The question isn’t why should you garden with natives, it’s why shouldn’t you? Here are a dozen expert recommendations for your home garden.
Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Indigenous plants need less water, pesticides and fertilizer to thrive, are great for pollinators and biodiversity, and are a beautiful addition to your property.
A deciduous twining vine recommended by the Menunkatuck Audubon Society in Guilford as a native alternative to invasive Japanese honeysuckle, this quick-covering vine with tubular flowers that are orange-red on the outside and yellow on the inside is a big-time favorite of hummingbirds.
Narrow-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
The shapes, sizes and colors of the pollinators this minty-smelling perennial draws are nothing short of “amazing,” Margery Winters says. “The pollinators,” she adds, are “so utterly besotted with the mountain mint that you can practically reach out and pat them.”
Eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Coneflowers’ domed purplish-brown centers skirted by delicately drooping lavender rays are not only “beautiful,” says Katie Blake, but a top source for seeds for our feathered friends. So no deadheading those coneflowers in the fall, says Blake — the birds need a food source they can continue to rely on.
Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)
“There’s always space for bluets in the garden,” Dan Jaffe says. These “absolutely adorable things” with “obscenely large, pure-white-to-periwinkle flowers in proportion to their plant size” are tolerant of a wide range of conditions and happy to bloom in the smallest cracks and crevices.
Royal fern (Osmunda regalis)
Harry Spear, manager at Native, has a thing for ferns, which are among the oldest plant forms. “I love them all,” he says simply, but of all the textures, colors, sizes, shapes and varieties of ferns out there, royal fern, with its delicate, bright-green fronds, Spear says, has a “distinct look all its own.”
Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
“Of course you need witch hazel in your garden,” Winters says. “Connecticut is the witch hazel capital of the world” — just ask the folks in Essex, where the Dickinson clan began distilling a natural astringent made from witch hazel’s smooth, gray bark way back in 1866, or the folks at American Distilling in East Hampton, who continue the proud brand tradition to this day. The last woody plant of the season to bloom, witch hazel bears spindly yellow flowers with a light, spicy fragrance.
Blue-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
Put down those tissues. “Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not cause hay fever,” Lisa Turoczi says. The plant, whose pollen is not born on the breeze but must be moved from plant to plant by a pollinator, has gotten what Turoczi calls “a bad rap” for no good reason. With some 25 native varieties available, “Goldenrod is good practically anywhere in the garden,” she adds (though this blue-stemmed baby does like some shade).
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
New England aster’s showy late-season bloom (right up until the first frost) makes them what Ted Johnson calls, “an important choice” for anyone looking to plant a native garden. “When the rest of the garden is looking tired,” he says, “they add welcome color.”
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
This clump-forming native grass sports slender blue-green stems that turn mahogany in the fall. Its glorious silvery late-season seed tufts, Turoczi reports, are also an important food source for birds and insects.
Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Johnson is a fan of these columbine for their “wonderful spring bloom” — not to mention the fact that everything from butterflies and buntings to hummingbirds and finches find the shade-loving perennial with its nodding petals as attractive as we do.
Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
Spear calls inkberry a “tough” evergreen that’s a good native alternative to our troubled, blight-afflicted boxwoods. A member of the holly family, inkberry has glossy, deep-green leaves and bears deep-purple to black berries that persist well into winter.
Common wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
“Lawns cover nearly 2 percent of the land in the United States, more than 40 million acres,” Jaffe says. “Every square inch of it displaces diverse habitat for wildlife and requires maintenance with irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuel-burning equipment.” Common wild strawberry, which “thrives with little to no maintenance,” is an ideal alternative to a traditional lawn.
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