Use of Native Plants in Landscaping

Over the past several years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of native plants for use in landscaping. Much of this resurgence has been fueled by news stories documenting the declining of butterfly, honey bee, and other pollinator populations due to a lack of habitat.  Many homeowners have incorporated natives into their landscape to provide a nectar and pollen source for bees, or even to provide a waystation for monarch butterflies during their annual migrations.  There are several additional reasons why native plants may be right for your landscape:

  1.        Native Plants are Non-Invasive – Many of our introduced plants, such as Bradford Pear and Sericea Lespedeza, are invasive and take over and area if not kept in check.  The majority of native plants are non-invasive and will stay where we put them.
  2.        Minimal Inputs – Native plants typically require much less water, fertilizer, and pesticides than introduced plants do. 
  3.        Longevity – Partially related to minimal inputs, native perennial plants often survive and thrive for many years with little to no care.
  4.        Variable Conditions – Because plants are native, they are better suited to the variable conditions we experience here in Missouri.  Native plants are better able to survive flood, drought, freezing temperatures, and exceedingly high temperatures than introduced plants are.
  5.        Wildlife Habitat – Many native plants are useful as a food source or shelter for wildlife such as deer, turkey, and an assortment of birds.  Native plants contain a much higher fat and calorie content than introduce plants do, which is necessary for wildlife to survive our sometimes harsh winters.
  6.        Beauty – Native plants have their own beauty which can be significantly different than plants in a traditional or formal landscape.  Many homeowner find they prefer the different look of a native planting. 

After deciding to implement natives into the landscape, plant species selection is the next process to go through.  Plant selection is largely determined by the site where they will installed:

  1.        Sun vs. Shade – Most native plants require full sun.  There are several that will tolerate some shade and these should be utilized when appropriate.  There are no native plants that will thrive in full shade.
  2.        Annual vs. Perennial – Selection of perennial native plants is a much longer commitment that using annual plants.  If you’re not sure you’ll like native plants or cannot permanently dedicate an area to native plants, annual may be a better option.
  3.        Wet vs. Dry – The majority of established native plants can handle the dry soil conditions we have in the summertime.  We also have a good selection of native plants that can handle soils that stay wet for all or part of the year.
  4.        Rich vs. Poor Soil – Native plants are ideal for poor soils.  They can handle thin soils, soils with a high clay content, or even rocky soils.  Deep, fertile soils are typically not recommend as native plants will grow too much, become “leggy”, and possibly fall over before blooming or producing seed.

Designing a landscape using natives can be much different than traditional landscaping.  If you have additional questions regarding native landscape design or wish to know more about specific plant selection, contact your local county extension center. 

Source: Travis Harper, MU Extension Agronomy Specialist