What gardeners wouldn’t welcome plants so suitably “at home” in their gardens that they need little care and ongoing maintenance? Enter native plants – the ones that grow naturally in certain places and are acclimated to native soils, regional climates and natural rainfall levels. Some of these plants can be workhorses in your garden, providing a big payoff for minimal upkeep.
Native vs. Non-Native
To their credit, plant breeders have given us a vast array of outstanding plants that brighten our gardens each year. Their work causes us to look forward with anticipation to the “latest and greatest” plant introductions each year. But sometimes, growing non-native plants comes at the cost of spending an inordinately large amount of time just to maintain them, because they may not be adapted to your particular region’s environmental conditions.
Win-Win-Win at a Glance
Choosing native plants for your yard offers a threefold benefit:
- Native plants are already adapted to the climate, soil and natural rainfall where you live.
- Many native plants typically require less water, pesticides and fertilizers.
- Native plants provide food sources for native birds, butterflies and insects.
Taking Care of Backyard Birds and Butterflies
Native plants serve a purpose beyond simply beautifying your yard and gardens. They provide food sources for native birds and other wildlife, which includes sustaining all the life stages of butterflies and moths. A garden filled with butterflies can only happen if you provide the particular plants that cater to all the life stages of these creatures, including nectar sources (to feed the adult butterflies and moths), larval food sources (to feed the caterpillars) and host plants where butterflies and moths lay their eggs. All plants are not to the liking of all butterfly and moth species; in fact, butterflies and moths are so particular that they have plant preferences! Native birds also have specific preferences for their plant food sources, such as berries and nuts. And did you know that some birds feed only on native insects, which are sometimes found only on native plants?
Stellar Native Plants
Dogwood (Cornus florida). When Flowering Dogwood Trees begin blooming in early spring, they poke holes of white into otherwise drab landscapes and naturally wooded areas. The red berries they produce in late summer are food sources for birds and other wildlife.
Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Even before flowering dogwood trees begin to put on a show in springtime, native Redbud Trees burst into bloom. Purplish-rose flowers are produced along the branches, blossoming before the leaves appear.
Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). A fast-growing native tree, the Tulip Tree is best suited for larger landscapes where it may grow to 90 feet. Eastern tiger swallowtails choose this tree as one of their host plants, and bees collect its nectar to make honey. You won’t need to fuss over this low-maintenance tree.
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Any plant with “American” in its name is a sure tip-off that it’s a native species. The American Sycamore Tree is a tree to plant if you want “big,” because it can reach a height of 100 feet. In areas where other trees can’t handle moist or wet soil, the American sycamore flourishes.
American Red Maple (Acer rubrum). “Red” is the descriptive word for the American Red Maple Tree. Not only do its leaves turn a vibrant red in autumn, but its twigs, stems, buds and spring flowers are also red!
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). While other hydrangea species may be a bit fussier, the native Oakleaf Hydrangea is an easy-care alternative. Its common name hints at the shape of its leaves, which are lobed, resembling oak tree leaves. White, cone-shaped flowers turn shades of pink as they age.
Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei). Here’s an easy-to-grow native shrub that bears healthy berries. Native to the southeastern United States, established Rabbiteye Blueberries are tolerant of drought and resistant to pests and diseases.
Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) Plant breeders have developed numerous cultivars of the North American native purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Two of these introductions are Magnus Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ – purplish-pink flowers) and White Swan Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ – white flowers). These cultivars have all the same low-maintenance traits of the species plants, which include resistance to drought and deer as well as adaptability to various soils, including dry, rocky and clay soils.
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata). Here’s a native plant that really delivers. Blazing Star adds a vertical accent to your garden with stems up to 4 feet tall, which bear a profusion of violet flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies. It’s tolerant of a host of conditions, including different types of climates and soils.
Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). This overlooked and underused native ornamental grass really brings the “wow factor” when it starts blooming in summer, painting your landscape with cotton-candy pink flowers. Pink Muhly Grass can handle different types of soil, heat and drought. A little bonus is when the flowers fade and form seeds to provide your backyard birds with a favorite food source!