Gardening with native plants is getting more and more press, but what’s all the hype about? Let’s start by answering the question: “What is a ‘native’ plant?”

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

A tiger swallowtail visits the colorful blooms of New York ironweed.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Avett

Asclepias Curassavica 'RedButterfly'

Native butterfly weed species are usually covered in feeding butterflies or their caterpillars.

Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

In North America, a native plant is generally considered to be a plant that was already growing on this continent prior to European settlement. They are plants that grew here naturally, without human introduction from other places.

Hiking is a great way to spot native plants in their natural habitat, but there are three reasons why native plants are good prospects for the home garden, too.

Natives are Low-maintenance

I love to garden, but I don’t have a lot of time after work to spend tending to my back yard. When I do go out there, I’d rather be pulling a few weeds, propping up plants and enjoying the flowers as opposed to begging my plants to grow in my heavy clay soil.

Lucky for us, plants native to a specific area already like to grow in that specific area. Having “grown up” there, they’ve adapted to the local conditions over thousands of years, leaving them strong and hardy enough to survive winter chill, summer heat, drought conditions and poor soil. And once established, native plants have minimal irrigation and fertilization needs.

Not only are natives well-familiar with the physical conditions of an area, they’re used to the pests and diseases of an area as well. As a result, they’ve adapted natural defenses to resist most native pests and diseases, decreasing the need for harmful pesticides.

If it’s hard to find the time for fertilizing, watering or “medicating” – go native!

Natives are Inviting to Wildlife

Native plants attract wildlife by providing food and shelter for native animals. In a sense, they grew up together, adapting to each other to provide themselves with the best advantage. The animals get the food and shelter they need, while the plants get their flowers pollinated, their seed spread or their pests eaten right off their leaves!

Nature works in symphony as different plant parts serve to attract various types of wildlife. For example, flowers attract pollinators such as native butterflies, bees and hummingbirds; leaves can attract (or deter) deer, rabbits and caterpillars; and fruit and seed attract birds and small mammals. Native plants also provide shelter and a place for animals to raise their young.

If a garden full of wildlife action is what you’d love – go native!

Natives Offer Tremendous Garden Diversity

Think you can’t have variety in your garden when using native plants? Think again! There’s a great deal of diversity among these plants. Natives can add great interest to your garden with a variety of leaf shapes and colors, varying heights, a rainbow of flower colors, a range of bloom times, abundant fruit and an array of structures (trees, shrubs and vines) – the list goes on.

If a garden of wonderful diversity and interest sounds good to you – go native!