Nearly every homeowner can picture their ideal garden. The gardens we imagine are lush with verdant plant life, blooming flowers and willowy trees. Often -- perhaps without even realizing it -- our perfect gardens reflect the natural landscape surrounding our homes, whether they include shrubs and ferns or succulents and grasses. Over the last year, more Americans have expressed their willingness to invest in the natural environments around their homes. According to the article “Buyers -- Tired of Homes’ Shortcomings -- Want to Trade Up” from Realtor Magazine, “since the pandemic, house hunters are now focused on...outdoor features—and not showing any willingness to compromise on them.” Interest in indoor and outdoor gardening has increased significantly over the last year due to the mental and physical health support proximity to nature and caring for plants offers. Sales of certain plants in 2020 rose as much as 3,000% over sales in 2019. Unfortunately, many new plant parents who purchased exotic species have struggled to keep their gardens alive. One way to ensure a plant -- or entire garden -- has the best chance of survival is to landscape with native species. Not only are native plants easier to take care of because they are well-suited to the surrounding environment, but they also offer a number of other benefits. Native plant gardening can replenish natural habitats, support healthy soil and save homeowners money in all sorts of ways. To learn more about how native landscaping protects biodiversity and property, follow below.
What is Native Landscaping?
Native landscaping -- also called natural landscaping, native gardening and indigenous landscaping -- refers to planned gardens populated by plants native to the area. Because indigenous plants are the only types found in native landscaping, such gardens are more likely to survive from season to season. The United States Department of Agriculture explains the benefits of native landscaping in the National Resources Conservation Science resource “Native Landscaping builds soil quality and enhances the landscape.” The brief notes that “native landscaping is a simple way to reincorporate native grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees into the landscape” without worrying about invasive species. According to the USDA, native landscaping is much easier to maintain because grasses, ferns and flowers indigenous to the area tend to be hardier and better adapted to the climate.
Furthermore, native gardens “bloom throughout the season and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.” As such, they are consistently pollinated and easily thrive. Native plants are also much better equipped to “resist local pests and disease” because they have adapted to the region over thousands of years. Due to their compatibility with the landscape, native plants can also “reduce soil erosion, build soil structure, and infiltrate rainfall,” protecting the property they surround and limiting resource waste.
Benefits of Gardening with Native Plants
#1 Indigenous Gardens are Less Expensive and Time-Consuming to Maintain
Caring for native plants is often less expensive and time-consuming than caring for exotic plants because fewer resources are needed to maintain the garden. A recent article published by the American Society of Landscape Architects outlines the many ways in which indigenous gardens save homeowners money and time. The ASLA writes that unlike exotic plants that have difficulty shooting roots or adapting to the site’s soil, native plants “are more likely to establish quickly and will naturally be hardy and healthy.” Often less costly in the short-term because of the lack of time it takes to effectively transplant indigenous plants, native gardens are also less expensive in the long run. According to the ASLA, “the long-term upkeep of native plants can be dramatically less costly than turf grass” and non-native flowering gardens. Referencing an EPA study, the ASLA notes that “over a 20-year period, the cumulative cost of maintaining a prairie or a wetland totals $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses.”
#2 Native Landscaping Requires Fewer Chemicals to Nurture
The Audubon Society article “Why Native Plants Matter” notes that native landscaping does not require pesticides or fertilizers like exotic plants do. Native plants are naturally more resistant to pests from their area and are better suited to the soil. Sadly, “lawns and the ubiquitous bark-mulched landscapes are notorious for requiring profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides.” However, if native plants are chosen “for your landscaping, you are not only helping wildlife, but you are creating a healthier place.”
#3 Native Plants Are Not Invasive and Will Not Kill Other Plants
According to the article “Benefits of Going Native” from North Carolina State University, “the use of only native plants in your landscape helps limit the chances that potentially invasive, exotic plant species will be introduced into the environment around your home.” Limiting the introduction of invasive species will ensure the homeowner’s garden flourishes from season to season. It also protects native wildlife that might wander onto the property -- from squirrels and beavers to insects and birds.
#4 Natural Landscaping Can Restore Natural Habitats to Your Property
The GreenerHorizon article “6 BENEFITS OF LANDSCAPING WITH NATIVE PLANTS” notes that natural landscaping can restore natural habitats to developed properties without requiring time-consuming or expensive efforts. GreenerHorizon explains that “by landscaping with native plants in your yard, you are contributing to a natural habitat for the animals that reside in the area.” Native plants offer “a natural source of food for many birds and animals” in the region. In some areas, the article notes, “large amounts of wildlife depend on these plants and other natural sources to survive,” but have suffered as native landscapes are wiped out. Recreating these native landscapes protects indigenous wildlife.
#5 Native Gardening Might Protect Your Land from Erosion
Because native plants are naturally compatible with the soil of the area they are indigenous to, they can protect properties from soil erosion, flooding and mudslides. According to the US Forest Service article “Why Garden with Native Wildflowers?,” native plants often have longer roots than exotic plants from areas with hard topsoil or sandy terrain. The Forest Service explains that because of these longer roots and enhanced compatibility with the surrounding landscape, “native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.”
How to Learn More About Native Plant Gardening on the West Coast
Homeowners in Washington State interested in indigenous or native landscape planning can turn to the Washington Native Plant Society. There are also many county-specific resources available for Washingtonians -- including King County’s Native Plant Guide. For Californians, the California Native Plant Society has thirty-five chapters all across the state -- from their San Diego chapter to their Bay Area chapter. The Native Plant Society of Oregon offers many valuable resources for Oregonians as well as opportunities to become involved with chapters across the state. National groups like the Audubon Society and The National Wildlife Federation also offer free resources for native plant enthusiasts. For instance, the Audubon Society provides visitors to their website with a searchable native plants database that returns lists of indigenous plants by zip code. State and local departments might also be able to direct residents towards government-sponsored incentives for installing a native landscape.