Try colorful native plants for low maintenance, eco-friendly gardening.

Gardeners who are interested in eco-friendly yard care are invited to a free Native Plant Swap and Shop event on Thursday evening, June 25, at the Scout Camping Area in Union County’s Watchung Reservation, in Mountainside. The event will be conducted under no-contact guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Gardening with native plants is an effective way to save time, reduce yard care costs, and contribute to the health of the local ecosystem. Native species thrive naturally their home environment, so gardeners can avoid potentially harmful herbicides, pesticides and other treatments,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella.

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Native plants support local populations of butterflies, birds, and other beneficial pollinators. They can also help reduce ponding and runoff.

The Native Plant Swap and Shop is a partner project of the statewide Watershed Ambassador program and Union County. The event is free but pre-registration is required by filling out the Survey Monkey form at surveymonkey.com/r/FQZM7G9

Gardeners who come to the Plant Swap and Shop can bring up to three non-native plants from their yard, and receive up to three free native plants in return.

Under the contactless procedure, attendees will bring their non-native plants by car to the site, and open their trunk or door. Staff at the site will remove those plants and replace them with colorful native varieties.

Attendees must bring the entire plant, roots and all. The plants should be tied or taped as needed to prevent any seeds from escaping.

No appointment is needed but the Survey Monkey form must be completed in order to participate. Attendees can arrive any time between 5:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on June 25. Masks must be worn at all times.

Invasive plants accepted for trade include but are not limited to: Japanese barberry, pachysandra, butterfly bush, Chinese silvergrass, English Ivy, garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, autumn olive, Japanese maple, vinca (periwinkle), porcelain berry, and burning bush.

Native plants available for swap include: wild bergamot, dense blazing star, swamp milkweed, and hummingbird-friendly foxglove beardtongue and cardinal flower. Attendees can indicate their first, second, and third choice of native plants on the Survey Monkey form when they register.

Attendees can also buy additional native plants from Toadshade Wildflower Farm at the site. Pre-ordering is available and is strongly encouraged. To pre-order, visit the company’s website at toadshade.com and choose the “pick up” option for shipping.

The access road to the Scout Camping Area is adjacent to the parking lot at Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in the Watchung Reservation, located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. 

For additional eco-friendly gardening resources view Union County’s free, downloadable Plant This, Not That guide to replacing invasive species with colorful native plants. More free advice on gardening with native plants is also available through the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of Rutgers University. 

The Watershed Ambassador program is supported in Union County by the Freeholder Board through the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County. For a list of free online Extension learn-from-home programs and activities visit ucnj.org/rce.

For more information about activities of the Watershed Ambassador in Union County, and more details about the Native Plant Swap and Shop event, email watershedma7@gmail.com.

Quick links to all Union County environmental programs are available at The Green Connection, ucnj.org/green-connect.

For more information and updates on all Union County services during the COVID-19 outbreak, including guidance for the Test Center, visit ucnj.org/coronavirus-update.

For general information about COVID-19 and phone contacts for 24/7 assistance with questions, visit the New Jersey Department of Health at nj.gov/health.