Are you spending countless hours fertilizing, watering, and maintaining your landscape plants? Once you replace your non-native plants with native plants, you can kiss those gruesome afternoons goodbye (and say hello to a greener planet and greener wallet).
Native plants will change the way you look at landscaping. We’ll cover all the benefits of native plants and tips on finding the best ones for your yard and how to use them.
- What are native plants?
- 12 benefits of native plants
- How to find native plants for your yard
- Tips on how to use native plants
- Native cultivars vs. straight species native plants
- Hire a pro for garden maintenance
What are native plants?
Native plants have evolved and adapted to an area’s environmental conditions, such as local climate, geography, and soil, without human intervention. They occur naturally in a region without human introduction.
Non-native plants do not occur naturally in the area where they currently exist. Non-native plants occur naturally elsewhere (where they are considered native plants) but have been introduced to where they now grow.
Invasive plants cause economic or environmental harm or threaten human health. They often adapt to a new area easily, reproduce quickly, and outcompete other plants. Many invasive species are non-native plants.
12 benefits of native plants
1. Save water
Our planet might be full of water, but the availability of clean, safe drinking water is shrinking. The clean water that spurts out of your hose as you irrigate the lawn, garden, or flower bed is valuable water that is worth saving.
Native plants generally require less water than non-native plants. Since native plants are adapted to the typical amount of rain that an area receives, they usually don’t need irrigation. Native plants also develop deep root systems that allow them to store water for long periods.
2. No fertilizer needed
If fertilizing your non-native plants (including your non-native lawn grass) is like watching your time and money run down the drain, then you’ll love native plants.
Native plants have adapted to their ecosystem’s soil. So whether they’ve adapted to poor soils or fertile soils, they can survive off the soil’s available nutrients without the help of fertilizers.
Not only does this save you time and cash, but it’s also a great benefit for the environment. Fertilizers pollute stormwater runoff, resulting in toxic waterways for fish and other aquatic organisms.
3. No pesticides needed
Pesticides are another pollutant native species don’t require. After years of adaptation, native plants have developed their own natural defense against the area’s insects, diseases, and fungi.
4. Resistance to local weather
Because native plants have adapted to the local climate and weather conditions, they are more likely to survive than non-native plants.
For example, if you live near the ocean and experience frequent hurricanes, salt-tolerant native plants are more likely to survive the high winds and salt spray than non-native plants that have never needed to adapt to such conditions.
5. Rarely invasive
If you’re not careful, an invasive plant can take over your whole garden. English ivy, for instance, might be a beautiful vine that reminds you of quaint cottages, but it can quickly overtake vulnerable plants if you don’t maintain it.
Many non-native plants have invasive qualities, while native plants are rarely invasive. Not only do native plants restore balance in the yard, but they also require far less maintenance than invasive plants.
6. Erosion control
Erosion –– it’s a real pain in the yard. It changes the shape of your yard’s slopes and planting beds and even redirects water flow. You can help prevent erosion by planting native plants in troublesome areas. Thanks to their deep root systems, native plants help stabilize and anchor the soil.
7. Restore natural habitats
By planting native plants in the landscape, you are enhancing the natural habitat of local wildlife. Birds, pollinators, chipmunks –– all sorts of animals rely on native plants for fruit, nuts, nectar, seeds, and shelter.
8. Preserve biodiversity
Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth, big and small. From humans to the tiny organisms we can’t see, biodiversity is the interconnection between all living things.
When you grow native plants, you’re preserving the natural connections shared between the organisms in your yard. The organisms in an ecosystem depend on each other for survival, and your native plants play a vital role by providing food and shelter for insects and wildlife.
9. Reduce water runoff
When rain falls from the sky, the water needs to go somewhere. The soil soaks up some of the water and replenishes the groundwater. But most of the water flows into storm drains as runoff. Runoff is often polluted by fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and all sorts of chemicals we find on our roads, driveways, parking lots, and lawns.
By growing a rain garden made of native plants, you can help minimize the effects of runoff. Rain gardens help capture and filter stormwater runoff before it escapes into the waterways. As the water seeps into the ground, the native plants’ deep roots help filter the pollutants from the water.
10. Low-maintenance alternative to turfgrass
Most lawns grow non-native turf grasses. It’s no wonder we spend so much time fertilizing and maintaining grass –– it needs our help to survive unfamiliar territory.
Lawns also require heavy maintenance equipment, many of which are gas-powered and harmful to the environment.
Transforming a portion of your yard into a native plant sanctuary or meadow garden will help lower your use of toxic chemicals and gas-powered tools. By reducing the use of your gas-powered tools, you can minimize air pollution and help protect the planet.
11. Save you money
If it hasn’t been made clear to you already, native plants help you save money. Their superb survival skills mean you don’t have to throw money around for fertilizer and pesticides. You also save money on maintaining lawn equipment for mowing traditional turfgrass. And your water bill may go down, too.
12. Provide beauty
We couldn’t make a list of native plant benefits without including their beauty. Showcasing a variety of textures, heights, and colors, native plants are a stunning visual in the yard.
Filling your landscape with splashes of color, aroma, and visually exciting plants gives your neighbors and houseguests a positive impression of your home before they even step through the door.
How to find native plants for your yard
Growing native plants sounds simple enough, but knowing where to find native plants can be challenging when you’re a beginning green thumb.
Don’t know where to start? Here are some helpful tips:
- Contact your local native plant society or become a member. You can learn all about the native plants in your area and discover which native plants your community is growing. Benefits of becoming a member often include informative newsletters, field trips, and the opportunity to raise native plant awareness.
- Want to learn more about your local native plant society? Check out these resources:
- United States Department of Agriculture
- North American Native Plant Society
- American Horticultural Society
- Visit your local gardening centers or nurseries and ask questions about which native plants will thrive in your area. It’s helpful to conduct a soil test so that whoever is helping you can determine which plants will grow best in your soil.
- Make a note of where you want to grow the plants and how many hours of sunlight the area receives each day. A garden specialist can help you find a plant that will thrive in the given amount of sunlight.
- Attend classes or lectures at your local botanical garden or cooperative extension to learn how different native plants grow.
- Contact your local cooperative extension and share any questions you may have about native plants.
Tips on how to use native plants
Imagine your landscape as a blank canvas and your native plants as the paint. You can play with colors, textures, and patterns to create a breathtaking scene. Here are some ideas on how to use your new native plants:
When we think of gardens, we often imagine a group of pretty flowers. But rarely do we think about the different kinds of gardens and their roles in a vast ecosystem.
- Rain gardens filter and collect polluted stormwater runoff.
- Butterfly gardens are a sustainable habitat for butterflies and caterpillars.
- Meadow and wildflower gardens provide food and shelter for native wildlife.
- Shade gardens minimize evaporation in the summer, which helps save water.
- Rock gardens save water and require little maintenance.
- Water gardens provide a habitat for aquatic organisms, and the sounds of water help reduce stress.
- Bog gardens are an excellent environment for moisture-loving plants.
- Succulent gardens are visually interesting and help save water.
- Moon gardens offer beautiful scenery at night and invite nighttime pollinators.
Time the blossoms
When choosing native plants for your landscape, be mindful of their blooming times. If you buy native plants that bloom simultaneously, then you’ll only get to enjoy your hard work for a short period out of the year.
But if you time it right and plant flowers with varying blooming seasons, you could enjoy a colorful season throughout spring, summer, and fall. As one plant type finishes blooming, another begins. This gives year-round interest to your yard.
Get creative in winter
Your landscape needn’t be desolate and bare in winter. With the help of native plants, you can bring color (and life) back to your yard.
- Make a splash with berries. The American holly and winterberry holly grow stunning bright red berries that beautiful songbirds can’t ignore.
- Enjoy native evergreens that stay green year-round.
- Deck your landscape with fascinating bark. The red twig dogwood and American sycamore make a striking impression against the winter backdrop.
Replace your turfgrass
Are you tired of mowing your lawn and spending money on equipment? Replacing a portion of your turfgrass with native plants helps cut down on maintenance costs. It also helps protect the planet because it lowers the usage of any gas-powered tools and chemicals you may be using on your grass.
Hire a professional eye
If designing your native plant garden feels overwhelming, or you don’t know where to begin, turn to a professional landscape designer for help. A landscape designer will listen to your needs, assess the available space, and develop a design based on your vision.
Many landscape designers have degrees in landscape architecture, giving them a wide range of knowledge regarding textures, colors, and environmental sustainability.
Native cultivars vs. straight species native plants
When shopping for native plants, you may see some plants advertised as native cultivars. But what exactly is a native cultivar, and how is it different from a straight species native plant?
A straight species native plant is what we’ve been referring to throughout this article –– a plant that occurs naturally in a specific environment without human introduction or intervention.
Native cultivars (also known as nativars) are plants that have been developed through human intervention and don’t occur naturally in the environment. So how does it work? Plant breeders will produce ‘refined’ selections of a plant species by only breeding plants of that species with a specific characteristic.
This breeding process eventually produces a native cultivar that demonstrates the said characteristic — such as flower color, bloom time, or shape — that’s different from the original straight species native plant.
If that made your head hurt, here is an easy example. The purple coneflower is a straight species native plant that’s purple and cone-shaped. When shopping for a purple coneflower, it will be labeled with its scientific name Echinacea purpurea.
The purple coneflower has been bred to produce several cultivars, many of which have sizes and shapes different from the pure native plant. If you find a purple coneflower labeled anything other than Echinacea purpurea –– such as Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ or Echinacea purpurea ‘Bright Star’ –– then it’s a cultivar.
Are native cultivars right for your yard?
We’ll keep this simple: When in doubt about whether to choose a native cultivar or straight species native plant, choose the straight species native plant. Here’s why:
- Planting a native cultivar with a bloom period, color, fragrance, or flower shape different from the pure native plant may affect how birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other animals interact with that plant. Growing a pure native plant is more likely to attract these creatures than a native cultivar they may be unfamiliar with.
- When cultivars breed with nearby native plants, it may harm the pure native plant’s ability to survive. If these plants cross-breed, this will change the ecosystem’s gene pool and potentially lead to the extinction of local native plants.
- Many cultivars are sterile, which means fewer seeds are available for hungry critters.
Hire a pro for garden maintenance
After installing your native plants, your new garden will need a bit of upkeep. Native plants are low-maintenance –– they don’t require excessive fertilizer or pesticides. But the occasional overgrown branches will need trimming, and the grass creeping into the garden will need cutting.
If you need help maintaining your garden’s beauty, hire a local lawn care professional. From mulching the planting bed to edging the lawn, a professional can take the load off your shoulders.
Main Photo Credit: KathyB-Photos | Pixabay