11 Best Native Plants for Your Greenville Garden

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bright pinkish-purple berries on an american beautyberry plant

Dreaming of a yard filled with birdsong and butterflies? Planting native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers is a great way to bring native wildlife to your back door in Greenville. Native plants are a very low-maintenance form of landscaping, as all native plants have naturally evolved to survive South Carolina’s climate.

There are plenty of reasons to plant species that are native to South Carolina:

  • Environmentally-friendly: Native plants play a big role in supporting natural landscapes and ecosystems in South Carolina. They provide important resources such as food and shelter to native birds, mammals, and other wildlife. 
  • Less effort: Native plants are naturally acclimated to their environment. Plants that are native to Greenville thrive in the soil and weather conditions in your yard. They’re also more likely to be pest- and disease-resistant.

How to choose the best native plants for your garden in Greenville:

Greenville County lies between U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7A, 7B, and 8A. Greenville itself is almost all located within zone 8A. The soil composition in Greenville consists of mostly deep, well-drained soil. Keep all of this in mind while searching for the right native plants for your property. 

There are hundreds of kinds of native plants in South Carolina. Here we’ve compiled a list of 11 of the best shrubs, trees, and wildflowers for your Greenville home.

1. Butterfly milkweed (asclepias tuberosa)

red and orange butterfly milkweed
John Flannery | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Butterfly milkweed is one of the plants most commonly associated with butterflies, particularly monarch butterflies. It produces small, vibrant clusters of orange flowers in summer and fall. In the wild, butterfly milkweed can be found in meadows and along roadsides. In your yard, it makes a great border plant or adds bold color to the back of your flowerbed.

Like most native plants, butterfly milkweed is resistant to most pests and diseases that affect plants in the Piedmont area. It is especially resistant to deer. However, it can succumb to crown rot if planted in poorly-drained soil. While butterfly milkweed has historically been used by Native Americans for food and medicinal purposes, beware that it can be toxic when consumed if not prepared correctly. 

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Coarse and medium soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1½-2 feet

2. Florida flame azaleas (rhododendron austrinum)

vibrant yellow flowers from a Florida flame azalea plant
David J. Stang | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Don’t let the name confuse you — Florida flame azaleas are another native plant that will thrive in your Greenville garden. The spectacular flowers bloom in April and range in color from light yellow to red-orange. The clusters of funnel-shaped flowers have delicate protruding red stamens. It has a sweet fragrance, like honeysuckle, which is common in many native azalea species.

The Florida flame azalea attracts birds such as swallowtails, songbirds, and hummingbirds. It also attracts butterflies such as the monarch and Gulf fritillary, as well as bees to help pollinate your garden. They grow best under the partial shade of trees, but be careful not to plant them too close because they will experience root competition. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 6-10
  • Sun: Partial sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, clay, loam, or sand
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: Typically 6 to 8 feet, can grow up to 15 feet

3. Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis)

You will fall in love with the cardinal flower, a native plant with show-stopping red flowers. The brilliant flower spikes can be seen from a distance in marshes, meadows, and the edge of streams. Wildlife loves cardinal flowers too — they’re a source of nectar for hummingbirds. 

The blossoms open from top to bottom on the 2-4 foot spikes in late summer and last through early fall.

Unlike other native wildflowers, the cardinal flower requires higher amounts of water to survive. This would make a great addition to a rain garden, or as a landscaping accent alongside a water source, such as a pond or stream. 

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Partial, full shade
  • Water needs: High
  • Soil: Rich, moist soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-4 feet

4. Southern magnolia (magnolia grandiflora)

pure white southern magnolia flower
David Ohmer | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Birds love to nest in the majestic Southern magnolia tree. Some birds, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and yellow-bellied sapsucker, eat the tree’s seeds.

Southern magnolias produce very large, fragrant white flowers in spring and summer. They’re relatively fast-growing, but require more watering and maintenance than other native plants. Their evergreen foliage is very hardy and makes a great contrast to other garden plants. If you don’t mind the maintenance that comes along with it shedding its leaves and seed pods, a Southern magnolia would make a charming addition to your backyard. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 7-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: High
  • Soil: Rich, well-drained, medium to moist soils
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: 60-80 feet

5. Eastern red cedar (juniperus virginiana)

small, blue eastern red cedar berries
Judy Gallagher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The Eastern red cedar is a fast-growing, aromatic evergreen tree. Its female plants produce pale blue fruit, which is eaten by finches and bluebirds. It is a great nesting habitat for hummingbirds, doves, and warblers. It is also a source of food for the larvae of Great Purple Hairstreak butterflies. 

The tree bark is a red-brown color and exfoliates in long strips. The wood is very sturdy and rot-resistant, so it is often used for things like fence posts.

Eastern red cedars are resistant against many weather extremes, including drought, cold, and heat. Avoid planting near apple trees — the Eastern red cedar is susceptible to a fungal disease called cedar-apple rust. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 2A-9B
  • Sun: Sun, partial shade, or shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Dry soil
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: Typically 40-50 feet

6. American beautyberry (callicarpa americana)

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

Beautyberry is a beautiful native plant that can be recognized by its clusters of bold purple fruits that form in August and last through early winter. Small flowers bloom in the early summer, ranging from blue to pink and light purple. 

This woody shrub is often found in open meadows and woodland areas. In your landscape, it works well in a pollinator garden, butterfly garden, or native garden.

It is a very resilient plant, being resistant to disease, pests, heat, and fire. The beautyberry’s fruit attracts birds such as mockingbirds, finches, and robins. It also attracts larger mammals such as deer and raccoons. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 6A-10B
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Clay, sandy, or loam
  • Duration: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 3-8 feet

7. Carolina jessamine (gelsemium sempervirens)

bright yellow carolina jessamine flowers
Patrick Mueller | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

What would this native plant list be without Carolina jessamine, the state flower of South Carolina? With its bright yellow flowers, slender vines, and sweet aroma, this plant is a beautiful addition to your native plant garden. 

This is a very adaptable and easy plant to grow. Carolina jessamine can be grown as a vine or as a form of ground cover. As a vine, it can adorn fences, trellises, decks, arbors, and entryways. It attracts hummingbirds, game birds, and butterflies. Be careful to keep children away from this plant, as all parts of the plant are very toxic. It is disease- and pest-resistant. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 6-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: 20 feet as a vine, 3 feet as ground cover

8. Eastern purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)

eye-level with a purple coneflower
alvaroreguly | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Eastern purple coneflower is a popular native plant with long-lasting daisy-like purple and lavender flowers that bloom from early summer through mid-fall. They are a wonderful source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. They are very easy to grow with little maintenance required. 

This plant is not only popular for its looks and durability. Flowers from Echinacea species are often used to make herbal tea. Extracts of the Eastern purple coneflower have natural antibiotic properties when ingested in small amounts. 

  • Plant type: Herbaceous
  • Hardiness zones: 5-8
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Dry, well-drained soils
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature height: 2-5 feet

9. Late purple aster (symphyotrichum patens)

light purple petals from a late purple aster flower
Matt Lavin | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

You’ve likely noticed the thin purple flowers of the late purple aster while driving around the Piedmont area. These low-maintenance native plants can commonly be found growing happily along the road, dry fields, or rocky woodlands, attracting bees and butterflies to their flowers. 

Late purple asters are easy to care for and relatively pest resistant. They can thrive in most growing conditions in the Greenville area.

  • Plant type: Herbaceous
  • Hardiness zones: 7-8
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moderate
  • Soil: Coarse to medium soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Around 3 feet

10. Eastern redbud (cercis canadensis) 

pink eastern redbud flowers with a bee hovering nearby
Dan Keck | Flickr | public domain

A short-trunked tree with stunning, bright-pink flowers, the Eastern redbud (or Judas tree) makes a picture-perfect addition to your yard. Its flowers are edible, and can be a creative salad topping, or eaten fried. They have a slightly sour taste and have high levels of vitamin C. Bees, birds, and butterflies enjoy the Eastern redbud blooms. In late summer, the tree forms green to reddish seed pods. It also produces some colorful foliage, with the leaves turning pretty shades of green and yellow.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Partial shade or shade
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 20-30 feet

11. Bee balm (monarda didyma)

Bee balm is a colorful and fragrant native plant that thrives in the Piedmont region. As you can gather from its name, this plant attracts many pollinators, such as bumblebees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other native species. The clusters of scarlet, pink, and purple flowers bloom in mid to late summer.

When crushed, bee balm leaves produce a minty fragrance. It is edible and often used in teas, soups, and fruit salads.

  • Plant type: Flower 
  • Hardiness zones: 4A-9A
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4 feet

Why use native plants? 

Whether you want to spend a limited amount of time maintaining your garden, or you’re just happy to see butterflies and birds fluttering around your backyard, native plants make a wonderful addition to your garden. Many of these plants are resistant to drought, pests, and disease, and some are edible and have medicinal properties. 

If you want to find more native plants to bring life to your Greenville garden, check out the South Carolina Native Plant Society (SCNPS) website. Keep in mind that some plants native to South Carolina are more acclimated to coastal environments than to the Piedmont. When browsing SCNPS’s plant list, look for plants that thrive in USDA hardiness zone 8A. 

Need help deciding which native plants would look good in your yard? You can always call on a Greenville lawn care professional to help you pick and plant your plants. It will save you time and effort, and you will get the best expert advice.

Main Photo Credit: Jeff Vincent | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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