Native plants are those grasses, perennials, annuals, vines, trees, and shrubs that are found naturally in your region. These are the plants that naturally provide food and shelter for native wildlife and grow well with very little help from anyone, and they're absolutely worth growing in your garden.
Native Plants Generally Require Less Water
Since native plants are adapted to your environment and climate, they don't need supplemental irrigation after their first year. This amounts to less water usage ,which is always a good thing, and it also means that these plants will look wonderful all season long without coddling. Only the most intense drought conditions will faze them.
For their first year in your garden, you'll need to make sure they get an inch of water per week, but after that, their root systems will be established and they'll be just fine without your help.
Native Plants Need Less Fertilizing
One of the best things about growing native plants is that they don't need extra fertilizer. They're adapted to your native soil and the nutrients found within it.
It's still a good idea to constantly improve the soil, however, and the best way to do that is to give the garden a topdressing of compost every year. Beyond that, you won't have to worry about fertilizing native plants.
Native Plants Have Fewer Pest Issues
Just as native plants don't require extra fertilizer, you can also expect to be able to do away with pesticides for the most part when you grow native plants. These are plants that have grown and evolved to withstand any natural predators and pests in your area, so it follows that you won't have to constantly be coddling them, ready to apply pesticides when you find an insect or fungal issue.
In general, these issues will be rare, and when they do come up, the plants can usually withstand them just fine.
Native Plants Provide Food and Shelter for Wildlife
Gardens are part of their local ecosystems, and wise gardeners recognize that and do what they can to play up that aspect of their landscapes. One of the joys of growing native plants in your garden is that you'll start to see more and more native wildlife appearing, such as songbirds, butterflies, toads, lizards, bees, and other pollinators. They'll find your native plants, which are plants that they've evolved with, and they'll get the food and shelter they need from those plants while providing their own assistance in terms of pollination, pest reduction, and sheer beauty.
Native Plants Are Hardier
A freak cold snap or a dry spell can spell disaster for exotic plants, but native plants have evolved to withstand the vagaries of weather in your area. They can take a late-season frost or a midsummer drought and continue growing strong and looking gorgeous.
Less Work for the Gardener
Less water, no fertilizing, fewer pests… all of it adds up to less work for the gardener. If you've been wishing for a landscape that's full of beauty without requiring all of your free time to keep it looking good (imagine, just relaxing in your garden!), then it's time to consider adding native plants. By swapping native plants for the more persnickety exotic plants, you can save yourself a load of time and work, and your garden will be better for it.
Native Plants Are Beautiful
It's easy to look at the practical reasons for gardening with native plants, but the fact is that native plants are just plain pretty. They'll be healthy, which always makes a plant look better, but they also just fit so perfectly into your natural landscape that they'll immediately elevate the overall appearance of your garden.
Whether you're looking for ornamental grasses, flowering perennials, trees, shrubs, vines, or annual flowers, you can absolutely find native varieties. And, as a bonus, your garden won't look like every other garden in the neighborhood.
Native Plants Can Save You Money
Native plants ultimately end up being less expensive than exotic or commonly-available ornamental plants. This is because these plants, in their native habitats, will slowly spread over time. And when that happens, you can divide native perennials or grasses and end up with more plants, for free! You can then plant these divisions in another area of your garden, or share them with a gardening friend (and maybe turn them onto the joys of native plants as well.)
Where to Find Native Plants for Your Garden
The only tricky thing about growing native plants is that most big box garden centers and general-purpose nurseries don't carry a very large selection of them.
You might be lucky enough to have a great native plant nursery nearby. Search online for native plant nurseries in your area, or ask gardening friends. Another good resource is your county extension office or a master gardener, who should be able to point you in the right direction.
Another resource is mail order. There are catalogs completely devoted to regional native plants. To find the best one for you, search for your state/province and native plant catalogs.
In addition, The Meadow Project maintains a state-by-state list of native plant sources. You can also check the Audubon Society's site for more regional native plant sources.
Native Plants for a Healthy, Beautiful Garden
Whether you decide to transition to a garden completely devoted to native plants or just add a few native plants to your existing landscape, you'll be rewarded with more beauty, more wildlife, and less work, which is never a bad thing.