Now that the weather has cleared, gardening season has begun in earnest. Residents and property managers in Union County who are looking for beautiful, low maintenance plants this summer can also contribute to the cause of native plant preservation, by choosing natives for gardens, yards, and landscaped areas.

Native plants are a key part of a healthy habitat, and they have evolved to thrive in their home regions with minimal attention.

Gardeners also benefit with native plants. Some gardeners love colorful natives because they attract birds and butterflies. Others use native plants with strong roots to help control ponding and runoff. In addition, gardeners who seek to reduce artificial fertilizers and pesticides can depend on natives for healthy growth without the use of added chemicals.

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Overall, native plants require less maintenance and upkeep, saving both time and money.

“We strive to conserve the natural habitat in Union County’s park system, and we encourage residents and businesses to contribute to a healthy ecosystem in our community by planting native species on their property, too” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski. “The Freeholder Board is proud to support programs that encourage the use of native plants.”

This Saturday, May 18, gardeners can attend a free workshop on identifying invasive “bad” plants, which can overrun native plants. The workshop includes outdoor activities and takes place at Union County’s Trailside Nature & Science Center, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. To pre-register and get more details, email the Trailside Watershed Ambassador at watershed7@ucnj.org.

On Sunday, May 19, gardeners can buy native plants – along with many other varieties -- at the annual Master Gardeners of Union County Garden Fair and Plant Sale, taking place at the Demonstration Garden by Trailside. The event is open from noon to 4:00 p.m. Master Gardener volunteers will be on hand to answer questions and provide guidance. Admission to the Garden Fair is free and no pre-registration is required.

On Thursday evening, June 6, another free native plant event will take place in the Demonstration Garden, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Gardeners can bring a “bad” plant and trade it for a native plant free of charge. They can also purchase additional native plants on site, and tour the garden. Pre-registration is required by emailing watershed7@ucnj.org.

A free, illustrated guide to colorful natives titled “Plant This, Not That” is also available for free download through the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

Individuals or groups interested in conserving native plants in County parks can join the Union County Adopt-a-Park program. Each year, hundreds of Adopt-a-Park volunteers help clear “bad” invasive plants and remove litter and debris, helping natives to thrive in their natural setting. To join, call the Parks Department at 908-789-3683.

For more information about nature and science programs for all ages at Trailside, visit online at ucnj.org/parks-recreation/trailside, email trailside@ucnj.org  or call 908-789-3670.

For quick links to all Union County programs related to gardening, sustainability and nature conservation visit The Green Connection, ucnj.org/green-connection.

For all Union County programs and services visit ucnj.org, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email info@ucnj.org or use the online Contact Form.