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Why Use Native Plants?

This article explains what native plants are, their benefits, and where to acquire them. It also includes tips on how to use native plants in the home garden.

Someone advises you to grow native plants; you wonder what they are and why you should have them in your garden. You ask, “What difference would it make if I planted them?” I promise you that native plants make a huge difference.

What Are Native Plants?

There are several definitions of the term “native plant.” I like the one given by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources describing a native plant as one which occurred within this region before settlement by Europeans. Native plants include the ferns, grasses, perennial and annual wildflowers, woody trees, shrubs, and vines that covered Penn’s Woods when the first settlers came. Some examples may be growing in your garden already: garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), beebalm (Monarda didyma), New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

Benefits of Using Native Plants

There are compelling reasons why you should plant natives in your garden:

While some native plants, like the lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium spp.), have xacting requirements and are best enjoyed in the wild, native plants are well adapted to our climate and soils because they evolved here. This means they are generally easier to care for once they are established, needing little or no pruning, deadheading, watering, or fertilizing. Large lawns and showy exotic plants demand high levels of fossil fuel use, fertilizers, pesticides, and supplemental water, making natives a less costly option. Another consideration is that a native plant garden reduces noise pollution from mowers, blowers, and trimmers. Site your native plant in a spot that provides the conditions it prefers — soil type, water amounts, sun, or shade — and it will thrive. It is always important, however, to remember the mantra, “Right plant, right place.”

Where to Buy Native Plants

Do not take native plants from the wild as this is a threat to their populations and a disruption of the ecosystem. Purchase from a reputable source. Your favorite nursery may stock them, or you may wish to visit one that specializes in natives.

Tips on How to Use Native Plants

Here are some suggestions on how to use native plants:

Educate yourself about native plants that are native to your area. Obtain reliable, unbiased information from university or government publications and websites. Visit native plant nurseries and preserves to get ideas. Then use native plants in your garden, knowing that you are preserving biodiversity, enhancing the livability of your home, and ensuring a legacy for your children and grandchildren.


This educational blog is a series of informative articles from the Penn State Master Gardeners volunteers plus news concerning the group and their activities. For more information, click here.

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