Native Plants for the Garden

Increased environmental awareness has moved people to incorporate native plants into their home gardens. Carefully selected natives are well-suited to their home climates, giving them advantages over introduced plants in areas like drought and pest tolerance. Natives also usually require less intensive care, watering, fertilizing and winter protection than non-natives and exotics---though all gardens require some level of maintenance to flourish. Many large nurseries are beginning to carry a range of local native plants. Many specialty plant nurseries offer mail-order sales of native plants, as well.

Best for Sandy Soils

For southern coastal states and other areas with poor soils, easy-to-find and well-suited natives include the brilliant orange butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Many plants in the tickseed, or Coreopsis, family thrive in poor soils and feature vibrant yellow and orange flowers that persist throughout the growing season. Many commercial nurseries also carry Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species), wild petunias (Ruellia), goldenrod (Solidago) and several suitable ornamental grasses like blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium). One of the Atlantic's only native cacti, the prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) also does well in sandy soils.

Best for Clay Soils

Despite the bad reputation of clay soils for making gardeners' lives difficult, there are quite a few beautiful plants that are well-suited for the heavy, poor-draining soils of the mid-Atlantic, deep South and Midwestern states. Commercially available native flowering plants that grow well in clay include the showy columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), the pale purple, fall-blooming New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), gayfeather (Liatris) and the low-growing, succulent sedums. Suitable shrubs include the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), the redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and the sweet-smelling bayberry (Myrica cerifera).

Best for Hot Climates

Long, hot days and mild winters can wreak havoc on traditional garden plants. For desert gardeners, consider xeriscape natives; that is, plants which do not require much in the way of watering but still attract bees and pollinators to the yard. Wildflowers like coneflower, gayfeather and sedums do well in hot climates as well as in clay soils. In addition to cacti like the organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) and the senita cactus (Pachycereus schottii), desert bloomers include the Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), whose red flowers attract hummingbirds, and the tall, spiny banana yucca (Yucca baccata). Native aloes also perform well.

Attracting Bees, Birds and Butterflies

There are many North American native plants that are must-haves for gardeners interested in attracting pollinators, butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to the yard. Bee balm (Monarda) is a bee magnet; its bright red color also attracts hummingbirds. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias) is an invaluable addition for butterflies, especially tiger swallowtails, whose larvae feed on the plant before pupating. Native sages (Salvia) are also insect favorites, though the plant can spread aggressively. The tall purple spikes of the verbena plant are another favorite of bees.

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