The Best Online Garden Nurseries: From Native to Sustainable

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The 5 Best Online Nurseries

These days you can buy everything from trees and seeds to blooming flowers and vegetable plants from online nurseries. But not all online nurseries are alike: Many of the best-known ones are essentially plant factories with little regard for environmental issues. 

It is quite possible to buy from a "green" nursery, but not surprisingly, these nurseries tend to be smaller niche, unheard of companies. While no nursery is perfect, many fit the Treehugger philosophy. To help you with your search, we've rounded up the greenest, most well-rounded online nurseries.

Best Overall: High Country Gardens

High Country Gardens

High Country Gardens

Why We Chose It:
High Country Gardens makes it easy to dive into environmentally-conscious gardening without struggling to determine which plants are native to your area or are likely to grow in your soil and will invite native birds, pollinators, and insects. That means even sustainable gardener newbies can get it right from the start.

What We Like

- Options for every environmentally-aware gardener

- Garden-in-a-Box collections that make eco-friendly gardening easy

- Online shopping with filters for the zone, soil type, bloom time, and more

What We Don’t Like

- A larger company means less personalized service

- Few available garden goods and resources

- No ongoing support for gardeners

Whether you’re planting in wetlands, deserts, or temperate climates, High Country Gardens can fulfill your needs.

While it has a particular focus on xeriscaping (the practice of using drought-tolerant plants to reduce or eliminate irrigation, particularly in arid climates), you’ll also find bulbs and perennials, plants to attract pollinators and birds, groundcovers, shrubs, and even fruiting plants.

However, what makes High Country Gardens such a terrific resource is its extensive collection of garden-in-a-box offerings that make environmentally-conscious gardening seamless in almost any setting. These collections range from the Hummingbird Attracting Collection to the Bee Bonanza, including plants, maps, and instructions.

You’ll find collections for the southwest, northwest, mid-Atlantic, and north, with plants native to each region.

Best in the South: Wilcox Nursery

Wilcox Nursery

Wilcox Nursery

Why We Chose It:

Wilcox’s mission, products, and support resources are all focused on helping environmentally-aware Southerners create sustainable native gardens. Even better, its offerings are specifically intended to support local insects and fauna and to encourage pollinators to thrive.

What We Like

- Uniquely eco-friendly selection of plants

- A great resource for Southern gardeners

- Offers help in selecting plants and creating a fully green, sustainable, native garden

What We Don’t Like

- Not a great choice for gardeners in wetter climates

- A very specific list of plants that may not suit everyone’s needs

- Limited options for growing supplies

Many parts of the United States are dry, and some are true deserts. Wilcox Nursery is all about making it easy to create "quality landscapes that conserve water, protect the environment, are adaptable to local conditions, and are drought tolerant."

Located in Florida, it offers a local nursery and online trees, shrubs, and flowers in categories such as butterfly larval host plants, pollinator host plants, bird food source plants, and bird nesting trees.

Using its plants, resources, and blog, you can turn a dry xeriscape into a lush haven for native flora and fauna.

Best in the Midwest: Prairie Moon Nursery

Prairiemoon

Prairiemoon

Why We Chose It: Prairie Moon Nursery is an excellent option for people explicitly based in the Midwest and caters to gardening amateurs looking to make their garden as eco-friendly as possible.

What We Like

- A terrific resource for environmentally-aware Midwesterners

- Thousands of varieties of native plants of all sorts

- Plenty of help with establishing and growing a native Midwestern garden

What We Don’t Like

- Only useful to people in the prairie states

Once upon a time, much of the American Midwest was a prairie with grasslands as far as the eye could see. Today, most of the prairie has been taken over by agribusinesses, roads, cities, and other humans innovations.

Prairie Moon Nursery partners with gardeners to regrow the prairie, one garden at a time. It offers hundreds of varieties of native flowers, plants, trees, and shrubs, including prairie grasses, as well as bare-root plants.

Bare-root plants are dug from outdoor beds in winter and mailed as dormant plants packed in peat moss. This method of delivery helps to ensure plants’ long-term health.

Best in New England: Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm

Why We Chose It: Nasami Farm stands out because it sustainably harvests and grows native New England plants from seed. It also aims to offer "genetic diversity to offset the clones sold by traditional nurseries."

What We Like

- A mission-driven non-profit focused on environmental action

- Native plants are grown from seed

- Kits that make it easy to meet the needs of various ecosystems

What We Don’t Like

- All plants are New England natives, so are not appropriate for other locations

- Most items must be picked up in person

- Limited availability of non-plant gardening resources

As part of the Native Plant Trust, Nasami Farm is dedicated to re-establishing a healthy native ecosystem—and as a patron, you can join its important work.

You can buy native New England plants grown from seed, including shrubs, vines, trees, flowers, and ground covers. Select from its pre-packaged collections for all parts of New England, including Woodland Bloom, Coastal Plantings, and Roadside Collection.

Nasami Farm also offers a Pollinator Kit to be purchased and planted in early spring to encourage bees, butterflies, and other vital pollinators to re-establish native plants.

With a sustainable focus, Nasami feeds its plants with organic fertilizer and opts for biological controls instead of chemicals to defend against pests.

Best in the West: Central Coast Wilds

Central Coast Wilds

Central Coast Wilds

Why We Chose It: Central Coast Wilds stood out for its environmental restoration and replanting efforts.

What We Like

- If you live in the chaparral, desert, or any other western ecosystem, you’ll find plants native to your area

- Help provided in every area of environmentally-friendly gardening, from soil preparation to hardscaping

- Very wide range of trees, plants, grasses, shrubs, and flowers

What We Don’t Like

- Western native plants only

- A larger company that caters to farmers, as well as gardeners

- May be more expensive than other nurseries

Central Coast Wilds does much more than sell plants: It creates and supports ecological landscapes, habitat restoration, and the restoration of western native plants.

Not only does it sell a vast range of custom and grown native plants, but it also provides help with sustainable soil and pest management, water management, and pest control. Central Coast Wilds' ethos is "restoring, enhancing, and preserving ecological harmony," according to its website.

Not only does Central Coast Wilds talk the sustainability talk, but it also walks the walk: It is involved with restoration projects in California that are helping to return environments to their original state.

By replacing invasive plants with natives, planting along riverbanks, and managing damaged waterways, Central Coast makes a real impact on the environment.

Bottom Line

There is no single online nursery that can fulfill the needs of every environmentally-aware American gardener. Each part of the country incorporates different habitats; the native plants that thrive in New England, for instance, would wither and die in the western desert. The nurseries we’ve listed, however, share an environmental mission; a dedication to providing native plants and supporting gardeners as they help restore native grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses; an awareness of the importance of plants for pollinators, birds, and other animals; and a focus on organic, sustainable plant cultivation.

It’s important to note that these are all "generalist" nurseries. If you are eager to find nurseries that specialize entirely in heirloom fruits or trees or grow nothing but desert plants, you can locate them with a simple online search.

What Are Native and Exotic Plants?  

Native, or indigenous, plants are those plants that naturally evolved in a particular location. For example, most cacti are native to the deserts of North and South America. Exotic plants, by contrast, are plants that were introduced to a new location because people thought they would be pretty or useful. While native plants naturally thrive in their own ecosystems, exotic plants may need a great deal more water than occurs naturally. In some cases, the irrigation of exotic plants can be a significant drain on the water supply. Also, some exotic plants can overwhelm native species, degrading the environment and removing significant resources for pollinators and birds. Kudzu is an excellent example of an exotic plant that has destroyed many native ecosystems.

What Are Organic Plants?

Organic plants (and seeds) are grown without synthetic nutrients, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. Some organic plants are certified organic, which means they have received a seal of approval from the USDA, which has very high standards. However, it is legal to describe a plant as "organic" without the USDA seal of approval. 

Why Might I Need Help Planning and Managing my Eco-Friendly Garden?

Many of us are raised with the idea that green lawns and roses are necessary for a beautiful garden. However, green lawns are environmentally-unfriendly while roses are native only to specific parts of the country—and many well-beloved garden plants can become problems in the wrong habitat. Some environmentally-aware nurseries provide services to help gardeners analyze their soil and water, select appropriate native and organic plants, and help them thrive.

How We Chose the Best Online Nurseries

We reviewed only nurseries that expressed interest in organic, native, heirloom, and environmental impact. Of those nurseries, only some provide a good range of plants and seeds, and an even smaller number offer education and support to gardeners over time.

In addition to these criteria, we wanted to know whether individual nurseries associate with nonprofit environmental organizations or other hands-on projects. In some cases, this means that supporting the nursery also means supporting environmental action or involvement in projects such as native plant rehabilitation or riparian restoration.

Finally, we looked to see whether nurseries dealt with certified sustainable growers or produced their own plants locally. A "yes" to either of these suggests that the nursery focuses on providing the right plants in the right growing zones with a minimal negative impact on land or air quality.