How to Garden With Native Plants

Overview

Using native plants is a relatively new approach to gardening that can save water and look good with less maintenance. Locally native plants are exquisitely adapted to local temperatures, rainfall, soils and even pests, so they will weather climate changes better than non-natives. Native gardening also generally requires less irrigation, soil amendments and fertilizer. Incorporating native plants in your garden can be an educational adventure, create a habitat for native animals and result in a landscape that reflects your locale.

Step 1

Consider your garden's soil, exposures and microclimates. What used to grow there before it was developed? Be aware that certain plants are uniquely adapted to specific microclimates, like a moist oasis or dry sunny hillside. Think about places in your garden where native plants might work well.

Step 2

Explore native plant communities near your home. Take a hike with a plant identification guide or visit a local botanical garden that features natives. Observe the conditions where the plants are growing, like the amount of shade and soil type. Carry a notebook along so you can record the names of plants you like, or make quick sketches. Take inspiration from the wild plants you see, but also look for the same plants in cultivation. Often, plants grown in nurseries are wild cultivars specifically selected for their desirable traits.

Step 3

Plant natives together in their naturally occurring associations. Nature doesn't make mistakes. Plants found growing together in the wild often mutually benefit each other by providing shade, wind protection or even extra nitrogen from root nodes. Note plants that grow closely together in your area and replicate this association in your garden.

Step 4

Group plants with similar cultural requirements together. For example, plant sun-loving species together in front of a south facing wall, and locate plants native to stream sides in a moist, sheltered place.

Step 5

Natural plant communities are usually made up of many different species that bloom and fruit at different times. Include a diverse palette of many different plants in your garden for year-round interest and enhanced habitat for native animals.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never take plants from the wild. You can start your own plants from wild collected seeds, but removing adult native plants from their habitat diminishes the ecosystem, and most wild plants do not survive transplanting. In addition, some native species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. For these reasons, it is best to buy native plants from reputable nurseries.

Things You'll Need

  • Plant identification guide
  • Notebook

References

  • Washington State University
  • Natural by Design; Judith Phillips; 1995
Keywords: gardening with native plants, gardening with indigenous plants, gardening with local native plants

About this Author

Malia Marin is a landscape designer and freelance writer, specializing in sustainable design, native landscapes and environmental education. She holds a Masters in landscape architecture, and her professional experience includes designing parks, trails and residential landscapes. Marin has written numerous articles, over the past ten years, about landscape design for local newspapers.