Your Guide To Gardening With Native Plants

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The loss of North American native plants is an issue that needs to be addressed. Urban development, agribusiness, chemical application, and other human activities have devastating effects on these sensitive ecosystems. These ecosystems support wildlife habitats and play an essential role in connecting us with our natural surroundings.

The use of a limited palette in landscape plantings has produced an artificial, homogenized environment that is susceptible to pests and diseases. Non-native plants often require inputs like water, fertilizer, and/or herbicides for their maintenance. This leads to many proposed replacements like non-native grasses with adverse side effects on local ecosystems, such as out-competing natives for scarce resources.

The constant change can be difficult, but it's important not just because it is aesthetically pleasing, but there may come a day where humans forget how beneficial native plants were

Help protect native plants by using them in landscaping projects. Native plant communities are essential to our environment, so choosing which ones you want around can make all the difference for preserving what's left of ours! 

Whether at home with an intimate backyard garden or a more extensive scale reclamation project, people everywhere could learn more about this excellent treasure chest waiting just out their front doorsteps.

Native landscapes provide so much more than just water-conserving features. They help maintain a healthy ecosystem by providing habitats for wildlife. Additionally, these natural spaces also encourage the presence of native insects and microorganisms, which benefit plants in many ways, including promoting their growth without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides! Your landscape will be an economic, ecological miracle that reconnects you to Mother Nature herself.

Establishing native plants in your garden often requires as much work to develop non-native species. Once these hardy pioneer species are mature, you will save time and money. 


Incorporating native plants into your existing landscape or starting entirely from scratch. To start, you'll want to assess your property's environmental conditions (shady or sunny? adequate/poor drainage?). Inventory the types of vegetation already growing there and establish your goals. These goals should be based on how often you use certain areas in comparison with others. The results are well worth your time. Analyzing matching species for different sites makes everything look better aesthetically. 

You can improve your landscaping by planting native plants. The best way is to imitate associations found in specific plant communities. For example: if you live near a prairie or wetland with plenty of nutrients, see what grows well where? Most bloom sequences occur just after their maximum size, so study up on these too - unless we're talking about those pesky weeds. Native plants will be the foundation of your garden. Take some time to learn about them and their location on our continent before you start planting. This can help avoid difficult growing situations like those experienced with invasive species (which is why it's essential!)

Soil Preparation 

A few minor adjustments to your yard will turn it into a haven for wildflowers.

It's essential to know how your weed population is doing before you can control it. Disturbing the soil will often create more problems than solutions because weeds have seeds, roots, and rhizomes ready to sprout after being disturbed. You should mow the herbaceous vegetation down to 6-8 inches and rake up thatch. Doing so will open spaces between vegetation for seeds to make soil contact. This way, you're guaranteed quality blooms all season long!

You can kill weeds by smothering them with clear plastic for a few months. It's known as solarization, and it often creates high enough temperatures to put the bank of weed seeds out forever! Only use clear plastic for this process as black plastic will not have the same results and likely cause more issues. 

A weed-free garden starts with good planning. If you till first, be sure not to go any deeper than one or two inches. Doing so can cause germination of weed seeds. You could also apply two applications for herbicide (non-residual, post-emergent) which removes existing vegetation. Once sprayed, it's critical to wait a few weeks to allow for unwanted seeds to germinate and be resprayed with herbicide. This will eliminate most of the weedy competition and allow a much higher success rate for your native planting. 

Handle all herbicides with caution and read labels carefully. If you are near surface water, choose an appropriate one. You can plant your wildflower seeds as soon as the land is clear of competing vegetation, so they have room to grow!

If your planting site has a lot of persistent weeds, it will likely take years to get them all out. However, if the area is large or neglected for an extended period, then complete eradication may not be likely in the short term. You may want to combine different practices to eliminate the weeds before planting. Getting rid of the weeds is far easier, not to mention less expensive, before planting natives than trying to stop them after you've planted. So take the time to get it right in the beginning. You'll be better off for it. 

Selecting the right plants for your site can also influence their success. The right plants, in the right place, will need little to no inputs or amendments to the site. But if your site has had soil removed or has been previously tilled or otherwise, some modifications can be welcome. Big box stores and garden centers usually sell soils that are too rich for your native plants. They can be too 'hot,' having more manure and organic matter than your plants can stand. Remember, these soils are created for introduced species and non-native plants. Those kinds of plants need all the help they can get. But native wildflowers, like you're planting here, need more natural and neutral soil conditions. Try to get a soil mixed for you to mimic as closely as possible your natural soil. Otherwise, just select the plainest soil possible. Remember, amendments can always be added if necessary, but native plants have evolved in our soils over thousands of years. They tend not to need any help other than a clear path to the sun! 

Wildflower gardening is one of the most rewarding hobbies you can get into, but it's also challenging! It helps to have patience and know what your plants need. When possible, prepare your beds two or three months before planting so that soil has time to settle correctly without compacting too much. Wildflowers typically prefer well-drained soils, which may require some supplementation depending upon specific requirements.


It's not only about making sure you have the right plants in your landscape - it is equally important that they are well established. The transition period for native landscaping requires patience, water availability, and sunlight. Once installed, though? Your garden will be ready to go without much maintenance at all.

It's not always easy to tell which plants need pruning and when. Many wildflowers will produce more flowers if you clip their seed-heads, while some may lose them entirely for that growing season. The look will depend on what look you want to accomplish with these beautiful yet resilient species! Research each plant beforehand - there are many perennial variants out there, so getting familiarized can make things easier down the line.

You can disperse or collect and disperse your seeds to continue filling out your native plant garden. Examine the seed heads to determine if they are dry and the seeds are ripe. Allow them time. Be patient. This process takes weeks or sometimes months naturally. Once dry, you can harvest the seed heads by clipping them off yourself. Or you can mow the area to disperse the seeds around the garden. If you collect them, a helpful tip is to keep them in a cool, dry place and label them with species and date collected. It helps you become more informed about your native plants. 

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