Best Native Plants for Virginia Beach

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Clusters of small white flowers from a red chokeberry shrub

It may come as a surprise, but Virginia Beach is on the very northern edge of the humid subtropical zone. This means the area experiences hot, humid summers and cold to mild winters. Plants that thrive in this zone have a long growing season and a high tolerance for heat and humidity.

There are so many different plants that look beautiful along the Virginia Beach coastline, but if you want hardy plants that are well-adapted to the area’s climate and soil, go native. 

Advantages of native plants:

·       Drought tolerant: Compared to nonnative plants and invasive plants, native plants have adapted to the local environmental conditions so they do not require frequent watering.

·       Pest resistant: Native plants have built natural defenses against common pests and diseases that threaten other nonnative plants. 

·       Low-maintenance: Once established, they don’t require a lot of care. They do not need insecticides, water, or fertilizer.

·       Wildlife habitat: Native plants have beautiful blooms that produce fruit and nectar to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your property.

Virginia Beach is located in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hardiness zone 8a. Plants in this zone can withstand freezing temperatures from 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. 

1. Turk’s cap lily (lilium superbum)

close-up of a vibrant orange turk's cap lily
Joshua Mayer | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

A herbaceous wildflower, turk’s cap lily is a show-stopper in any garden. It is one of the largest and most vibrant lilies. Its eye-catching orange-red flowers with dark spots resemble a tiger, hence the nickname American tiger lily. The way the flower petals fold on the plant resemble a traditional Turkish hat.

Turk’s cap lily grows well in wet, acidic soils, so you will find it growing in places such as swamps, meadows, and at the edge of ponds and rivers. 

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 5-8
  • Sun: Full
  • Water needs: Medium to wet
  • Soil: Loamy, sandy, acidic, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4–8 feet 

2. Common yarrow (achillea millefolium)

Common yarrow has dome-shaped clusters of tiny white flowers that bloom from April to October. The flowers top tall stalks that have fern-like feathery leaves. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and other insects.

Common yarrow is drought tolerant, so it is often found in xeriscapes. In the wild, it is found in fields and meadows across the Piedmont and Chesapeake Bay areas.

  • Plant type: Herbaceous flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Soil: Sandy, clay, loamy; well-draining soil
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1–3 feet

3. Common partridge pea (chamaecrista fasciculata)

bright yellow flower of common partridge pea
Bob Peterson | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Common partridge pea’s yellow flowers, reminiscent of buttercup, have five large, unequal petals. This native wildflower blooms from June to September and is very popular among butterflies and bees. The leaves are sensitive to the touch, and they completely close at night. Common partridge pea reseeds itself, making it a low-maintenance annual.

Where can you find common partridge pea in the wild? Look in places such as woodlands, dunes, and clearings. 

  • Plant type: Wildflower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Soil: Moist with good drainage
  • Duration: Annual
  • Mature height: 1–3 feet

4. Thimbleweed (anemone virginiana)

small white flowers on long stems of thimbleweed groundcover
Annette Meyer | Pixabay

Thimbleweed, a tall anemone plant, is one of Virginia Beach’s most recognizable native ground covers. Locals are fond of its fluffy, creamy white flowers, which resemble thimbles. Thimbleweed has a long blooming season, from spring to early fall. Come late summer, its little flowers emit a fragrance similar to fresh baked cookies in the oven.

Unlike many other ground covers, thimbleweed can tolerate lime soils. It is native to woodlands, fields, meadows, and even prairies. 

  • Plant type: Ground cover
  • Hardiness zones: 2-8
  • Sun: Full sun, part shade
  • Water needs: Dry to medium
  • Soil: Dry or moist, acidic soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1–3 feet

5. Cinnamon fern (osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

Cinnamon fern is a thick, spiky fern that can grow as tall as a human. The plant gets its name from the cinnamon-colored fibers found near its base. Caterpillars love to eat the plant’s leaves, and birds are attracted to its fuzzy “fiddleheads.” This is a plant that can add texture and softness to your landscape.

Cinnamon fern grows well in moist, acidic soils around Virginia Beach. You can find it in swamps, wetlands, woodlands, bogs, beside ponds, streams, and water gardens.

  • Plant type: Fern
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium to wet
  • Soil: Muddy, sandy, clay, acidic soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2–6 feet

6. Southern lady fern (athyrium asplenioides)

cluster of fern fronds from a southern lady fern
Shawn Taylor | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 4.0

If you are looking to create a woodsy feel on your property, adding southern lady fern is a good choice. The lacy, deciduous foliage of the southern lady fern look like tiny Christmas trees. The greenish-yellow stems can provide a color contrast to your landscape. It has a compact look because the fern’s leaves sprout in clumps.

In the right conditions, southern lady fern can double as ground cover. It is great to use in a shade garden or as a border plant. In the wild, you are likely to find it in shaded woods, swamps, and along streams, and riverbanks.

  • Plant type: Fern
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Partial sun, full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, sandy, acidic; well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 2–3 feet

7. Yellow jessamine (gelsemium sempervirens)

small yellow flower from yellow jessamine
Jeffry Davis | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Do you have a trellis, fence, or pergola that could use a little color? You might want to consider yellow jessamine. Yellow jessamine is evergreen, meaning it will brave Virginia Beach’s colder weather and preserve its beautiful green hue year-round. Once the temperature starts to warm in spring, the vine blooms with yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers. The fragrant blooms are highly attractive to pollinators like hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies. The scent is also appealing to people, and the essential oils are often extracted and used in perfumes.

Yellow jessamine also can be planted as a ground cover in your landscape. In the wild, you can find yellow jessamine in the woods and along roadsides. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 7-10
  • Sun: Full
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, sandy, acidic, rich
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 12–36 feet

8. Crossvine (bignonia capreolata)

vibrant crossvine flowers with yellow petals and red centers
Melissa McMasters | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

This evergreen perennial is able to survive the weather extremes in Virginia Beach. The stunning red and yellow flowers bloom from late spring into early summer. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the plant’s bell-shaped blooms. Crossvine’s tendrils will cling to almost any surface, including brick, stone, and wood. Since it can spread anywhere between 30 and 50 feet, crossvine can line your walls and fences with ease.

Crossvine is native to floodplain forests and swamps. Its yellow “lips” are a natural standout, just like orange milkweed, so you should have no problem spotting it. Its green leaves turn purple during the fall season.

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 5-9
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Moist, acidic sand or clay; well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 36–50 feet

9. American beautyberry (callicarpa americana)

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

American beautyberry gets its name from the showy purple fruits it produces in the fall. Its seeds and berries provide food to a variety of birds and small mammals. Its berries even persist well after its leaves have already fallen to winter’s chill. The shrub produces small pink blooms in the summer.

American beautyberry is a very low-maintenance shrub. Its natural home is woodlands – more specifically, forest floors – where shade and critters are abundant. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 6-10
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Moist, rich, and sandy soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 3–6 feet

10. Red chokeberry (aronia arbutifolia)

small red berries from a chokeberry tree
Mr.TinDC | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Red chokeberry is a native deciduous shrub that offers multi-season interest. It will catch your eye with its white-as-snow petals and shiny, red berries. Red chokeberry isn’t just eye candy; rather, its berries are a natural food source for songbirds, and the shrub itself is a plentiful source of nectar for pollinators. In the fall, red chokeberry’s vibrant colors pop with crimson hues and purple highlights. In the winter, the shrub’s bark turns reddish-brown.

It does not require special soil; instead, it just needs good drainage and adequate moisture. It even tolerates clay soil, too. 

The red chokeberry’s berries are tart, but they are often used to make jams and jellies.

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Well-drained with average moisture
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6–10 feet

I want to add native plants to my Virginia Beach home, so now what?

If we’ve managed to sell you to the idea of native plants (and being so low-maintenance and naturally beautiful, how couldn’t we?), you can follow these steps for adding native plants to your yard:

  1. Determine your yard’s conditions: Does your yard have full sun or a lot of shade? Is your soil fairly dry or mostly wet? What’s the status of your soil components, such as nutrients and acidity?
  2. Map it out: Strike a balance between beauty and practicality. Consider combining various plants that complement each other. Also, make sure the plants you have are placed in the right growing conditions.
  3. Get your plants: Decide whether you are getting plants from the nursery, which ones you’ll grow from the ground up with seeds, and which you can transplant.

Having your very own native landscape just takes some planning. You’ll impress your neighbors, attract beautiful pollinators to your yard and save time and money on landscaping.

If you need even more information about these various species, check out the Hampton Roads guide from Plant Virginia Natives.

If you’re short on time, consider hiring a professional landscaping company in the Virginia Beach area. Tell them you want a native garden, and they’ll adjust their design, installation, and maintenance services to meet your needs.

Main Photo Credit: Katja Schulz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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