9 Best Alabama Native Plants for Home Landscaping

aerial view of downtown Birmingham, AL

Who wants to spend all their time doing yard work when there’s the U.S. Space & Rocket Center or the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts to enjoy? You can reduce the time you spend maintaining your landscape with these Alabama native plants for home landscaping. These plants are beautiful and low-maintenance, so they’ll look great without much help from you.

Native plants add to your life and the ecosystem in the following ways:

  • Native plant species have adapted to the local environment, so they typically require less fertilizing, watering, and other upkeep than non-native plants need.
  • Native plants are usually tolerant of local diseases and pests, so you save time and money because fewer, if any, chemical pesticides and fungicides are needed for treatment.
  • Using fewer fertilizers and other chemicals like herbicides means less toxic substances run into and contaminate the water supply.
  • Native plant communities provide birds, pollinators, and other local wildlife with food and habitat, therefore promoting biodiversity and supporting the local ecosystem.

9 Landscape plants native to Alabama 

1. Boxelder maple (Acer negundo)

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Boxelder maple stands tall, reaching over 30 feet. Its light grey bark darkens as it ages. The light green leaves have about 3 to 7 leaflets. This tree will add texture and color to your yard as the leaves turn yellow in the fall. Female trees bear samaras (small, dry fruits encased in papery-textured “wings”) of the same color that often remain on the tree into the winter. 

Boxelder maple grows quickly and is drought-tolerant. It is cold-hardy, making it a good choice for Alabama’s variable winters, which can get a little nippy. However, many homeowners consider the leaves and seeds that fall and take up the yard over time a nuisance. These characteristics have earned this Alabama plant the infamous reputation of being a “dirty tree.” But the squirrels and birds have no quarrels, as they feed on the discarded winged seeds.

If you’re looking for edible qualities in your Alabama native plants, you’ll be thrilled to know that the tree’s sap can be used to make beverages and syrup. Plant this flowering plant in a city garden or cottage garden. Use it as a specimen plant and let it fill your yard with yellowish-green flowers that sprout from March through May.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Tree
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium, drought-tolerant
  • Soil: Just about any well-drained soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 30 – 80 feet

Where to buy boxelder maple seeds: 

2. Red maple (Acer rubrum

large red maple in front of a wooden fence
Photo Credit: Dushan Hanuska | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Red maple is native to the entire state of Alabama and livens up the fall with leaves that turn red and yellow. Tiny red flowers sprout in the spring. This deciduous tree starts off in a pyramidal shape and takes on an oval form as it grows to about 40 to 70 feet high. It’s rare, but red maple has been known to grow as tall as 120 feet.

Red maple is demanding when it comes to water, but it may not grow to its full height if overwatered. Although it requires a lot of moisture and prefers moist soil, it tolerates multiple soil types.

Red maple’s shallow root system can cause sidewalks or driveways to buckle if planted too close. Use it as a lawn tree and let the sweet cherry almond scent it gives off be aroma therapy for anyone close enough to smell it.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Tree
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: High
  • Soil: Chalk, clay, loam, sand
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 40 to 70 feet

Where to buy red maple seeds and live plants: 

3. Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

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Flowering dogwood is native to all Alabama counties except Marion, Choctaw, and Houston. This tree reaches 40 feet high and stretches 20 feet wide. Flowering dogwood sprouts pink and white flowers in the spring. Butterflies, birds, and other wildlife feed on the berries the tree bears in the summer. Flowering dogwood has been known to continue to produce these treats into the winter.

This plant has been used medicinally and as a disinfectant. However, contact with flowering dogwood may cause skin irritation. 

Plant this honeysuckle-smelling tree in cottage gardens or use it in shrub borders. To keep the roots cool and moist during the hot Alabama summers, apply about 2 to 4 inches of mulch.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Deciduous tree or shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 5 – 9
  • Sunlight needs: Prefers partial shade but also grows in full sun 
  • Water needs: May need to water once per week when there’s no rain 
  • Soil preferences: Moist, acidic sandy or loam soils 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature size: 20 – 40 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide 

Where to buy flowering dogwood seeds and live plants: 

4. Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Oakleaf hydrangea bush
Photo Credit: Stephanie D. Dudek | Canva Pro | License

This deciduous shrub is natively found on wooded slopes and along rivers in the southeastern United States. The oakleaf hydrangea is native to nearly all of Alabama and became the state’s official wildflower in 1999. 

The cone-shaped flower heads are a show-stopping sight, with creamy white flowers and bright yellow centers. Oakleaf hydrangea has variegated leaves; the base is a grayish color, while the top is green. The flowers turn pinkish and eventually darken into a tanish brown at the summer’s close. When fall arrives, the leaves turn a deep shade of red. No part of this shrub gets left out of the color show: the cinnamon-brown bark is a welcome attraction in the winter.

This honey-vanilla-smelling shrub looks spectacular in mixed shrub borders, mass plantings, or as an accent plant. You can also make someone happy by presenting them with a gift of oakleaf hydrangea flowers in a dried arrangement.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Sun: Partial to full shade 
  • Water needs: At least 1 inch a week
  • Soil: Fertile, moist, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-8 feet

Where to buy oakleaf hydrangea seeds and live plants: 

5. Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

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Longleaf pine is a bit of a misnomer. This native tree doesn’t have long leaves, but it has long pines. Its green needles grow as long as 14 inches, and of all the pines in eastern North America, it has the largest pine cones. Longleaf pine is a late bloomer. In its first five years, it does not grow very tall. However, it matures into a tall, thin evergreen reaching as high as 100 feet.

The pollen and nuts can cause allergies, and the tree is highly flammable. But longleaf pine is a lifesaver for the red-cockaded woodpecker, providing a habitat for the endangered species. Another benefit: You can recycle longleaf’s fallen needles by using them as pine mulch in your flower beds. 

Plant longleaf pine in your yard and enjoy it as it blooms year-round. It is native to most of Southern and Central Alabama and some counties in the Northern area. It is not native to most of the counties bordering the western coast of the state.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant Type: Tree
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7 – 10
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water Needs: Low
  • Soil: Clay, loam, sand, acidic or neutral, well-drained soils
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature Height: 80 to 100 feet

Where to buy longleaf pine tree seeds and live plants: 

6. Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

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Red buckeye is also native to most of Alabama. The plant sprouts small flowers in late spring. Hummingbirds love these richly red-colored petals. Squirrels love the brown seeds that come after the spring flowers. Humans, on the other hand, should be mindful that this flowering plant is highly poisonous if eaten. It may be fatal if ingested. 

Although the red buckeye is toxic when ingested, it has redeemable qualities. It adapts to multiple soil types and pH levels and will grow in part shade or full sun. The leaves brighten up the fall landscape when they turn red, typically bringing color until they all fall from the tree by the end of September. Use the red buckeye tree as a specimen plant or plant it along a pond or stream on your property.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Water Needs: Low to moderate
  • Soil: Well-drained, tolerates a wide variety of soil types
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature Height: 12-15 feet

Where to buy red buckeye seeds and live plants: 

7. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens

Coral Honeysuckle
Photo Credit: Sarah Nichols | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

This flowering plant has tubular-shaped red flowers with a yellow interior. Its shape resembles the first word in one of its nicknames, trumpet honeysuckle. The petals hang downward, and the tips sometimes flare outward, as if someone blew a beautiful sound into the trumpet while pointing it towards the ground. Hummingbirds are attracted to this plant.

Plant coral honeysuckle in soil high in organic matter and full sun to part shade for best growth. For optimal results, do not prune until it flowers. This vine is most at home when allowed to climb up trellises, walls, and fences.

Coral honeysuckle, like the longleaf pine tree, is highly flammable. You may not want to plant it too close to your home. It’s also toxic to animals and humans if eaten.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, sand, loam, slightly acidic, well-drained. It acclimates to many soil types. 
  • Duration: Semi-evergreen perennial
  • Mature height: 15-20 feet

Where to buy coral honeysuckle seeds and live plants: 

8. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

New England Aster
Photo Credit: hedera.baltica | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

These pretty light purple flowers resemble daisies. You can also find them with pink flowers. They bring Alabama gardens blossoms for at least six weeks, blooming from late summer to late fall. New England aster is deer and rabbit-resistant. The flower attracts birds and butterflies. 

This is a great plant for homes with children. Not only is the plant non-toxic, its roots have been used for medicinal purposes. If you want it to reseed, plant New England aster in the right conditions and do not cut it back after it flowers. It grows well in multiple soil types, full sun, and partial shade. Be sure it receives adequate air circulation to prevent it from developing diseases.

Plant these purple rays of sunshine in cottage gardens and borders. To control their height and promote flower growth, pinch the stems back before midsummer. If they grow tall, use trellises as support.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4a – 8b
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3 – 6 feet

Where to buy New England aster seeds and live plants: 

9. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

American beautyberry branch with green and purple berries all along the branch
Photo Credit: Jonathan Lidbeck | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

American beautyberry boasts stems surrounded by clusters of bright, violet berries that arrive late summer to early fall. The beginning of summer brings small violet, white, or pink flowers. Bees and butterflies are drawn to this vivid shrub, with its hairy green leaves that turn yellow in the fall. 

American beautyberry is more than a flowering plant; it has practical uses. The crushed leaves make a chemical that repels mosquitoes and fire ants.

This shrub prefers a little moisture, so do not let the soil completely dry. To manage the American beautyberry’s size or refresh an older plant, prune it in the spring before new growth starts.

American beautyberry is a prize addition to large landscapes. It also works well in mass plantings.

Basic characteristics and preferred growing conditions:

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Low (one inch per week)
  • Soil: Loam, Sand
  • Duration: Deciduous perennial 
  • Mature height: 4-8 feet

Where to buy American beautyberry seeds and live plants: 

How to choose Alabama native plants for your landscape

To choose the best native plants for your Alabama home, you should be familiar with your USDA hardiness plant zone, your yard’s characteristics, and your maintenance preferences. Because some plants are toxic to humans and pets, you should also choose plants that fit your family composition. Here are some things to consider:

  • USDA hardiness zone: Alabama’s hardiness zones are 7 through 9. For optimal results, choose plants in your area of the state of Alabama. If you live around Auburn University, for example, you’re in zone 8a. Huntsville, however, is in zones 7a to 7b. Check the USDA plant map for your city’s zone. 
  • Soil characteristics: As you have seen from the plant preferences in this article, some plants grow best in a specific soil type, like clay or sand, while others are not choosy on type but require the soil to be well-drained or moist. Knowing your soil traits will help you select plants that thrive in your specific conditions. Some plants also need a certain soil pH to grow well. Read How to Change Your Soil pH to find out everything you need to know about soil acidity and alkalinity. 
  • Sun exposure: You’ll also need to know how sunny or shady your yard is before deciding which native plants would be best for your garden. Some plants need full sun (meaning 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day), while others thrive in partial shade/partial sun (4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day), and others prefer shade (less than 4 hours of direct sunlight per day). 
  • Maintenance preferences: Choose plants with maintenance requirements that complement your availability. Although native plants require less maintenance than non-native plants, they still take some work. Research the amount of upkeep a plant will need, like pruning, deadheading, or watering. If you want to do as little work as possible and still have beautiful plants in your landscape, check out our list of the best low-maintenance plants for Alabama gardens
  • Family composition: You may want to steer clear of plants toxic to humans or animals if you have children or pets. Or, you may just want to plant these types of flora behind fences or other secure spots in your yard.

For more help figuring out what to plant in your yard and where, see our list of Alabama landscaping ideas, which includes many recommendations for a low-maintenance, water-saving, yet still beautiful landscape.

And what about your lawn? While there aren’t many grasses native to North America that work well as tidy, groomed turfgrass, you can still cut back on maintenance and the amount of water your lawn needs by choosing one of the best types of turfgrass for Alabama. Good options include Zoysia, Bermuda, Bahia, centipede, and St. Augustine. North of Birmingham, you can also consider tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass.

FAQ about Alabama native plants

What are the best native plants for Huntsville?

The best native plants for Huntsville home landscapes include: 

  • Pussytoes
  • Red maple
  • Joe-Pye weed

What are the best native plants for Birmingham?

The best native plants for Birmingham home landscapes include:

  • Largeflower tickseed
  • Southern sugar maple 
  • Yellow honeysuckle 

What are the best native plants for Montgomery?

The best native plants for Montgomery home landscapes include: 

  • Wavyleaf purple coneflower
  • Red buckeye
  • Flowering dogwood

Why is it best to avoid using invasive plants?

Invasive plants can outcompete native plants for habitat, food, and space. This and the fact that invasive plants can also spread to surrounding areas and properties can cause the ecosystem to become imbalanced. 

Invasive vegetation hurts plant communities by changing the ecology and soil composition and starting new populations that compete with local wildlife and insects for food. Invasive plant species can even eliminate food sources for local creatures.

Can I choose plants in zones other than Alabama’s USDA hardiness zone?

Yes, you can choose plants outside of your area’s zone. But zones tell you the plants that will survive the region’s lowest freezing temperatures. Plants outside of your zone may require additional upkeep to maintain, and they may not survive the lowest winter temperatures.

If you go outside your area’s zone, choose plants in lower zones. Vegetations in lower zones are more likely to survive your area’s coldest temperatures than plants in higher zones. 

Where to find Alabama native plants

Living in the moment is a wonderful way to discover Alabama native plants. Take a picture of floras on roadsides, in parks, or in your neighborhood. You can show them to local nurseries to find out if the plants are native or non-native and if the nursery carries them. 

Don’t stop there; visit Birmingham Botanical Gardens and get a plethora of great ideas. The Alabama Wildflower Society is another source to find native Alabama vegetation. Huntsville Botanical Garden has a list of nurseries and a downloadable PDF with additional locations throughout the state of Alabama where you can find native plants. And of course, you can find seeds or live plantings of most native plants at major retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and even Amazon (if you prefer shopping online).

Whatever kind of plants your landscape includes, the beautiful Alabama weather calls for nearly year-round lawn and landscape maintenance. Can you resist the temptation of the waterfalls at Little River Canyon National Preserve because you have yard work to do? We think not. That’s why Lawn Love is here to connect you with lawn and landscape professionals in Alabama who can handle all the yard work for you.

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LaShonda Tucker

LaShonda Tucker’s passion for maintaining a healthy lifestyle through organic herbs, fruits, and veggies leads her to research and learn about plants and insects. She loves sharing her knowledge to help others achieve their lawn care and landscaping goals.