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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! 

  1. Decide the areas where you are trying to welcome local birds and pollinators and determine the light and moisture conditions in those areas. 
  2. Think about garden as a community of plants and animals (that 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.     
  3. Start with trees and shrubs, then work your way down to the herbaceous layer (wildflowers, grasses, groundcovers)
  4. 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! 
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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?

  • First, 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. 

  • Dig the hole twice as wide as the pot and loosen the soil around the edges. 

  • Gently pull the plant out of it's pot. Look for roots that are circling and pull them out so they point outwards away from the stem.

  • 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.

  • 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!