Last month we shared with you the benefits of gardening with native plants. This month we’re happy to introduce a basic “how to” for getting started. Choosing to landscape local will take a bit of time. The rewards will be many as local critters find a comfortable spot to live, the water bill goes down, and your yard flourishes.
Don’t feel like you have to overhaul your entire yard either. You don’t have to go tear out your beautiful Japanese Maple or majestic Redwood because they’re not local. Even making the switch with a couple of plants or one small section will have an impact.
The DIY Guide to Landscaping with Native Plants
Pick Your Plot
What you choose to use will depend on the area of the yard you’re working in. Select the area first of all. If you’ll be converting the entire yard, work in zones. Consider th sunshine, soil quality, water drainage, and traffic through the area. If it’s a space kids or the dog will trample through often- make sure to keep that in mind.
Also, think about a way to make it unique. Perhaps you can include a bee sanctuary in the back corner of the yard no one uses. It’ll keep the family safe from any stings and provide a needed home for your bees. Or a butterfly habitat outside the family’s favorite reading window or in front of your bedroom. Then you can enjoy it indoors and outdoors.
Consider Color, Maintenance, Critters, and Food
Before researching, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I want specific colors in my plot?
- How many colors?
- What shades of green do I like?
- What might add or, or detract from, the curb appeal of my home?
- Are there colors I’m always commenting on when I see plants and flowers in nature and other’s homes?
- How much maintenance do I want to do?
- Do I want my yard to take care of itself or can I spend extra time in the garden?
- What critters do I want to attract to the yard?
- Should I build an entire section to attract bees?
- Do I want to bring in butterflies, birds, bees, or a specific species?
- Am I ok with deer, rabbits, and squirrels coming around?
- Where is the best shade and water availability for critters?
- Can I bring in water or food somehow for them?
- How will I protect my garden if I’m bringing in more critters to my yard?
- Should I include local and wild edibles?
- Is there a specific food from the Farmer’s Market I’m always finding myself buying that I could include?
- What are some unique native edible options in my area?
- Do I want to include fresh herbs or greens?
- Do I want any medicinal herbs or remedies?
- During your research phase, think about any medicinal and healing herbs you use. Are any of them local to your area?
There are thousands of native plants to North America. Take time to research what is local to the country, the region, the state, and hyper-local to your community. We’ve provided resources below to help you with this. With so many options available, it could be easy to get sucked in. As you research, make sure to narrow it down to what works well in the specific growing conditions and desires outlined above.
Gardening With Kids
If you have children, make sure to take them into consideration. Perhaps include something they can climb, hang a hammock from, or make into a fort. Think about including local berries, a local veggie, or a fruit tree. That way they can grab a snack while they’re outdoors and keep on playing!
Invasive & Fast Growth
Unfortunately, some plants are invasive or rapid growers. This is especially true of weeds- which are often valued as herbal remedies! If you have a favorite weed such as purslane or nettle, consider using a container instead.
If you’re on a budget, be careful of what you pick. Most local options should be inexpensive but rare or endangered plants might cost a pretty penny. Try checking out Craiglist (or post a wanted ad yourself), locally owned garden centers, or the local farmer’s market. Asking around to local farmers can be a great way to landscape for free or cheap.
This is NOT Xeriscaping
The xeriscaping trend has slowed down a bit. It’s important to note using native plants is not xeriscaping. In many climates, this particular gardening approach has proven to be harmful. For most regions, this is not a beneficial way to landscape. It has killed countless lawns, sent away local critters, and caused a lot of other problems. If you’re in a dry climate and want to xeriscape, make sure to do research with one of the suggested resources below first.
Once you’ve decided what you want to include and where- it’s time to get started. Take it slow and steady. Remember there will be more maintenance in the first few weeks as everything gets accustomed to its new space. Don’t forget plenty of water for you and your new plants. Make sure to follow guidelines for depth, soil drainage, sun, and spacing. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your beautiful yard.
Visit your local garden center to see if they have any courses available. Local libraries, community centers, and community garden projects also offer these courses on occasion.
For organizations, check out Wild Ones. They have chapters in over a dozen states and are growing. Wild Ones exists to educate the public on gardening with natives and native plant preservation.
The American Horticultural Society has a native plant society in every state and Canadian province.
Last, The National Wildlife Feration has an entire “Garden for Wildlife” focus. This includes a whole section on Native Plants with informational articles, regional examples, and a plant finder tool.