Keeping it Local: Why Native Plants Should be Your First Garden Center Choice

With vacation time here and warm weekends offering opportunities to be outside and get things done, perhaps you are one of the many people who will show up at a local home improvement store or gardening center this weekend. While there are plenty of beautiful plants to choose from, this is a great time to remember that native plants are the best way to adorn your outdoor space while maintaining the biodiversity and habitat of your natural neighbors. There are a lot of resources to help you make attractive, wise decisions.

What are Native Plants?

A “native plant” is a plant that occurs naturally in a region and has evolved with the local plant-life, wildlife and insects in that region. Native plants provide food for local pollinators, insects and birds, sustaining more types of life in an area than exotic, ornamental plants brought in from other areas. Native plants are especially important because urban sprawl has plowed over local forest and wild grasslands, replacing them with more manicured, less diverse landscapes for animals. Such limited resources put a significant strain on the ecosystems that depend on a diverse plant population, resulting in lower levels of vital pollinators and song birds.

Some people have shunned native plants because they believe them to be plain, or less beautiful than more exotic offerings, but this is not true. Native plants offer just as many spectacular flowers, provide seasonal changes, and offer up abundant fruit as their foreign competitors.

Why You Should Choose Native Plants This Year

There are many reasons to choose native plants for your outdoor landscaping. The most practical reason is because native plants are often more draught resistant than exotic plants, making them a better choice for a sustainable lifestyle, especially if you’re thinking about water conservation this summer. Native plants also require less chemical fertilizers and other interventions that cost time and money. If you choose to plant a new tree that is native to your region, you help combat climate change by choosing native plants that actually store and diminish carbon dioxide.

Native plants provide much-needed habitat to wildlife in your area. Butterflies and moths need native plants to lay eggs, eat as caterpillars, go through metamorphosis and eventually flutter around as beautiful pollinators. Humming birds, bees and yes, even bats (which eat mosquitos!) also benefit from native plants. By adding native plants to your home landscape, you play a role in restoring much-needed land for our vulnerable natural neighbors.

I’m Convinced. Where Do I Find Native Plants?

Your local nurseries can help you identify the native plants they sell. If you are a New Englander, the Landscape, Nursery & Urban Forestry Program at UMASS Extension serves as a phenomenal resource for local home gardeners. This factsheet on landscaping to conserve water is a great place to start. The New England Wild Flower Society also has helpful information on how to avoid invasive plant species and find lovely native alternatives instead. Finding a locally-owned specialty nursery (rather than a national big-box chain) will also assure that you find plants that are native to your area. You help your local environment and economy when you choose to buy that way!

Here is a starter list of native plants for Massachussetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut:

  • Red Maple
  • American Hornbeam
  • Hackberry
  • Sour Gum
  • American Hop Hornbeam
  • Fire Cherry
  • White Oak
  • Sweet Pepperbush
  • Winterberry Holly
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Swamp Azalea
  • Highbush blueberry
  • American Highbush Cranberry
  • Climbing Bittersweet
  • Virgin’s Bower
  • Trumpet Honeysuckle
  • Virginia Creeper
  • Pearly Everlasting
  • Plantain Pussy-toes
  • Wild Red Columbine
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit
  • Swamp Milkweed
  • White Wood Aster
  • Heath Aster
  • Smooth Aster
  • New England Aster
  • Marsh Marigold
  • Harebell
  • Turtlehead
  • Hollow Joe-Pye-Weed
  • Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed
  • Boneset
  • Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed
  • Wild Geranium
  • Pale-leaved Sunflower
  • Bluets
  • Yellow Stargrass
  • Slender Blue Flag Iris
  • Larger Blue Flag Iris
  • Canada Lily
  • Wood Lily
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Wild Blue Lupine
  • Fringed Loosestrife
  • May Lily
  • Solomon’s Plume
  • Wild Bee-Balm
  • Virginia Mountain-mint
  • Meadow Beauty
  • Green-headed Coneflower
  • Starry Campion
  • Blue-eyed Grass
  • Bluestem Goldenrod
  • Purple Meadowrue
  • Starflower
  • Blue Vervain
  • Birdfoot Violet
  • Downy Yellow Violet

Creating a lifestyle that is congruent with sustainability and the environment isn’t as hard as you think. Small choices, thoughtfully made, can make a big difference over time. Choosing to add a few native plants to your landscape this summer and including them in your plantings in the years to come will have your lawn looking gorgeous while also sustaining a healthy, happy local ecosystem. You’ll be the envy of your neighbors (and hopefully an inspiration to them as well!)

Wonder how else you can make sustainable decisions that are great for your budget, your curb appeal and the environment? Get in touch with us about installing a solar panel system on your property. You’ll be amazed with how aesthetically pleasing a system can look, and you’ll be impressed with how much we can save you over time on your energy costs!

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