Introduction to Native Plant Gardening: Why Choose Native Plants in Your Gardens

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Native Plants are Adapted to Local Conditions

Native plants are plant species that have evolved over thousands of years to live in a certain area and climate zone. They are adapted to the average temperature, rainfall, and soil conditions of the geographical region. Once established, native plants are easier to maintain and require less watering, soil amendments, and other special treatment.

Native plants are more resistant to pests and diseases than exotic plants. Over many years, they have evolved to resist the insects and plant diseases that are indigenous to the area, and therefore don’t require constant application of pesticides, fungicides, and other toxic chemicals to control pests.

Native Plants are Low-Maintenance and Save Resources

Many homeowners and businesses are finding it is preferable to replace their green lawns with a natural landscape of native plants. Maintaining a green, weed-free traditional lawn requires thousands of gallons of water, as well as many pounds of fertilizer and pesticide each year, not to mention the constant mowing and edging necessary to keep it looking neat. Replacing all or part of a green lawn with native trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowers saves resources, time, and money.

Native Plants Preserve Biodiversity and Provide Habitat for Wildlife

Landscaping with native plants preserves biodiversity by restoring native plant communities to the area, as well as by providing habitat for local wildlife. Birds, animals, butterflies, and pollinators have co-evolved along with native plants in the region. Native plants produce flowers, berries, pollen, and nectar that local wildlife need for food, and provide shelter and a place for wildlife to reproduce.

Native Plants Evoke A Sense of Place

A natural landscape with a variety of native plant species creates a connection to the ecology of the region that isn’t possible when gardening with exotic plants. Rather than a generic lawn and ornamental border that could be seen anywhere, planting native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers evokes a sense of place that defines the character of the bioregion, whether it is desert, prairie, or coast.

Exotic Plants can Become Invasive

Introducing non-native or exotic plants can create problems because some actually grow too well and become invasive. A classic example is the kudzu vine, native to Asia, which was introduced to the southeastern United States in the 1880s for erosion control, and now covers seven million acres. Many other exotic species that were introduced as ornamental plants have become invasive, crowding out native species and sometimes posing a toxicity risk to animals and livestock.

Getting Started with Native Plants

Native plants may not be available at every local nursery, and it may require some effort to find exactly the right native plants for your landscaping needs. Regional native plant societies are an excellent resource. For more information about native plants, visit the the Plant Conservation Alliance or Plant Native websites.