Are you or your congregation thinking about adding a pollinator garden or native trees, shrubs, or plants to your yard or property?

How Does Your Garden Grow? Picking Plants for Your Native Plant Garden If you are feeling overwhelmed or having a tough time deciding which plants to pick, here are a few steps to help you narrow your choices and improve your chances of a successful project. 

Step 1: Learn the conditions in the planting area

Native plants thrive when they have the right conditions to grow. You want to give plants the same conditions they have in their natural habitat.  Some plants like wet conditions, some like dry soil. Some plants only grow in shade, while others can grow in shade or sun.  So, before you start picking plants, take a look at their new home. 

Photo: Iris cristata

Determine the sun exposure (how much sun or shade), soil texture (sand, clay, or loam), and soil moisture (very dry, average, moist, always wet) in the area to be planted. 

Step 2: Do you have a particular focus for the garden or area?How Does Your Garden Grow? Picking Plants for Your Native Plant Garden

Are you particularly interested in supporting birds, native pollinators, or butterflies? If so, consider which plants, shrubs, or trees help support pollinators throughout their life cycle and/or provide food and shelter for birds. Caterpillars need food too! 

Photo: Bee and Butterfly weed

Resources for pollinator and bird gardens: 

Step 3: Which native plants are most likely to succeed in my garden? 

To winnow down all the options and find plants that will thrive in their new location, I like to use a filter to help me select plants. To start, use the information you collected on sun exposure, soil texture, and soil moisture. Two on-line filters are the 1) Chesapeake Bay Native Plant Center and 2) Prairie Moon Nursery

Step 4: Additional ConsiderationsHow Does Your Garden Grow? Picking Plants for Your Native Plant Garden

Once you have a list of plants that match your basic site conditions (from Step 3), further refine your list. 

  • Region: You want to select native plants that are native to your area, not a plant native to the United States but from another region. Depending on the reference or source you are using, refine your selections by your state, physiographic region (coastal plain, piedmont, mountains), or area (northeast US). 

    Photo: Wood poppy

  • Bloom time: Native gardens primarily contain perennial plants. The advantage of perennials is that unlike annuals that live only for a year (i.e. marigolds), perennials (i.e. daffodils) return each year. Some perennials are short lived and some can live for a long time (false indigo). However, unlike annuals that may have a very long period of bloom, native perennials have a defined blooming period during the growing season. A plant, shrub, or tree might flower in the spring, summer, fall, or winter (witch hazel). If you want your garden to support pollinators and have a long blooming period, you will need to pick plants that bloom at different times. 

    How Does Your Garden Grow? Picking Plants for Your Native Plant Garden

    Photo: Milkweed tussock moth

  • Location: When selecting plants, consider the location of your garden to avoid creating hazards and continue good relationships with the neighbors. Tall, floppy, plants may not be the best choice along a busy sidewalk, as the plants may fall onto the sidewalk. Likewise, pollinator plants that attract diverse pollinators, including wasps and bees, might not be the best selection right next to the front door or a busy area. 

Step 5: Finding plants and seeds

With the increased interest in native plants, rain gardens, and pollinator gardens, native plants are becoming easier to find.
Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia Native Plant Societies are a great resource for locating native plant sales and nurseries. Nature Centers often have native plant sales in the spring, and there are many native plant nurseries. A great resource for Baltimore residents is Herring Run Nursery, a non-profit nursery that specializes in native plants for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  

Enjoy your adventures with native plants! 

How Does Your Garden Grow? Picking Plants for Your Native Plant Garden