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How to Find Beneficial Native Plants for Healthy Yards and Gardens

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Home gardeners and property managers who are interested in joining the native plant movement can get resources and information – and plants – through the Union County “Plant Swap & Shop” event on Thursday evening, June 7, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Union County Demonstration Garden in the Watchung Reservation.

Plant Swap & Shop is free but re-registration is required by emailing Union County’s Watershed Ambassador at watershed7@ucnj.org. The event is a collaboration between the New Jersey Watershed Ambassador program and the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Many Union County residents are eager to help conserve native plants and create a healthy environment in their own backyards,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados. “The ‘Plant Swap & Shop’ event is a good opportunity to explore your options and receive guidance from local experts.”

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Participants in Plant Swap & Shop can bring an invasive plant to the event and trade it for a beneficial native plant, free of charge.

Additional native plants from the Toadshade Wildflower Farm will also be available for purchase at the Demonstration Garden during the event, and volunteer Master Gardeners will be on hand to provide tours of the garden including the Native Plants and Rain Garden beds.

“The benefits of native plants are well known, including water and soil conservation, and ease of maintenance,” said Chairman Granados. “Native plants can even benefit human health by eliminating problems linked to non-native species.”

One example cited by Granados is the Japanese barberry, a common but invasive, non-native shrub that can spread from landscaped properties into public parks and nature conservation areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has warned that Japanese barberry generates a humid micro climate that attracts deer ticks and white-footed deer mice, both of which are carriers of Lyme disease.

“Instead of barberry, ask your landscaper or local garden shop to recommend native species that create a more healthful environment for people, flora and fauna,” said Chairman Granados. “To help you search for alternatives we have also updated our Plant This, Not That guide for native plants that thrive in our area.”

Plant This, Not That was initially created by a local Girl Scout with assistance from the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation. The Parks Department recently expanded the guide with additional information and resources. The new version is available as a free download on the Union County website at ucnj.org/parks-recreation

The Demonstration Garden is located by Union County’s Trailside Nature & Science Center at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. Ample free parking is available.

The garden is run by the Master Gardeners, an all-volunteer organization supported in part by the Freeholder Board as a program of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County. For information about participating the Master Gardeners and other Extension programs in Union County, including Master Tree Stewards, Environmental Stewards and 4-H youth clubs, visit online at ucnj.org/rce or call 908-654-9854.

Volunteers who would like to help conserve native species in Union County parks can join the Adopt-a-Park program. Union County Adopt-a-Park is also a partner in the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team. For details contact the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation at 908-789-3683 or visit ucnj.org/parks-recreation.

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.

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