When it comes to thinking "local," some central Ohio horticulturists and conservation specialists like to remind residents the concept applies to more than what we eat.

Although Ohio seasons -- especially spring, which begins March 19 this year -- can be tricky when it comes to planting trees, bushes or a vegetable or flower garden, the season is a primary one for veteran green thumbs or even burgeoning landscaping hobbyists.

"Spring is a good time to plant, yes, especially certain types," said Kristin Hilson, marketing and public outreach coordinator for the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District. "Once the ground isn't frozen and not too wet, perennials and annual beds can be put together. Most perennials can be planted any time after the last frost.

"But fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs and bulbs. Some would say, it's the best time to plant. The soil is warm and pretty steady in temperature so the plant should respond well. Trees and shrubs can establish healthy and happy root systems by the next spring.

"Really, it's OK to plant any time of year -- it just will require more maintenance and care if you plant during a really hot month."

Because of Ohio's famous temperature swings, Brandon Parks, a nursery-sales and diagnostics specialist for Oakland Nurseries' Dublin Garden Center, 4261 W. Dublin-Granville Road in Dublin, recommends thinking outside the boxwoods and looking at native species.

"The biggest thing is just taking the plunge," Parks said. "It's breaking that mindset that you have to have a well-manicured lawn, that you've got to have that nice, defined edge, those perfectly trimmed boxwoods.

"Once you break away from that mindset of the old English gardens, that's when you can really start to appreciate the native plants."

Parks, who also has been involved in several stormwater mitigation and native-lands preservation and restoration projects throughout Ohio, said no matter where a person lives, landscapes and features are important because, aesthetically, they improve the grower's quality of life and potentially can provide habits for insects that enrich the soil and pollinate plants, as well as provide food for mammals, such as bats, and birds.

Those animals, in turn, can help cut down on nuisance insects, such as mosquitoes, and help spread seeds.

Parks said he does not discourage people from planting cultivated -- or non-native -- trees, bushes, grasses and flowers in their yards and flower beds, but he sees many benefits from finding native species to implement into residential landscapes.

"Ideally, we always recommend planting native plants," he said. "They've genetically evolved here; they're used to the soil.

"We all know Ohio has funky weather. Those plants are used to those wonderful temperature changes that we experience."

Black-eyed Susans and coneflowers, the latter of which are a North American perennial in the daisy family, typically perform well in Ohio's climate and soils, according to Parks and Sara Ernst, conservation implementation specialist with the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District.

Ernst said goldenrods and asters often fair well in the summer and fall and attract "different broods of insects and butterflies migrating" through the region at those times.

Common milkweed also is recommended, both because a number of types are native to Ohio and because they can attract butterflies, including monarchs.

"Once you get started, you will just see a transformation in your landscape and it will just become much more filled with life -- particularly with caterpillars, birds, different kinds of mammals," Ernst said. "More so from the insect point of view, looking at pollinators.

"Different types of pollinators are attracted to different flower types and things are blooming all throughout the season. Start with spring ephemerals, which attract things like gnats and flies that we don't typically appreciate, but they're important for making those seeds and for making the next generation of flowers."

David Barker, a professor in Ohio State University's Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, echoed those sentiments, saying native species can support Ohio's ecosystem by providing food and habitat to native insects and mammals.

"(Native plants) support and enhance many of our native wildlife species, such as bees, insects and butterflies," Barker said. "They fit into the broader ecology of the Ohio environment."

Barker said planting native species helps maintain the integrity of Ohio's landscape.

"It helps support the Ohio heritage," he said. "It's fun to plant some foreign material -- you get some interesting colors or forms -- but we're in Ohio and it's nice to go with what we have here.

"It helps to maintain our botanical heritage."

Barker, Ernst and Parks also said people should avoid invasive species that grow wild and can overtake other plant life by affecting water availability and damaging soil.

Among the popular species that should be avoided are honeysuckle, English ivy, tropical milkweed and purple loosestrife.

"I think people have more of an increased awareness about the decline of the species and what they can do on their home landscape," Ernst said. "We hear a lot about invasive species, (and) we hear a lot about climate change, about localized flooding -- particularly from stormwater aspect.

"Planting your landscape up decreases the amount of runoff you might receive, which decreases the amount of runoff that your neighbor's going to receive. It slows down that forceful rainfall. It sucks it up into the plant; it evaporates it. That's a little more how our hydrologic cycle is intended to function, rather than paving it over, to reduce these quick flashes of polluted stormwater."

Another important aspect of successful planting is knowing one's own landscape and researching plants.

Barker, Ernst and Parks said people should take note of how much moisture or sunlight their planting spaces receive and plant accordingly.

Parks and Ernst said residents can learn more about what plants are native to Ohio and what are considered invasive through internet searches or consulting with sources, such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, Illinois Wildflowers or wildflowers.com.

The Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District holds workshops throughout the year and provides resources on its website, franklinswcd.org.

Whereas commercial nurseries can help customers find appropriate trees and plants for their yards and gardens, the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District is in the midst of its annual spring tree and plant sale, with ordering open through March 29.

Information about that sale is available at franklinswcd.org or by calling 614-486-9613.

" 'Taking the plunge' can be as simple as planting your first milkweed plant for the monarch butterfly," Parks said. "It's as simple as dedicating just a little bit of area for a couple coneflowers.

"If you're willing to have an open mind in order to have a natural landscape, something that looks natural, that's when hundreds and hundreds of different plants and species become available to you, some of which are truly magnificent and highly beneficial."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate