9 Best Native Plants for Raleigh

9 Best Native Plants for Raleigh

Your Raleigh flower garden should be a joy, not a burden. The secret? Growing native plants. From the magnificent Southern magnolia to the striking cardinal flower, these nine best native plants for Raleigh will fatten your wallet, restore natural habitats, and save you precious time. 

Native plants are low-maintenance and a great benefit to your garden and landscape. Instead of spreading fertilizers and insecticides, enjoy the garden with a sweet iced tea in hand. Native plants are also: 

  • Adapted to local soil conditions, allowing them to flourish without much fertilizer
  • Resistant to many of Raleigh’s local diseases and pests, which means less money spent on pesticides and disease control
  • Beneficial to the ecosystem; growing more native species means using fewer chemical pollutants
  • Accustomed to local precipitation levels, which helps you conserve water
  • Natural habitats and delicious food sources for Raleigh critters

The North Carolina State Extension recommends the following native plants for the piedmont region. 

1. Butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa)

bright orange butterfly milkweed
Sharon Sullivan | Lawn Love

If you’re a beginner green thumb looking for an exceptionally low-maintenance plant, you’ll love butterfly weed. Butterfly weed is a drought-tolerant flower that thrives in poor, dry soils. You’ll find the herbaceous perennial growing in rocky soils, prairies, roadsides, and fields.

Easy to propagate from seed, the slow grower takes 2 to 3 years to establish and bloom its eye-catching yellow-orange flowers. 

The deer-resistant plant makes an excellent addition to a butterfly garden –– it’s a valuable food source and host plant for monarch butterflies. The monarch butterfly’s existence is under threat, and growing more milkweed is an essential step to conserving the incredible insect. 

Although resistant to many pests, butterfly weed is susceptible to rust and leaf spot. Its stunning flowers bloom throughout summer, and unlike many other milkweeds, it does not produce milky sap. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Performs well in poor, dry soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet

2. Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis)

Our state bird is the cardinal, making the cardinal flower a perfect match for Raleigh homes. The upright, clump-forming perennial boasts bright green leaves and spiky, brilliant red foliage. You’ll see these red blooms appear in late summer through mid-fall, along with a crowd of hummingbirds and butterflies. 

The cardinal flower loves moist soil, which should never go dry. To lower the plant’s watering needs, spread some mulch in the flower bed to help retain moisture in the soil. The showy flower is resistant to deer and rabbits, but it’s susceptible to slugs and snails. 

Avoid popping the cardinal flower’s foliage into your mouth, as the foliage is toxic to humans if ingested. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium to high
  • Soil: Sand, loam, clay, limestone-based
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-6 feet

3. Carolina phlox (phlox carolina)

Spring through summer, the Carolina phlox features a beautiful burst of colorful flowers, with some reblooming in fall. Its soft colors range from lavender to white or pink. The delicate flowers measure ½ to ¾ of an inch across and form small clusters at the top of the stems. 

The native perennial grows well in full sun to partial shade and moist soils. It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees and is resistant to powdery mildew. 

Carolina phlox’s common names include thick leaf phlox, giant phlox, and summer phlox. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, loam, sand
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-5 feet

4. Coral honeysuckle (lonicera sempervirens)

Close-up of coral honeysuckle blooms
Paul VanDerWerf | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Does your Raleigh landscaping need some visual interest? Adorn your garden, porch, or front gate with climbing coral honeysuckle. The twining vine climbs up trellises, arbors, and fences, creating a colorful and textured attraction in the yard. 

Also known as trumpet honeysuckle, the flowering vine boasts orangish-red flowers on the outside and yellow throats on the inside. Coral honeysuckle tolerates partial shade but will thrive in full sun. It prefers organically rich soils with good drainage and can grow as a ground cover. 

The Raleigh native also offers significant benefits to wildlife. Coral honeysuckle provides delicious nectar for hungry hummingbirds, grows berries for birds, and is a larval host for the snowberry clearwing moths and Spring Azure butterflies.  

Fun fact: Applying ground coral honeysuckle leaves to bee stings can help relieve swelling. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun, 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

5. Eared coreopsis (coreopsis auriculata)

bright yellow flowers of eared coreopsis
Patrick Standish | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

These low-maintenance yellow flowers bring forth a burst of sunshine to the yard. Also known as mouse-eared Coreopsis or tickseed, the eared Coreopsis makes a beautiful addition to your landscape’s flower beds and borders. 

After a few blooming seasons, eared Coreopsis spreads into a dense golden mass. To limit competition among your flowers, divide the perennial flower and replant it in other areas of the yard. 

Eared Coreopsis tolerates some dry conditions, but it’s not as drought tolerant as other Coreopsis species. It doesn’t have any serious insect problems, but it can experience root rot in poorly drained, moist soils. 

Remove spent flowers to encourage reblooming in the fall. The bright flower typically grows up to 2 feet tall, but you can go even smaller with the dwarf selection ‘Nana,’ which only reaches 6 inches tall. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Loam, sand, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet

6. Flowering dogwood (cornus florida)

close-up white flowers from a flowering dogwood
Peter Stenzel | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

You can’t have the flowering dogwood tree missing from your Raleigh yard –– it showcases North Carolina’s state flower. 

It’s easy to mistake the dogwood’s glorious white petals as the flowers, but the flowers are the small, yellowish-green, compact clusters found between the petals. The white petals surrounding the green flowers are bracts, also known as modified leaves. 

The deciduous tree typically reaches 15 to 30 feet high, though sometimes it can reach heights up to 40 feet. It prefers moist, organically rich, well-drained, acidic soils in partial shade. Its red fruits mature in late summer through early fall and are inedible to humans, though birds love them. 

Although a native plant, the flowering dogwood (like many trees) is susceptible to disease. Diseases to look out for include powdery mildew, root rot, leaf spot, canker, and twig blight. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Grows best in part shade but can tolerate full sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: organically rich, moist, acidic soil 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 15-30 feet, sometimes reaching up to 40 feet

7. Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)

purple coneflowers
Mark Teachey | Unsplash

Beautiful and resilient, the purple coneflower tolerates drought, humidity, heat, and poor soils. Vibrant purple flowers with spiky, cone-shaped centers sit atop stiff stems with hairy, dark green leaves. The wildflower is the perfect complimenting feature to your prairie, meadow, or rock gardens. 

And you needn’t stick with purple–– the echinacea flower has cultivars offering various sizes and colors. The flower grows in the masses, which means you can experiment with many color combinations and flower arrangements. 

Removing the spent flower heads can improve the look of your flower beds, but leaving the head untouched will invite birds to feed on the seeds. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-8
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Sand, loam
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-5 feet

8. Southern magnolia (magnolia grandiflora)

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

The Southern magnolia is a magnificent spectacle for any Raleigh home. The stunning native tree showcases broad, dark green shiny leaves and large, fragrant flowers that are a treat for the nose. Ensure the Southern magnolia has plenty of space to grow, as it can reach heights up to 80 feet tall and expand 40 feet wide. 

The white, ornamental flowers show off their beauty from spring through summer. In fall, the tree produces cone-shaped fruits with striking red seeds. 

The Southern magnolia is under minor threat of pests and disease, making it a resilient North Carolina native plant. It likes moist, well-drained soils and is not tolerant of extreme drought, wet soils, or pollution. 

Although it provides plenty of shade for a relaxing garden bench, it’s not an ideal tree for growing a shade garden. Plants will struggle to grow beneath the dense shade and alongside the tree’s shallow root system. 

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Hardiness zones: 6-10
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade, with a preference for partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Clay, loam, sand, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 60-80 feet

9. White heath aster (symphyotrichum pilosum)

small White heath aster flower
Jan Haerer | Pixabay

Also known as hairy aster, the white heath aster is recognizable by its hairy leaves and stem. The plant has small, delicate white flowers with centered, yellow discs and is native to eastern North America. 

White heath aster does have weedy characteristics, but the simple flower can make a charming addition to your butterfly, rock, and cottage gardens. The plant occurs in abandoned and natural areas, including prairies, meadows, roadsides, and old fields.

It grows well in full sun to partial shade, handles periodic flooding, and has few pest and disease problems. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-8
  • Sun: Full sun, part shade
  • Water needs: Low to medium
  • Soil: Sandy, well-drained, rocky soil. 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2-4 feet

Raleigh’s native plants give your green thumb a break

If your Raleigh garden is becoming too much of a chore, then you might want to make the switch from nonnative plants to native plants. Growing plants native to Raleigh means you’ll spend less money on fertilizers and insecticides, conserve precious water, and save time on maintenance. Not only do you get a break, but the environment does too. 

Want to find more native plant species for your Raleigh landscape? Here’s what you can do: 

  • Visit a local native plant nursery
  • Check out the North Carolina State Extension’s extensive list of plants native to the Mountain, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain regions. (Note: Raleigh is in the Piedmont region). 

Pro Tip: When scouting for Raleigh native plants, remember to shop for plants that are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture zone 7.

Don’t have time to care for the flower beds or maintain the landscape? Hire a local Raleigh lawn care pro to handle all your lawn care needs. A lawn care professional can mow the lawn, mulch the flower beds, and help you pick the best native flowers for your garden. 

Main Photo Credit: John Flannery | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is an artist, writer, and nature lover. She enjoys teaching readers about the importance of eco-friendly lawn care, integrated pest management, biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping.