Why Native Plants Matter

Benefits of Native Plants

February 18, 2018
Palamedes Swallowtail on a Purple Coneflower

This buttefly didn’t seem to mind being photographed. It stayed for several pictures.

Barbara C Richardson

Native plants are a natural choice for a low-maintenance, sustainable landscape. Learn more about why native plants matter—and see a list of common native plants in North America.

It may seem insignificant but as gardeners we can make good choices about our planet and our environment when it comes to our own backyards.

  • Large manicured, weed-free lawns require lots of resources like water, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and gasoline for mowing.
  • Many exotic plants need generous amounts of water, fertilizer, and fungicides to keep them looking tip top. Native habitats are often destroyed to make these artificial oases and some of the exotic plants we have introduced have become extremely invasive, choking out native plants and altering ecosystems.
  • The loss of even one species has a ripple effect on many interdependent insects, birds, mammals, and plants. Sustainable landscaping works with nature to preserve that delicate balance.
  • Native plants are adapted to local growing conditions and don’t require as much pampering as non-natives.

What Is a Native Plant?

So what makes a plant native? The New England Wildflower Society defines a native plant as “one that was growing in North America before European settlement. “This includes trees, shrubs, vines, flowering perennials, ferns, and grasses. You probably have a lot of them growing in your yard already.

Once established, native plants are able to withstand the hot dry summers and frigid winter temperatures that they have evolved in. Natives enhance local biodiversity by offering food and habitat for wildlife. Best of all, they give your garden a sense of place. These plants belong in your area and make your landscape a distinctly regional one.  When we rely heavily on exotic plants from nationwide chain stores, everyone’s garden starts to look the same.

Common Native Plants

Examples of common native perennials include:

  • asters,
  • lupine,
  • joe pye weed,
  • columbine,
  • cardinal flower, and
  • bee balm

Native shrubs are also important to your landscape. They provide food and cover for wildlife while offering aesthetic qualities like fragrant flowers, fruit, and colorful fall foliage. Examples of native shrubs include:

  • viburnums,
  • dogwoods,
  • elderberry,
  • winterberry,
  • blueberry,
  • clethra, and
  • serviceberry

Using a combination of groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and trees in your landscape mimics natural plant communities, enhancing wildlife habitat. This layered ecosystem can help filter pollutants from the air, provide shade, prevent soil erosion, screen out noise or neighboring eyesores, block winter winds, absorb rainwater and slow runoff.

Landscaping with native plants is sometimes called naturescaping.

Native doesn’t have to mean wild! You can have a garden that is just as refined and glamorous as anyone else’s. Even though it is made up of native plants, the design is up to you. The secret to success with natives is to pick the right plants to fit your growing conditions rather than trying to remake the conditions to fit the plants. Look around and see what grows wild where you live. These plants will reflect the local growing conditions.

Prairie plants such as liatris and coneflowers are perfect for a hot dry sunny location while tiarella is a fabulous groundcover for a shady spot under tall trees. Blue flag iris doesn’t mind wet feet while yellow woodland foxglove lights up dry shade.

Using native plants is an environmentally-friendly way to make your garden green in more ways than one!


About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.