By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Township Council is considering an ordinance to encourage native plants to be planted on public property — a move intended to increase native pollinator populations, like butterflies and bees.

The Jose German-Gomez Native Species Act is named for the Montclair Backyard Habitat Project and Northeast Earth Coalition founder (as well as author of Montclair Local’s “Gardening for Life” column). German-Gomez helped pen the ordinance with Councilman Peter Yacobellis.

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Jose German works in the community garden. COURTESY DAVID WASMUTH
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The council discussed the ordinance at a March 15 meeting and is expected to present it for a first reading on April 5. 

New Jersey has approximately 2,100 native plant species that naturally occur due to soil conditions and climate, and that provide nectar, pollen and seeds for native butterflies, insects and birds, according to Montclair’s ordinance. The ordinance sets a goal for 70% of all new plantings, bushes and trees be native to New Jersey. 

“Native pollinator populations since the 1970s have declined 70% from widespread use of pesticides in agribusiness, loss of habitat from development and from our insistence on non-native plants in landscaping,” said German-Gomez, who strongly advocates for all residents to plant native gardens. “About 90% of native butterflies and moth species can only reproduce on the native plants they evolved with.”

In January, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation creating the Jersey Native Plants Program to promote the sale of native plants at retail garden centers and nurseries. Consumers will be able to identify plants that are native with a “Jersey Natives” label.

German-Gomez said Montclair is a community surrounded by nurseries that sell native plants. The Northeast Earth Coalition has published a list of native plants in the blog section of its website, at neearth.org (see the entry titled “Favorite flowers, season by season” from July 2021). 

German-Gomez said annual flowers such as impatiens and begonias, which only last for one growing season but produce showy blooms, should be avoided in the garden because in “most cases they are reproduced using chemicals that kill the bees and butterflies.” 

A native perennial garden, once established, comes back every year and does not need to be watered as much because native plants belong to the New Jersey climate. Instead of using annuals for an ever-blooming garden, German-Gomez suggests planting sequential blooming native plants. 

After native plants are established, they rarely need watering.
COURTESY JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
After native plants are established, they rarely need watering.
COURTESY JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
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“You need to select early-, mid- and late-spring plants, and repeat the same planting pattern for the summer. Even in the fall, you can create a colorful garden,” German-Gomez said. “People need to look for plants that have value to pollinators and be sure to include butterfly host plants, like milkweed for monarchs, golden Alexanders for black swallowtails and violets for fritillaries. They can use some native plants for ground covers, such as violets, foam flowers, wild ginger, golden groundsel, wild geraniums, coral bells and creeping phlox, which will fill spaces between the taller plants, adding interest and reducing weeding. You can add echinaceas, black-eyed Susan, liatris, beard tongue among other colorful flowers.” 

Yacobellis said native plants and trees are better for the environment as they aid in the reduction of soil erosion, improve water quality and reduce air and noise pollution. Native plants often do not require insect pest control to survive, he said.

Non-native plants would be permitted in community vegetable gardens, lawns and athletic fields and planters and pots in the business districts, under the ordinance. 

Jason Gleason, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, said the organization had already purchased plants for the season that “wouldn't fit into these practices,” but that the BID would look to planting more pollinator species in the future.

New Jersey has required the planting of native plants along state highways and expressways for five years, since in 2017 then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a law requiring the New Jersey Department of Transportation to use only native vegetation for landscaping.

By Montclair Local’s press time Tuesday night, Montclair Environmental Commission co-chairs Ben Rich and Suzanne Aptman had not returned an email sent Friday, March 25, seeking comment on the ordinance.  

The ordinance is expected to take effect on the date it is enacted by the Township Council.