WESTFIELD, NJ — At a press conference last month, Patricia Brentano, a local artist, environmentalist and wife of Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, explained how they turned their yard into a haven for birds, pollinating insects and other local wildlife. Brentano runs the Facebook page Rescaping the Suburbs with the New Jersey Audubon Society. Bramnick sponsored a bill, now passed by the assembly, that would make it easier for homeowners to grow native plants, some of which might be considered weeds by neighbors. 

In the front yard of the couple’s home grow native grasses. In the back, wildflowers. Brentano said she’s even grown milkweed to attract and feed monarch butterflies. But the couple didn’t do all of this alone — they worked together with their landscapers.

Stephen Costalos is the owner of Scape-Abilities in Scotch Plains and a member of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey. As a landscaper, he believes it’s important to educate his clients about the benefits of native plants.

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“There’s a general need in the area for people to become more comfortable with native plants in their landscaping and use them more readily,” Costalos said. Plants that are native to the area not only help wildlife — experts say they need less water, fewer to no chemicals and require less maintenance. They’re also less likely to die and need replacement than plants that are not native to the area, according to Costalos.

“Typically native plants do well. They’re happy here,” he explained.

The result can be pretty — but many consider the look of native plants “messy,” as well. Landscapers will tell you that not every homeowner is interested in a less-than-manicured appearance, or for attracting more insects. And finding native plants at nurseries isn’t always easy. As demand increases, that could change.

Matt Ince, owner of Ince Landscape Construction & Management in Westfield, said his company has the knowledge and experience to design and install various types of landscapes depending on the individual clients' goals for their property.

“Landscapes are also site-specific, so factors such as full sun, partial to full shade, soil conditions — wet/dry etc.— and deer activity are taken into account when designing a landscape,” Ince explained. “If a client is interested in utilizing native plants, Ince landscape can provide options ranging from color pictures with growth habits and site requirements to detailed renderings showing precisely what plant material will be installed, in specific areas with sizes, quantities and varieties in addition to color pictures. Ince landscape can also accompany a client to the nursery so they may see the actual plant material to be hand-selected.”

Planning with your landscaper is important, Costalos said. For example, if you’re planting wildflowers that will attract bees, you don’t want to plant them by your front door. And don’t pick plants simply because they’re flowering now. It’s better to choose some that will flower later to mix with those that flower earlier, so that your garden is in bloom longer, he said.

As a landscaper, Costalos said, “The most important thing is education, then putting valid design ideas in front of them so they can choose.”