9 Best Native Plants for Your Washington, D.C., Yard

Total
4
Shares
Large cluster of small white flowers from a blackhaw viburnum shrub

If you want to trim the pork from your hefty Washington, D.C., lawn care bill, cast your vote for native plants. 

Native plant species have lived in the area for thousands of years and need little care from you (or your landscaping company) to stay bright and beautiful. 

Advantages of Washington, D.C., native plants:

  • Require little to no supplemental watering
  • Provide wildlife habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators
  • Rarely require pesticides, which is a win for you and the insects
  • Landscape design that uses native plants makes a positive impact on the local ecosystem

Washington, D.C., is in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 7a-7b. This means that native species should withstand lows down to 0 degrees for the best chance of winter survival.

Trees

1. Flowering dogwood (cornus florida)

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

You’re probably familiar with this native tree. The flowering dogwood is the state tree of Virginia. This tree puts out pink or white flowers in spring and red berries in fall. In the shade, the flowering dogwood is highly susceptible to fungal disease, but with good circulation and the right amount of sun, this tree is much less prone to these diseases.

The flowering dogwood is extremely valuable for local wildlife. It attracts the spring azure butterfly and many native bees. Several animals, including birds, squirrels, deer, and even black bears feast on its fall fruits. 

In a final display of exuberance before it loses its leaves, this deciduous tree puts forth stunning red or purple-red foliage in the fall. If you’re planning for seasonal color in your landscape, this tree is worth considering.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Sun: Partial sun
  • Water needs: Moist soil
  • Soil: Loam, well-drained, acidic
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 20-50 ft.

2. Eastern redbud (cercis canadensis)

soft pink flowers on an eastern redbud tree branch
Patrick Standish | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A showy, smaller tree, the eastern redbud puts out pink or light purple flowers from April to May, which attract butterflies and provide stunning spring color. In the fall, the heart-shaped foliage turns a yellow-gold color. 

From late spring through December, the eastern redbud puts out seed pods. These pods resemble snow peas and turn from green to brown. The seeds are treats for birds and some mammals.  

Eastern redbud is a great replacement for invasive plants such as the bradford pear tree or mimosa.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Sun: Full sun, partial sun, full shade
  • Water needs: Dry or moist soil
  • Soil: Loam or sand
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 20-35 ft.

Shrubs

3. Arrowwood viburnum (viburnum dentatum)

dark blue berries on a tree branch of arrowwood viburnum
Homer Edward Price | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Arrowwood viburnum is a multitasker in the home lawn. Starting in May and June, arrowwood viburnum puts out dainty white flowers, providing a beautiful display of color and bloom. After it flowers, this shrub develops blue to black drupes (fruits) that provide food for small animals and birds.

In addition to its white flowers and useful drupes, arrowwood viburnum is a good hedge plant but does lose its leaves in the winter. If you want a little more fall color, arrowwood viburnum is not a showy plant, but its leaves will turn a muted yellow, orange, or red in the fall. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Sun: Full sun, partial sun
  • Water needs: Dry, moist, or wet soil
  • Soil: Loam or sand
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-10 ft.

4. Blackhaw viburnum (viburnum prunifolium)

bunches of white flowers from a blackhaw viburnum shrub
Kayja Schulz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Flowering in April and May, the blackhaw viburnum is a large shrub that puts out small, fragrant white flowers in spring and blue or black drupes from July to November. The fruit is edible for humans and animals and can even be used in preserves.

Blackhaw viburnum is free from most pests and diseases, but deer sometimes eat the small branches or leaves.

  • Plant type: Shrub/small tree
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Dry or moist soil
  • Soil: Clay or loam, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 12-15 ft.

5. Winterberry holly (ilex verticillata)

bright red berries on in the middle of the green leaves of a winterberry holly
Rodger Evans | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

If you want show-stopping color from mid-fall to early spring, consider the winterberry holly. This native shrub loses its leaves in the fall but puts out large quantities of red berries that small animals and nearly 50 bird types rely on through the winter.

Winterberry holly is dioecious, which means the male and female plants are separate. Buy male and female bushes for fruit production. Winterberry holly works well in a hedge, rain garden, or to help with erosion control.

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade
  • Water needs: Moist or wet soil
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, acidic (doesn’t like neutral or basic soils)
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-12 ft.

Flowering plants

6. Swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata)

light pink blossoms from swamp milkweed
Kerry Wixted | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you have a pollinator garden, you probably know about milkweed. Monarch butterflies use milkweed exclusively for laying their eggs and feeding their hungry caterpillars. Other pollinators, including hummingbirds and native bees, relish this plant as well. Planting a large area with swamp milkweed or planting multiple varieties of milkweed may increase the number of pollinators that visit your garden.

Adult monarchs often prefer other plants for their own sustenance. Include later-blooming natives such as goldenrod and asters to attract butterflies and other pollinators throughout the summer season.

  • Plant type: Flowering plant
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Moist or wet soil
  • Soil: Clay or loam
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4-6 ft.

7. Wild or eastern red columbine (aquilegia canadensis)

single red flower with a yellow center from a red columbine
Peter Stevens | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Another pollinator favorite, wild columbine attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and moths with its upside-down, red and yellow bell-shaped flowers. This native perennial will last 3-5 years but self-seeds, so new plants are always growing. This is a good flower to plant as a border.

  • Plant type: Flowering plant
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Dry or moist soil
  • Soil: Loam, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: ½ ft.-3 ft.

Ground cover

8. Partridge berry (mitchella repens)

small red berry from partridge berry groundcover
Calin Darabus | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you need more evergreen plants in your lawn, partridge berry is an evergreen ground cover that grows well in heavy shade and dry soil. In addition to providing deep green color year-round, it produces white, fragrant flowers from May through July and bright red fruits from July through December.

The partridge berry was named the 2012 Wildflower of the Year by the Virginia Native Plant Society.

  • Plant type: Ground cover
  • Sun: Partial to full shade
  • Water needs: Moist soil
  • Soil: Acidic with lots of humus
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4 inches; spreads 6-12 inches

Vines

9. Passionflower (passiflora incarnata)

purple and white passionflower, with a pale yellow center
baka_san | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Also known as maypop or purple passionflower, passionflower is a vine that produces stunning purple flowers that invite butterflies and bees to your garden. It doesn’t have any significant pest or disease pressure, and you can remove the suckers regularly to control its spread. 

Passionflower is deciduous, so it loses its leaves in winter. And yes, the passionflower produces fruit as well. It is safe for human consumption and ripens from the middle of summer to the fall.

  • Plant type: Perennial and ground cover
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Moist soil
  • Soil: Tolerates sand, clay, or loam, but must be well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-8 ft. tall and spreads 3-6 ft. wide

Helpful Native Plant Resources

If you’re new to native plants, contact one of our Washington, D.C. lawn care professionals to start incorporating these low-maintenance trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and vines into your landscaping. 

Main Photo Credit: Fritz Flohr Reynolds | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Become a Lawn Love Insider

Get notified of the latest posts - right in your inbox.

You May Also Like