10 Tips for Native Plant Landscaping

Landscape Design With Native Plants

April 19, 2018
Native Landscaping

This small garden features a variety of Salvia.


Native plants is a surefire route to a stable, low-maintenance, carefree garden. Here are our 10 native landscaping tips.  Go native!

Why Choose Native Plants?

Besides the “feel good by doing good” benefit of supporting nature, native landscaping saves money and time.

  • Spend less time on maintenance activities like mowing, raking, watering, and trimming.  Native plants even suppress weeds!
  • Spend less money with reduced irrigation needs, less chemicals, and less need to buy new plants. Native plants have a much higher rate of survival since they’re married to the soil and and local climatic conditions, plus they self-seed!
  • Native landscaping is safer for you, your family, your neighbors, and your pets since less chemicals means there’s cleaner runoff and safer water supplies.
  • Pollinators need native plants!  More pollinators means more flowers and fruits are produced, which is great news for the vegetable garden. Without native plants, we won’t have the bees, butterflies, birds, dragonflies, beneficial bugs, and animal and plant life.

Image: Butterflies on Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Credit: Cornell University.

How to Follow Nature’s Lead

As you plan your landscape or garden, follow nature’s lead!  See what percentage of your yard you can transform into native planting. Even a small percentage can make a difference! Here are 10 tips to get started:

  1. Before you begin to play with garden design, take a long look at the hand that nature has dealt you. Let nature hardscape your garden. Are the landforms soft or jagged? Bright or subtle? Is the topography flat or varied? Take notes, then take the hint.

  2. Remove all invasive shrubs, trees, and plants or they’ll simply take over any area. See more about stopping invasive plants from spreading.

  3. Consider how to reduce the size of your lawn, which is a high-maintenance, low-value environment. Try a wider plant border. In the fall, you can smother areas with newspaper and mulch, and then plant natives in the spring. Or, you could try planting “native lawns” with grasses such as Red fescue (Festuca Rubra), Seashore bentgrass (Agrostis pallens), St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides) and Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis). It’s important to match your local area and soil. See this page for more details about native lawns.

  4. Match the soil and the plantings. If your soil is acidic and your chosen plants need alkaline soil, you’re in for a struggle. See our pH preferences chart.

  5. Take note of natives that grow in your yard or areas, especially plants that grow in clumps or groups as this will provide an important example of what will succeed and look wonderful. Grow what already grows, or a variant of it. Not sure how to ID the plant? There are many field guides as well as online apps such as Leafsnap and Garden Answers.  Another great resource is the Ladybird Wildflower Johnson Center.

  6. Never remove native plants from the wild; it’s a sort of shoplifting. “Ecologically correct” nurseries have spring up in every region of the country. To find native plants that work in your area and native plant nurseries, see Cornell University’s Local Resource Tool. Buy propagated wild plants from a reputable nursery, not a big box store.

  7. Look to re-create natural elements on a smaller scale. If you’re considering walls or walkways, use natural stone in natural patterns (unless there is no stone, for then it will look out of place).

  8. Blur the garden’s edges. Unlike conventional gardeners, who may end plantings with an edge or a nice, tidy line, consider blurring the edges by gradually reducing the plant’s density toward the perimeter of the garden. Perhaps float a few islands of plants toward or into the wilder landscape, if possible, to lead the eye outward.

  9. Don’t fertilize when you plant. Most native communities thrive in areas of low soil fertility. Giving native plants a big meal of nitrogen when you set them out usually is of tremendous benefit to surrounding weeds. Take it slow and easy at first.

  10. Weed and mulch frequently, and wait until the plants are established before you decide to give them supplements. Root growth should come first, so don’t be disturbed if plants seem to be making a slow start.


When man demands of nature a change so great and so unnatural, she rebels and refuses to submit.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1895

See our page on growing wildflowers with a list of widely-adaptable native plants.


The Old Farmer's Almanac Book of Garden Wisdom


Reader Comments

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There's such a technique to

There's such a technique to keeping natural looking natural without heading to the unruly stage, its all about balance. Native plants are always such a good idea, as they're meant for the climate already, won't be invasive to other natural plants as they know how to "get along with their plant neighbours", and since we're not trying to make them do something they were not meant to do, they'll be happy, and so will the homeowner.

Building a new home near the

Building a new home near the shore of an old, established private lake in the Arkansas River valley has really given me much to think about as I won't use anything that harms the water or wildlife that frequent the area.

I live in central Maine.

I live in central Maine. Bearberry is a native shrub which grows low to the ground, flowers in the spring, produces berries which birds like, and makes a terrific ground cover.

I planted some on the slope in front of my house as part of a larger effort to eliminate lawn, particularly in hard-to-mow areas. The slope is right by the road and gets lots of snow, ice, gravel, and salt dumped onto it by the snowplows, but a landscaper said it wouldn't be a problem.

She was right. The bearberry isn't just surviving: it's thriving and spreading!

I live in NE Florida and I

I live in NE Florida and I use native plants for a LOT of my landscaping. Florida has such wonderful native plants. The bonus here is that they are tolerant of our climate and care is to a minimum.

I am in the process of building a privacy hedge at the front of our property using "Ink Berry" Wild Lantana. They naturally grow large and have a well groom shape and bloom proficiently all summer and fall long. My favorite of this bush is the berries as they are so eye catching!

I also have Giallardia, or Blanket Flowers which are native. Year after year we are blessed with abundant blooms.

Wild morning glories bless us in the late summer into fall. These are varied in color as I've found the pH, type of soil vary the colors.

I love using the natives to bring me colors in every season.

Now, don't get me wrong, I do have other plants in my landscaping, but it's the natives that I am most proud of.

The trick to using natives is to be aware of their natural growing requirements. If it grows in part shade, plant it that way. If it likes wet boggy soil or dry soil plant it that way for happy plants that will reward you by growing to their full potential.

I've been growing natives for over 12 years and love them!! The way I look at is is Nature provides so much for us that it's a shame not to take advantage of them.