environmentally friendly is that it can actually be used to cover rooftops and walls. So with the growing interest in “greener” buildings and even literally green roofs, sedum might have a significant role to play.

Hyssop Plant with Bee

Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop is another plant that bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love. This plant grows about 3 feet tall and is very drought tolerant once you get it established. It loves the sun but can tolerate some shade. It’s long-blooming which is definitely a plus and will bloom from early summer right into fall and it naturalizes pretty easily. That’s my kind of plant!

Highlights of Anise Hyssop: The yummy anise/licorice scent when you brush against this plant. Plus, it’s deer resistant! I love deer but don’t necessarily want them munching on my bee and butterfly plants. This plant’s seeds also attract birds to your garden.

Black-eyed Susans with butterfly

Rudbeckia or Black-eyed Susans

You know them. You may already have some of these hardy, easy to care for perennials. The yellow flower with the dark center just look like high summer to me! Rudbeckia plants are wonderful because they are native to many areas of the U.S. and so thrive in those conditions. They grow well in US zones 4-9 and will flower all summer long.

Black-eyed Susans are very bee and butterfly friendly and 15 different species of butterfly and moth will use Rudbeckia plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

Highlights of Rudbeckia: They are easy to get started and naturalize as long as they have full sun to light shade. They don’t like really rich soil which is definitely a bonus at my house and will do great even in drought-like conditions once they are established, (which usually means after their first year).

Plant them next to your Anise Hyssop for a beautiful lavender and yellow show all summer long.

Echinacea or Purple Cone Flower

Another perennial workhorse in the garden, the easy to grow and low fuss Echinacea is a star attractor of bees and butterflies. It’s very drought resistant once established. Can you see a theme here? So it won’t require much watering after the first year.

Purple Cone Flower can tolerate poor rocky soil but it doesn’t like soggy soil so keep that in mind if you are trying to decide if this plant is a good fit for your yard. This plant doesn’t tolerate transplanting all that well because of the big taproot it develops (one of the reasons it is so drought-tolerant). So that’s another thing to think about when you’re choosing a good spot for Echinacea.

It’s good for the back of your border or to place behind shorter plants as Echinacea will grow up to 4 feet tall.

Highlights of Echinacea: While you can do some deadheading during the season to encourage a longer bloom time you’ll want to leave some of the heads on at the end of the season because the birds, particularly goldfinches love the seeds. And, the plants will reseed themselves and create new plants.

Milkweed flower with butterfly

Milkweed

A plant that’s known for being a butterfly attractor and that is absolutely crucial to the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly, Milkweed is a fascinating plant that is native to much of the U.S. You can find out what variety of this beautiful plant is best for planting in your area here at the Monarch Joint Venture website.

The Milkweed plant is the only plant that the female Monarch butterfly will lay its eggs on and the caterpillars require the plant to develop and grow.

Though it’s called a weed the Milkweed plant can have beautiful flowers and you can even deadhead them to prolong the bloom and feed bees and butterflies for longer seasons.

Highlights of Milkweed: If you love Monarchs, plant this plant. You’ll want to put it towards the back of the border or off in a corner of your yard because it will grow 2- feet high and spread readily. This is a win for the butterflies, but not if you have smaller, less hardy blooms that will be squeezed out by this wonderful plant.

Important Note: The milky substance that is released when the plant stem is broken (and from which comes the name milkweed) has toxic alkaloids. This helps save the butterflies from predators, but can irritate our eyes and skin. So when you’re working with this plant wear gloves, long sleeves, and pants to keep from any mishaps.

Blackberries on bush

Blackberry

If you have a little more room you might consider planting some blackberry bushes. They are easy to grow and native to much of the U.S. Not only will you get some delicious fruit (for you and the birds) you’ll also have a plant that in my area attracts 138 different species of butterflies and moths. Yep, it’s a great host for caterpillars as well.

Blackberries do take up some space, so that is important to think about but they can work well as landscape hedges. They are fairly drought tolerant once established, but getting a regular amount of water when they are fruiting is helpful for the best berry production. They prefer full sun.

Highlights of Blackberries: Blackberry “season” lasts for 3-4 weeks in mid-summer. Freeze extra fruit for a taste of summer in the grey and dreary dead of winter.

How Trees Help the Environment

Trees not only provide us with oxygen, they also help clean the air and do an awesome job at carbon sequestering. In other words, they take carbon out of the air and store it so it doesn’t contribute to climate change. Part of the reason they are better at this than other plants is their size. They have a whole lot more “woody matter” in their branches and root systems to hold the carbon in comparison to smaller plants.

So because they are large they can hold a lot of carbon. BUT, because they are large you might not have room for them in your yard or garden.

Any tree is better than no tree when it comes to helping the environment and working to stop climate change. According to the US Department of Energy trees that grow fast and live long are the best at storing carbon. Unfortunately, these two characteristics don’t often go together in a tree. So when you’re selecting a type of tree for your yard or garden consider that trees can take more carbon out of the air when they are younger, so the faster they grow the more carbon they can store. These three trees grow relatively quickly and can snag a lot of carbon especially in their early years.

Three Trees to Consider

Crab Apple Blossoms

Crab Apple

This tree is native to many areas in the U.S. so you are likely to be able to find a variety that will grow well where you are. Known for its beautiful pink, dark pink and white spring blooms. Crabapples are a popular choice in landscaping where I am from.

Highlights of the Crab Apple Tree: One of the key benefits is that crab apple trees bloom quite early in the spring and provide a much-needed food source for pollinators like bees. Another is that they actually attract 254 different butterflies and moths. Yes, this is another great caterpillar nursery plant!

White Pine

A 2001 study done by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Syracuse, New York found that white pines are among the best trees at sequestering or capturing carbon. You might consider planting one if you are looking for a good conifer for your yard.

This tree grows quickly, which is part of the reason it’s good at absorbing carbon. It can grow 24 inches a year. The mature height can be 50-80 feet. So that is something to keep in mind when you’re deciding where to plant this tree.

Highlights of the White Pine: Besides being a good carbon absorber, the seeds of the White Pine are loved by a variety of birds, squirrels, rabbits and even black bear (if you have any of those in your neck of the woods). This tree is great for screening an area and it works well as a windbreak.

Cons of the White Pine: To be fair the White Pine isn’t a perfect tree. Because it is fast growing its branches can be brittle and break off in snow, wind or ice storms. Plus their sap, pine cones, and needles can make them a rather messy tree. But put in the right place (like away from power lines that the branches might drop onto) they are an absolutely beautiful tree with their graceful form and long needles. And I have to say, one of my favorite trees.

Silver Maple

This is another fast-growing tree. A 10-year-old tree could be as tall as 25 feet. This tree is also great at capturing carbon, in fact, in a study done by the Center for Urban Forests they found a silver maple can trap nearly 25,000 pounds of CO2 in a 55 year period. This is also an awesome shade tree that can help reduce cooling costs in the summer.

Highlights of Silver Maples: Despite their fast growth rate Silver Maples can live up to 100 years and some have lived to 130 years. The full height is generally between 50 and 80 feet. The leaves have a beautiful silvery color on their undersides. On a breezy day this is a lovely sight.

Cons of Silver Maples: No, this isn’t the perfect tree either. And if you’ve had one in your yard and found it troublesome you may be shaking your head and saying, “No – don’t plant one of those!”

Silver Maple made its way onto this list for its rapid growth and its beauty. BUT, again, because of the rapid growth it’s branches are a bit more brittle and they can break. Like any maple, you have the winged seedpods that are exceptionally good at flying around and reseeding themselves. The root system is also rather shallow, which can make for a lumpy yard, and shallow roots could disturb sidewalks if the tree is planted too close.

Proper pruning can help take care of a lot of the breakage problems. Careful site selection is also key if you select this beautiful fast-growing tree. In the right spot, it won’t be a nuisance. It will store literally tons of carbon over its lifetime and provide enjoyment for years to come.

Biggest Impact You Can Have

Plant a tree if at all possible! If these trees don’t work for you, find out what trees are right for your area. Check with a nearby university extension to find out what they would recommend or use this great Arbor Day resource: Best Tree Finder

If you have space in your yard or garden plant a tree there. If you don’t have room but want to plant a tree you can give to a charity that does just that. Check out One Tree Planted

Finding the Right Plants for Your Garden

I’ve focused on plants that I know work well in my area of the U.S. Many of these recommendations will do well in a wide swath of the country. But the key thing here is to find plants you love and that will work well in your garden and yard. If you want to be sure to plant plants that are beneficial to the environment, it’s important to try to stick with plants that are native to your area.

Native plants are the plants that are supposed to live where you do so they will be less finicky. They will require less extra watering, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides to thrive. So they will be of much more benefit to the environment than say a big green monoculture lawn.

Not sure what plants will work in your area? I have an awesomely fun resource for you to check out!

The Native Plant Finder is a very easy to use website where you just type in your zip code and they will give you a list of flowers, shrubs, and trees that are native to your area. They’ll also tell you how many butterflies or moths these plants attract.

They also have a link you can click to see all the butterflies and moths that are native to your area. It’s a great resource when you’re planning your garden, or just want to be more aware of what species live where you do.

Key Takeaways:

Plants are key to the health of our planet.

They absorb carbon and cut down on the impact of greenhouse gases.

Choose plants that are native to your area or that will grow easily in your area without extra watering, pesticides, or fertilizer.

Planting a tree may be one of the best things you can do to help the Earth.

Thanks!

Thank you for reading and thank you for your love and care of our precious Earth. Each one of us can make a difference!

Resources:

https://www.nwf.org/nativePlantFinder/plants

https://www.arborday.org/shopping/trees/treewizard/intro.cfm

https://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/MilkweedFactSheetFINAL.pdf

https://onetreeplanted.org/

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