Gardening with Native Plants
Join the Movement!
The devastating effects of climate change and habitat loss are unfolding before our eyes. The insect apocalypse is here; dwindling populations of iconic species like monarch butterflies and lightning bugs are pulling on our heartstrings. Its easy to feel hopeless.
But we believe in the power of plants, of a few giggling girls in a greenhouse, and of 100 or 1,000 or 1,000,000 habitat gardens, standing resiliently with parks and magnificent remaining wild places, to rebuild the landscape of the future.
What's the big deal about native plants?
Native plants and insects are foundational to ecosystems - and they co-evolved together. This means, over 90% of insects are "specialists", and can only feed and lay eggs on a limited number of local, native plants with which they share an evolutionary history. Within this web, birds, amphibians, fish and even many mammals directly rely on thriving insect populations to survive. From an ecological perspective, many non-native ornamental plants are virtually garden art - lifeless statues taking up space and contributing little more than beauty.
How do native plants support birds?
By welcoming a greater diversity of insects into our yards and community, we are also providing important food sources for birds. Most baby birds need a full diet of insects. One of the most important food sources for parenting birds to bring back to the nest are protein-packed caterpillars, which hatch from the eggs laid by butterflies and moths. Adult songbirds depend on not just insects, but also on native berries and seeds that provide a well-balanced diet. Hummingbirds depend on native plants that have evolved to provide them with nectar. Learn more about the importance of native plants in helping bird populations in this Smithsonian Study.
What are other benefits of gardening with natives?
Native plants have evolved in our region, which means they have adapted to living in long, mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Finding the right native plants that match with your soil and sunlight conditions means that you can work towards a self-sustaining native landscape that does not need to be fertilized and watered to flourish.
Do you have advice for designing a landscape with native plants?
You bet we do!
- Decide the areas where you are trying to welcome local birds and pollinators and determine the light and moisture conditions in those areas.
- Think about your garden as a community of plants and animals (including you!) that live together versus individual stand-alone plants "controlled" by a gardener. In this space, you are a steward; a weaver, blending elements in hopes of regenerating ecological processes that were disrupted.
- Start with trees and shrubs, then work your way down to the herbaceous layer (wildflowers, grasses, groundcovers)
- Use the sunlight and moisture filters on this website to find plants appropriate for all your yard’s nooks and crannies. Right plant, right place!
- Plant herbaceous plants and groundcovers in groups - like three or five of the same species together. This helps ensure there are enough blooms of that plant to support pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
- Repeat what works, and know when to abandon what doesn’t. Have you noticed a particular plant thriving in an area? Plant more of it! Or, have you tried the same plant, in the same location several times and it always croaks? It might be time to call it quits.
- Be patient. Keep in mind this gardening axiom; the first years they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap.
Any advice for putting my new plants in the ground?
Plan around the weather. Plant your plants when there will be a string of many cool, wet days. Avoid planting when temps will be unseasonably warm or cold. Rainy/damp days in the 40s-60s are perfect. Your plants will be perfectly fine outside in their pots as you wait for the right time to plant.
Water the plant thoroughly in its pot and let it sit overnight or at least a few hours so that its roots have a chance to soak up the water.
Gently pull the plant partially out of the pot to gage the size of the root mass. Dig a hole that will be significantly wider than the roots. General rule; the hole should be twice as wide as the original pot.
For Trees and Shrubs: Pull the plant completely out of the pot. Loosen the roots and make sure they are pointing down and out. Mix some of the soil from the pot with the existing soil and create a little mound at the bottom of the hole. Set the new plant on the mound and arrange the roots heading outward and downward, away from the stem.
For Perennial/Herbaceous Plants: These plants can be quite fragile in early spring. Pull the plant out of the pot very carefully, making sure you do not disturb the sensitive early roots. Do not aggressively loosen or knock off soil. Keep the contents of the pot as intact as possible as you transfer it to the prepared hole.
For Bulbs (i.e. tiger lily, white fawn lily, trillium, etc.): Bulbs will be the most fragile in early spring. Either plant with extreme care (as noted above) or, alternatively, keep it in its pot and wait until the plant dies back to plant. By early summer, the plant will die back completely and the bulb will dry up in the ground, making in very easy to transplant. If you go this route, leave the pot in a sheltered place and water very sparingly, so that you don't rot out the bulb.
Gently fill in the hole with remaining dirt and water deeply all around. Add a top layer of mulch, such as wood chips, compost and/or fallen leaves.
- Have questions? Don’t forget to check out the detailed cultivation information in each of our plant profiles. We leave this information up all year long for your reference.