Why landscape with native plants?

Benefits of Native Landscaping

Starflower is native to Wisconsin.
Starflower is native to Wisconsin.
Clive Nichols/Getty Images

Native plants have deep historical roots in the landscapes where they grow. Plants may be indigenous to individual ecosystems, states or regions, depending on the species and mode of seed or pollen transmission [source: Audubon]. Wild lilacs of California, starflowers of Wisconsin, Georgia's Piedmont azalea and other species have thrived in the same places for thousands of years. Growing in groups called communities, native plants provide habitats for regional insects and animals [source: EPA].

­When considering the benefits of native landscaping, you can think of native plants like tailor-made suits. Since they're specially acclimated to the regional climate and potential predators, native plants don't require much in the way of alterations. That translates to minimal labor for you. Once your native plants are landscaped and flourishing, they require less tender love and care than non-native ones. First, you'll have fewer seasonal plantings since native plants can better withstand temperature changes. You won't have to water them as often because their root systems have evolved to correspond to the land's type of soil and amount of rainfall. In the Midwest, for example, native prairie grasses have deeper, broader root systems to compensate for dry spells. Fertilizers and pestici­des probably won't be necessary either, since native plants evolved to thrive and resist predators.

In addition to being easier on your back, native plants are easier on your wallet in the long run. Water, fertilizer and pesticides, in particular, are significant gardening expenses that native landscaping can drastically reduce. Exotic plants may also cost more than native ones at nurseries.

You're also doing the environment a favor when you landscape with native plants. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 5 percent of air pollution in the United States comes from gas-burning lawn and garden equipment. Since native landscape maintenance doesn't involve routine mowing, it virtually eliminates those emissions. The diminished use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other poisons promotes cleaner water quality. Along with filtering storm water more effectively, native plants prevent soil erosion naturally and serve as more effective carbon sinks [source: EPA]. Above all, native landscaping enhances biodiversity and fosters healthy ecosystems by providing nectar, seeds and pollen for neighboring flora and fauna.

If you're interested in native landscaping but aren't sure what fits that criteria in your area, helpful resources abound. Don't start by digging up native plants and replanting them in your yard. That will only disrupt the original plant community. Instead, consult native plant guides on your state's Department of Natural Resources Web site or in online and print field guides. Then, record your soil, water and sunlight conditions and visit a local nursery. Nurseries and some online stores will have native plants and seeds you can grow safely.

Like any gardening project, native landscaping entails preplanning and design to cultivate a harmonious plant community. No matter your location, native plants offer varied and colorful options for creating a garden that eases not only your load, but also the environment's.

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More Great Links


  • "A Source Book on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials." EPA. (Dec. 1, 2008)http://www.epa.gov/greenacres/toolkit/chap2.html#WHAT%20ARE
  • Bright, Christopher. "Invasive Species: Pathogens of Globalization." Foreign Policy. Fall 1999.
  • "How to Use Native Plants for Landscaping and Restoration in Minnesota." Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2004. (Dec. 1, 2008)http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/assistance/backyard/gardens/native_plant/nativelandscaping.pdf
  • "Kudzu." USDA Forest Service. Oct. 12, 2004. (Dec. 1, 2008)http://na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive_plants/weeds/kudzu.pdf
  • "Kudzu." National Agricultural Library. USDA. (Dec. 1, 2008)http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/kudzu.shtml
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  • "So what exactly is a native plant?" Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. (Dec. 1, 2008)http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/wildplant/nativeplant.aspx