By Charlie Nardozzi 

It’s time to go native in the garden.

This isn’t as risqué as you think. Growing native trees, shrubs and flowers is a good way to plant a low-maintenance landscape, while still enjoying colorful flowers, leaves and fruits in your yard.

But what are native plants—and why grow them? Here are the answers to these and other questions about going native.

What Is a Native Plant?

Native plants are those species and varieties that have naturally evolved in an area over thousands of years. Often, these plants have escaped domestic cultivation, simply spreading in their native environment.

A true native is a plant that has co-evolved with its specific ecosystem: insects, animals, microbes, soil and weather.

Why Grow Natives?

There are many advantages to growing native plants. They’re better able to withstand climate changes and invasions from insects and diseases. Natives require little care once established in your yard.

Native plants also are noninvasive. They don’t overwhelm an ecosystem; they remain an essential part of it. In fact, they provide reliable food and shelter to local wildlife, including birds, mammals and bees.

Choosing Native Plants

 While many native plants have beautiful flowers, they also offer other traits:  interesting bark, foliage or berries, which have a multiseason appeal.

The following native trees, shrubs and perennials are hardy in most areas of the country. Check your local garden center for other choices.

  • Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) has beautifully sculpted tree branches that feature white flowers in spring. The flowers give way to dark blue berries in summer and fall–treats that birds love. The leaves turn burgundy in autumn.
  • Sweet Pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia) features fragrant white flowers in mid-summer, when few other shrubs are blooming. The flowers are a magnet for bees and butterflies. This deciduous shrub can grow in acidic soils and part sun. It even tolerates road and ocean salt sprays.
  • River birch (Betula nigra) is a clumping deciduous tree that has beautiful arching branches, brilliant golden fall foliage and an attractive bronze bark. Unlike other birches, it has few pest problems.
  • Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) is a perennial flower often found in partly sunny, wet areas along roadsides. This native can reach up to 8 feet tall, with clusters of purple flowers in late summer. It’s a favorite of butterflies.
  • Butterfly weed (Asclepias) is a perennial flower that blooms from mid-summer until fall, with clusters of red, yellow or orange flowers (depending on the species). As its name implies, it attracts butterflies.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker and broadcast personality. He has appeared on HGTV, PBS and the Discovery Channel. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for the National Gardening Association and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn.

Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association