Winter is a great time to start planning a garden for the spring — and when you do, perhaps think ecologically, and go native.

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service explains, “Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen and seeds that serve as food for butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. Unlike natives, common horticultural plants do not provide energetic rewards for their visitors and often require insect pest control to survive.”

“Native plants have evolved over thousands of years to be adapted to conditions in a particular region and to the other plants and animals around them,” states the Barnegat Bay Partnership, one of 28 national estuary programs throughout the country, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Daniel Hoch and Adrienne Cerefice, who own Hoch’s Landscaping and Garden Center in Barnegat, New Jersey, pointed out, “Natives allow for easy success, lower maintenance and water, as well as a greater resistance to pests and diseases. A well-chosen mix of native plants can offer year-round interest, with spring, summer, fall and winter color” that also provides pollinators and wildlife with food, shelter and nesting sites.

In addition to requiring less water – saving property owners time and money – the roots of indigenous plants, says the Barnegat Bay Partnership, “hold soil in place, increase infiltration of rainwater into the ground, and filter pollutants from our water. Since natives need less fertilizer, they help reduce the quantity of fertilizer that stormwater can carry into our waterways.”

Online resources with information on local indigenous plants and gardening best practices are plentiful, and include the USDA website www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/Native_Plant_Materials/Native_Gardening/index.shtml and the National Wildlife Federation site www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants, as well as New York’s Division of Lands and Forests’ information at www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/factnatives.pdf and New Jersey’s www.jerseyyards.org.