Native plants and wildflowers can fill a niche in most any typical suburban garden landscape. Actually many flowerbeds nowadays do host native plants, whether the gardeners are quite aware or not. Do coneflowers, milkweed, and dogwoods sound familiar? They are but three of many North American ornamental plants that are suitable for cultivation. Standard flowerbed fare may be bread and butter to large nurseries, but more and more growers are expanding their native plant selections. In some cases, they are simply and helpfully pointing out familiar offerings which fit the native definition. Even better, American gardeners are embracing a more casual, natural look in gardening. Let's focus on adding a few more native plants to your landscape.
Don't limit yourself to finding a native flower substitute for one favorite mainstream garden plant. Native elements in the garden can include all plant forms. This variety of form bolsters the foliage contrast that makes designs pop. Ferns and grasses are often regarded as "wild" plants, no matter how tame and orderly their surroundings. Native plants are found at specialty nurseries and treasured by gardeners with an eye for plants beyond the ordinary big box offerings. How do you find them? Native plant growers such as Nearly Native Nursery often provide help in choosing specimens for your particular site. As with any other addition to the garden, choose natives according to their preferences in soil, sun, and hardiness zone.
A native plant garden showcases plants that will do well in your area, and may even supply them.
View local plants in an established nature preserve or native plant garden. The Go Gardening feature of this site permits an easy search for places you'll want to visit near your home. These gardens will inspire you by showing how particular natives perform under managed care. You may expect native plants to look "weedy" — far from it. Our most pernicious weeds are species native to other continents. Native plant gardens are often sources for plants too. Many hold periodic sales of plants that they propagate.
Join a native plant society.
Local native plant societies foster greater knowledge and cultivation of native plants. There seems to be one in just about every state, according to this list from the US Forest Service. These groups can provide information with an important local focus. Like the native plant gardens, societies may even have sales of plants propagated by members. Better yet, members may share plants among themselves.
One way NOT to get started- digging plants from the wild. It's illegal, immoral and fattening.
It is illegal to remove plant material from national parks and public lands. It may not actually be immoral or fattening. Nevertheless, as a beginner, you'll likely set yourself up for disappointment if you remove a wild plant from it's home. Your garden's conditions may not precisely match the plant's preferred habitat. Certain wild plants have very specific needs. Nurseries and societies will steer you to plenty of choices that have been pot grown and are tolerant of replanting.
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For further reading
I've enjoyed the books from the New England Wildflower Society written by William Cullina:
- Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines: A Guide to Using, Growing, and Propagating North American Woody Plants
- Wildflowers: A Guide to Growing and Propagating Native Flowers of North America
- Native Ferns, Moss, and Grasses: From Emerald Carpet to Amber Wave, Serene and Sensuous Plants for the Garden
Use the Dave's Garden Garden Bookworm for more book suggestions. Here's the link to books under the category "Native Plants"