Why Choose Native Plants for Your Garden?

A permaculture garden designer explains the benefits of planting native species.

Native flowers in a front garden
Replacing lawn with native species provides eco benefits as well as curb appeal.

California Native Plant Society / Flickr

As a permaculture garden designer, I do not always design exclusively with native plants. But native plants will almost always form the major part of my plans. There is a range of reasons why it can be a good idea to opt for native plants in your garden, and I would like to explore some of those reasons and talk briefly about why choosing native plants for your garden can be such a good idea. 

Before we begin, it is worthwhile mentioning that there are several different definitions of the term "native." Generally speaking, a native plant is one that grew naturally in an area before intensive human settlement. It is a plant suited to the soil, climate, and conditions in a particular country, state, or smaller bioregion. 

You can choose native plants from your broad geographical region, or plants native to a much narrower area. But whether they are native on a broader scale, or native specifically to your community, the benefits of choosing these plants are clear to see. 

Native Plants are Best Adapted To The Local Environment

Native plants have evolved in your local landscape over a long period of time. This means that they are often ideally adapted to the soils, climate, and conditions that are to be found there. When gardening organically, choosing the right plants for the right places is one of the most important things. Often, native plants perfectly fill ecological niches and are the perfect plants for a particular spot. 

Choosing the best-adapted plants means things can go a lot more smoothly in your garden. The chances of poor plant growth, pest problems, and disease are reduced. Native plants are often remarkably easy to care for and grow. Since they are so well adapted to your environment, they can often be ideal choices for a low-maintenance garden. 

Choosing Native Plants Can Save You Money

Native flowers in a garden with a bench
Native species always feel right at home.

California Native Plant Society / Flickr

As well-adapted plants, native species can often save you money as well as time and effort. Trying to grow plants that are not right for the climate and conditions where you live can lead to losses. And non-native plants can also be more costly to buy than locally sourced native plant species.

And since native plants ideally suited to your garden will be happy and healthy, they will tend to require fewer resources (like water, fertilizers, pesticides) to thrive, and will proliferate more easily. Many may self-seed, and it will be easier to propagate more plants through cuttings, divisions, etc. So you may well need to buy fewer plants to populate your garden over time. 

Non-Native Plants Can Be Invasive and Threaten Local Ecosystems

Choosing native plants is not just good for you, as the gardener. It can also often be the right thing to do for local ecosystems. To protect native plants and preserve native biodiversity, growing native plants in your garden can be beneficial. It can help bring some more endangered local plant species back from the brink and preserve a broad range of plants that might be threatened through habitat destruction. 

While some non-native plants can be extremely useful plants to include in your garden, others may threaten native plants in the area. Plants which are well-behaved and important in their ecosystems in their native range may be invasive and pose a threat in others. Invasive plants can outcompete native species, reducing biodiversity and damaging the ecosystem as a whole. Gardeners have to be very careful about introducing such species into their gardens. 

Native Plants and Native Wildlife Evolved Together

America's Heartland Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed
Monarch butterfly on native milkweed. Annie Otzen / Getty Images

Since native plants and native wildlife evolved together, often over long periods of time, many beneficial interactions and symbiotic relationships exist between them. This complex ecology is crucial for life on earth, and we need to recognize the complex web of life that goes into making up an organic garden or natural ecosystem. Choosing native plants is one of the steps we can take to preserve them. 

For native wildlife, from birds to butterflies, to bees and many other pollinators and beneficial insects – including native plants is essential. Many native plants are crucial (and sometimes exclusive) food sources for native wildlife. They often provide nesting sites, places for procreation and reproduction, or shelter and protection for the many creatures with whom we share our space. Often providing for wildlife in a way that non-native species just cannot do. 

Native Plants Are Beautiful and Useful 

Planting for ecological benefits and creating a wildlife-friendly garden filled with plenty of native plants certainly does not mean that you have to compromise aesthetics. Nor does it mean that you yourself cannot benefit in other ways. 

Many native plants are also edible, medicinal, or useful in a wide array of other applications. No matter where you live, there will be many native plants that can generate multiple yields, while also enhancing the visual appeal of your garden. 

To find out what is native in your area, consult with a local gardening expert or agricultural extension. You can also check out NWF's native plant finder.