Gardening with Native Plants – Growing Tips and 30 Perennial Native Plant Suggestions

Closeup of purple coneflower, pink achillea, and purple agastache in a garden.
My Garden Life
June 24, 2024
Table of Contents

By Judy Stout

As more homeowners are looking for ways to reduce their lawn, and restore their landscapes to a more natural state, there is a growing interest in gardening with native plants. To some the concept of gardening with native plants might evoke images of weedy roadsides or blighted lots. With the right plant selections, you can create a space that is both inspired and eco-friendly!

Native Plants are in Decline

There are many factors that can contribute to the decline of native plants. Any loss of native habitat also diminishes all types of wildlife that depend on those plants for survival. Here are some common reasons for the decline in native plants:

  • Native habitats may be lost because of expansion of cities or farmland.
  • Polluted waterways can lead to the loss of plant species along the shoreline or in the water.
  • Invasive plant species can overwhelm existing stands of native plants.
  • Natural disasters such as wildfire, landslides and flooding can destroy natural habitats.

By gardening with native plants you can help restore food chains at the most basic level and support a wide range of more complex creatures from insects to birds and mammals.

Colorful purple gayfeather and golden yellow black-eyed Susan are vibrant choices for gardening with native plants.

What is a Native Plant?

Native plant purists may insist that only the original genus and species of a plant indigenous to a region are the true natives. That’s a reasonable point of view but there are a few circumstances that can blur the lines regarding when a plant is a “true” native.

1. Plants can naturally shift to new growing regions

The growing range of a plant can vary over time as climate conditions change. Growing ranges can shift if temperatures remain higher or lower than normal over time. Increases or decreases in annual rainfall can also result in shifts in growing regions. As plants transition to different regions, those creatures that rely on them will also transition to the new areas.

2. Hybrid versions of native plants

With the incredible amount of plant hybridization that has occurred over time there is debate over whether hybrid versions of native plants can still be considered “native”. Researchers hybridize plants seeking improvements in plant characteristics like flowering, color variations, disease resistance, improved harvests, or plant size. At the same time, hybridization also occurs naturally in nature. Closely related species may cross and result in a new plant.  

3. Imported plants may become naturalized over time

And then there’s the question of longevity. Plants that may have been transported between different continents over hundreds, or even thousands of years, become well-established in new regions over time. At what point do these introductions merit the designation of “native”?

4. Non-native plant species aren’t necessarily invasive species

A plant introduced to a new ecosystem may not be native to that area, but it doesn’t automatically mean that it will become invasive. There are many plant and animal species that have been intentionally introduced to North America because they provided a source of food or other commercial benefits. The terms “non-native” and “invasive” are terms that cannot be used interchangeably.  

It’s important to remember that nearly all plants provide some benefit to the environment, so there’s no need to limit yourself if you want to mix things up. Just do some research first to ensure you’re not planting anything that might be problematic in your garden or your larger region. Using an assortment of native species with the latest hybrids offers a little something for everyone by creating a landscape you will enjoy as well as wildlife.

Gardening with native plants can mean a mix of natives and hybrids to create an interesting and colorful garden border.

What is a “Keystone” Plant Species?

Some plants play a larger role in defining an ecosystem than others. These are known as keystone species, or keystone hosts. Keystone plants are those that have a larger impact on an ecosystem than others. An oak tree is a good example of a keystone plant. A single oak tree supports a wide range of life forms from moss and lichens to insects that are supported by the flowers and foliage, to the birds and mammals that depend on the tree for shelter, nesting, and food.

When gardening with native plants, you may want to consider adding a few keystone plants to offer an array of benefits to your local, native wildlife species.   

A Texas fox squirrel perched on a branch eating oak flowers. Oak trees are keystone species that support an array of wildlife.

Non-native Plants Play an Important Role Too

Some plants are so familiar in our landscapes that you might be surprised to learn that they are not native to North America. Many plant species were introduced over time as populations migrated from other continents and brought their favorite edible and ornamental plants along.

Some examples of very popular flowering and fruiting plants that are not native to North America include: apples, peaches, citrus trees such as oranges and grapefruits, European and Asian plums, pears, hosta, daylilies, butterfly bush, Japanese honeysuckle, burning bush, barberry, and Chinese wisteria.

A single tree can create a microcosm of activity that layers the involvement of dozens of bird, mammal, and insect species. If you’re interested in planting fruit trees that are native to North America you might want to consider black cherry (Prunis serotina), cranberries, pawpaw, blueberries, choke cherry, American persimmon, tupelo, or mayhaw.

30 Popular North American Native Perennial Plants for Home Landscapes

With the right plant selection, you can create a colorful landscape that combines ornamental value and offers great benefits to wildlife. Focus on perennial plants, trees and shrubs to create the most low-maintenance native plant garden. Here are 30 colorful perennial flowering plants that are native to wide ranges of North America. There are many more, so you’ll want to research additional options for your specific region. Native plant sales sponsored by local conservation groups are a great way to obtain plant species that may be difficult to purchase elsewhere or propagate on your own. An internet search for “native plants for sale” can help you locate local resources.

12 Spring Blooming Native Flowers

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Spring beauty is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring. This is a North American native that can create a large carpet of beauty when well-established in its preferred locations such as a moist woodland setting or meadow. Blooming so early in the spring, before many other plants have yet emerged, makes spring beauty a very popular attraction for bees, especially the spring beauty bee (Andrena erigeniae). Plants go dormant for the season in late spring.
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Virginia bluebell is a North American native plant that can be found growing in moist woodland settings, along shady roadways, and in flood plains. The plants produce dangling clusters of bell-shaped flowers that emerge pink and then gradually turn to blue as the flowers mature, then finally transition to purple as the flowers fade. Virginia bluebell blooms over a long period in the spring but the plants go dormant for the season by mid-summer.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot is a charming woodland plant, native to deciduous forests of North America. One of the most interesting things about the bloodroot plant is its red sap that is the source of its common name “bloodroot”. The blood-red sap is found throughout the plant but is most concentrated in the roots. It can be used as a dye for baskets or fabrics and has a long history of medicinal uses by indigenous people and early colonists.
Willow Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

Willow Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)

Willow blue star is an excellent, low maintenance choice for adding cool color to the garden. Light blue flowers are held on sturdy stems. Good autumn foliage color. Beautiful in woodland settings, borders and containers. Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings.
Mountain Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Mountain Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Mountain bluet is a low-maintenance, mat-forming selection. Fast-spreading plants cover themselves with light lavender-blue flowers in the spring. Native to North America. Perfect for pathway edgings, border fronts, and rock gardens. Performs well as a groundcover in smaller, contained areas of the landscape.
Coral Bells, Coral Flower (Heuchera sanguinea)

Coral Bells, Coral Flower (Heuchera sanguinea)

Coral bells are one of the best perennials for long-lasting interest. Dainty pinkish-red flowers rise above an attractive mound of neat foliage. The flowers are loved by hummingbirds! Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Looks great in woodland settings. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Excellent cut flowers.
Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Chocolate flower is a native wildflower of the Southwest with flowers that produce the enticing fragrance of chocolate. Blooms open in the evening and close in the heat of the afternoon sun. The flowers attract a great assortment of pollinators to the garden. Plant near a porch or patio to enjoy the fragrant flowers in the morning and evening. Excellent for use in difficult spots where nothing else can survive. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Wonderful for mixed borders and rock gardens.
Prairie Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata)

Prairie Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata)

Prairie wine cups is a reliable solution for hot, windy locations where nothing else can grow. This low-growing plant is incredibly tidy, carefree and versatile. Tolerates average to poor soil conditions, has good drought tolerance, few pests, and the cheerful magenta-pink flowers are produced over a long season from summer into autumn. A perfect plant for edging a garden, walk, or patio. Great for erosion control on steep banks and rough slopes. Makes a good small scale groundcover.
Woodland Phlox, Wild Blue William (Phlox divaricata)

Woodland Phlox, Wild Blue William (Phlox divaricata)

Woodland Phlox take “the middle ground” between taller upright Phlox species and the low, creeping ones. A multitude of dainty blooms, atop short stems, provide a cheery spring showing, then spreading mounds of foliage fill in beautifully between later blooming perennials. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts. Tumbles beautifully over rocks, slopes, and banks. Looks great spilling over container edges.
Foamflower, Allegheny Foamflower, Heartleaf Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Foamflower, Allegheny Foamflower, Heartleaf Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Foamflower’s lush mounds of attractive foliage provide a beautiful backdrop to slender stems of foamy white to pink blooms. These North American woodland natives pair well with companions with broad or ferny leaf. Beautiful in shady borders and woodland gardens. Especially nice in waterside gardens. Best planted in groups.
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Native to moist, boggy soils, marsh marigolds bring a burst of spring color with their glossy, bright yellow blooms. Sturdy, kidney-shaped leaves continue to contribute beauty long after the flowers are finished. Especially nice in waterside gardens. Perfect for use in swampy areas and areas around ponds, lakes and streams. Makes a dependable mixed border plant.
Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)

Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)

Fantastical, multi-layered blooms of differing petal types nod above delicate foliage. A delightful combination of beauty and whimsy sure to enliven the shade garden. Aquilegia are perfect companions to broad-leaved shade plants such as hosta or brunnera. Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Especially nice in woodland gardens. Terrific plant for hummingbird gardens. Best planted in groups.

12 Summer Blooming Native Flowers

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

The cardinal flower is an eye-catching wildflower, native to a large region of North America. The clump-forming plants produce tall stems of lance-shaped leaves topped by a spike of brilliant red flowers. The blooms are a valuable source of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. Cardinal flower’s tolerance to moist conditions make it a good choice for a rain garden or marshy meadow.
Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)

This plant gets the common name “Fireweed” from its tendency to quickly colonize burnt areas following forest fires. Fireweed thrives in cool climates and mountain meadows. It is the official flower of the Canadian Yukon territory. This is great selection for gardeners with short growing seasons. Great naturalized along the border of moist woodlands. Beautiful in mixed garden borders.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)

Black-eyed Susan is a hardy North American native plant capable of thriving in just about any sunny location. The cheerful yellow flowers are excellent for cut arrangements. Bees and butterflies flock to the blooms and birds enjoy the seed heads after the flowers fade. Old blooms may also be removed to encourage more flowers. A great choice for naturalized areas.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia andersoniana)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia andersoniana)

Spiderwort’s colorful, dainty blooms appear above mounds of grassy green foliage in midsummer. Very effective along streams, ponds, or in woodland gardens. Dependable color and texture looks great all season. Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Especially nice in waterside gardens. Nice for larger patio containers. Best planted in groups.
Bergamot, Bee Balm (Monarda hybrid)

Bergamot, Bee Balm (Monarda hybrid)

This wonderful, all-around performer emits a delightful scent. Bee balm produces whorled clusters of tubular florets and deliciously fragrant foliage. Flowers are loved by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Outstanding for planting near walkways, decks and patios where scent can be enjoyed. Ideal choice for beds, borders, and cutting gardens.
False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

False indigo is a long-lived, shrub-like perennial plant. It produces long spikes of indigo-blue flowers above deep green foliage. The blooms are followed by attractive black seed pods. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Excellent for borders, rock gardens, or for planting along fences and walls.
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Goldenrod is a fast spreading, upright perennial perfect for providing a casual, quick-filling patch of color. Clusters of many tiny flowers form golden cones of bloom above fine-leaved stems. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Excellent for use in difficult spots where nothing else can survive. Provides long lasting cut flowers.
Gayfeather, Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

Gayfeather, Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

This unique looking perennial brings color and vertical interest to the garden with stalks of feathery blooms that open from the top down. Gayfeather is perfect for adding a bit of whimsy and fun to any setting. An excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Great for mixed borders, naturalized areas, and for strong vertical accent. Impressive in large groups. Provides long lasting cut flowers.
Common Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)

Common Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)

Daisy-like blooms in sunset hues, their petals edged in fringe, brighten the garden well into autumn. Blanket flower is native to much of North America, the aristata species is tough choice that thrives even in poor, sandy soils. Ideal choice for beds, borders, and cutting gardens.
Penstemon, Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Penstemon, Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

A vigorous Penstemon with tubular, bell-like blooms on a multitude of sturdy stems. Very tolerant of heat and humidity. Varieties of this easy-care species often have reddish to purple stems and foliage. The flowers are loved by hummingbirds! Excellent for borders, rock gardens, or mass plantings. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Terrific plant for hummingbird gardens.
Common Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Common Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflower is a prairie native that makes a tough, self-reliant garden plant. The flowers attracts butterflies to the garden and if you don’t deadhead the blooms, birds will visit to feed on the seeds. Cut flowers are long-lasting in fresh bouquets. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow brings soft texture and long lasting color to the perennial garden with a minimal care. The Achillea millefolium species includes many of the deep red, pink, and orange hued varieties. Regardless of color they all attract butterflies and admiring eyes. An ideal choice for beds, borders, and cutting gardens.

6 Drought Tolerant Summer Blooming Natives

Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja integra)

Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja integra)

Wholeleaf paintbrush is a perennial plant native to regions between the deserts and mountains of the southwestern United States. It has an exceptionally long bloom season from late spring often right into fall. The challenge to growing in a home landscape is the “hemiparasitic” nature of wholeleaf paintbrush. It requires a host plant from which it can draw some of its nutrition. You’ll need to do some research to identify appropriate host plants that also meet your landscape conditions. Hummingbirds love the flowers!
Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida species)

Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida species)

This North American native wildflower can tolerate heat, drought, poor soil, winds and floods. It begins blooming in summer and continues well into Autumn. The yellow daisy-like flowers are a good nectar source for butterflies and birds enjoy the seeds. Makes a great focal point, background in a border, or planted along foundations and fences. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Excellent cut flowers for fresh arrangements.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

A versatile member of the mint family, Anise Hyssop produces licorice scented foliage and showy spikes of lavender blooms that are both edible and beautiful. This perennial plant is a magnet for bees and butterflies!Foliage can be used to flavor teas and the edible flowers are an attractive addition to salads. Dried flowers are perfect for potpourri. Plant near walkways, decks and patios where scent can be enjoyed.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly weed’s brilliant orange flowers attract butterflies and other beneficial pollinators to the garden. Butterfly weed, also known as orange milkweed, is a native perennial plant that can be found growing in prairies, fields, and along roadways over a wide range of North America. The only Asclepias species to have clear sap and alternate leaves. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings or flower borders.
Yucca, Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa)

Yucca, Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa)

The filamentosa species of Yucca is native to the eastern coast of the United States, but shares the desert-plant appearance and drought tolerance of its relatives from more arid regions. Spiky clumps of upright foliage provide multi-season interest with tall stalks of mid-to-late summer bloom clusters adding to the display. Excellent for use in difficult spots where nothing else can survive.
Evening Primrose, Pinkladies (Oenothera speciosa)

Evening Primrose, Pinkladies (Oenothera speciosa)

Cup-like white blooms age to a subtle pink, bringing a cooling softness to the hot sunny gardens where Oenothera thrive. This vigorous, undemanding spreader will provide color, groundcover and hummingbird enticing scent over a long season. Perfectly sized for rock gardens and border fronts.

Reasons to Grow Native Plants

1. Native Plants Improve Biodiversity

Native plants play a crucial role in promoting biodiversity in both urban and natural environments. They provide habitat for various local wildlife, including birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. By planting native species, you can help restore the balance of ecosystems and preserve a wider range of local plant and animal species.

2. Native Plants are Pollinator-Friendly

Native plants have evolved alongside native pollinators over centuries, making them an excellent choice for creating pollinator-friendly habitats. Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and other insects rely on these plants for food sources such as nectar and pollen. You can attract and support these important pollinators by incorporating native flowering plants into your landscape design.

3. Native Plants Help with Water Conservation

Gardening with native plants can often help conserve water. Native plants are well-adapted to their specific regions’ climate conditions and typically require less water compared to non-native species once they become established. They often have extensive root systems that help them access water deeper in the soil during dry periods or droughts and they also can help reducing runoff that contributes to soil erosion.

4. Low Maintenance Landscaping with Natives

Another advantage of using native plants is that they often require less maintenance compared to non-native alternatives. Once established, they naturally thrive without excessive fertilization or pesticide use due to their compatibility with the local environment.

A butterfly resting on a native beebalm flower - Monarda didyma.

Tips for Successfully Growing and Maintaining Native Plants

1. Choose the Right Native Plants

Many native plants can be started from seed or purchased as potted seedlings.

Your first step is to research which native plants are suitable for your region’s climate, soil type, and sunlight conditions. Consider factors such as plant size, bloom time, and wildlife value. If your goal is to encourage pollinators, many native plants play an important role in the life cycles of pollinator populations such as bees and butterflies. You’ll want to research which plants are needed to support specific species either by supplying foliage during the caterpillar stage or providing a steady source of pollen or nectar-rich flowers for adults. 

2. Soil Preparation for Native Plants

Native plants generally prefer well-drained soil with good organic matter content. Evaluate your soil and make amendments if necessary to create optimal conditions for plant growth.

3. Planting a Native Plant

Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of the plant you’re planting. Gently remove the plant from its container or loosen any bound roots before placing it in the hole at the same depth it was growing previously. Backfill with soil, firm it gently around the roots, and water thoroughly.

4. Water Requirements for Native Plants

Native plants usually have lower water requirements once established compared to non-native species. However, regular watering is crucial during their establishment period (usually first year) until their root systems develop fully.

5. Mulching Native Plants

Apply a layer of organic mulch around each plant after planting to help retain moisture in the soil while suppressing weeds that may compete with your native plants for resources.

6. Pest Management and Native Plants

Native plants typically have built-in resistance against common pests if they are growing in their natural habitat conditions; however, occasional pest issues may still arise due to changes in local ecosystems or other factors like nearby non-native species or invasive insects or diseases. When gardening with native plants, monitor your plants regularly for signs of pest damage or disease and take appropriate measures such as manual removal or using targeted treatments if necessary.

8. Routine Maintenance of Native Plants

Native plants generally require less maintenance than non-native plants once established. However, regular weeding, pruning, and monitoring for any signs of stress or disease are still important to ensure their long-term health and vitality. Remember that each region may have specific native plant species and unique environmental conditions, so it’s always beneficial to consult local resources like native plant societies or university extension services for more tailored advice and information relevant to your area.

9. Native Plants Winter Maintenance

Annual native plants can be removed and discarded. Perennials can be cut down to the base of the plant in late fall unless there are still seed heads present that you’d like to leave for the winter birds to feed on. In this case you would just cut the plant down in early spring before new growth appears.

You could apply an inch or two of mulch around the base of any plants that may be more sensitive to the cold. This will help insulate the roots and contribute organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. 

Colorful orange sneezeweed and goldenrod are bright choices for gardening with native plants.

Benefits of Native Plants

Gardening with native plants is a way to help strike a balance between an ornamental landscape and reintroducing plants that help support native insect and animal species. Other benefits include:

  • Creating a more ecologically balanced world where nature thrives alongside human activities while reducing harm done to the environment.
  • Gardening with native plants will help enhance the overall experience of your landscape and your connection to your environment. You’ll enjoy a wider variety of butterflies and other beneficial insects that will in turn entice a wider range of insect-eating bird species.
  • By incorporating native plantings, you may help aid in water conservation and discover lower maintenance options for your landscaping projects.
  • Changing the way you manage your little piece of the planet can contribute to larger global efforts to improve our world’s environment.

Potential Disadvantages of Native Plants

Every garden setting may not be ideal for gardening with native plants or may not suit your ideal of an enjoyable garden. Here are a few potential disadvantages of gardening with natives:

  • Perennial native plants usually have a limited bloom season.
  • Can look messy if not planted with standard garden design principals in mind.
  • Some species may spread aggressively or reseed themselves too easily making themselves weeds.
  • A plant may be native to the region where you live but a backyard garden isn’t a natural setting. The soil condition, pH, watering, and fertilization may not be suitable for every native plant to thrive.
Gardening with native plants can include a pollinator garden with purple coneflowers, yellow black-eyed Susan and orange butterfly weed.

Create a Balance When Gardening with Native Plants

As mentioned previously, whether you choose native or “exotic” plants for your garden, a variety of plants all contribute to the creation of a healthy ecosystem that offers many more benefits than a patch of lawn. Other ways you can contribute to restoring a healthy environment in would be to avoid or reduce your use of herbicides and insecticides, replace areas of lawn with flowering and fruiting plants, volunteer you time or funds to projects that support natural areas in your community, and consider using organic fertilizers. To learn more about different organic fertilizers and determine which might work best in your landscape, see our Guide to Organic Fertilizers.

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