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12 Native Plants to Consider For Your Property

  • 4 min to read

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.

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Ruby throated-hummingbird feeding on a trumpet honeysuckle.

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

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.

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Narrow-leaf mountain mint (pycnanthemum tenuifolium)

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.”

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American goldfinch perched atop an Eastern purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)

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.

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Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)

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.

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Royal fern (osmunda regalis)

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.”

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Common witch hazel (hamamelis virginiana)

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.

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Blue-stemmed goldenrod (solidago caesia)

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).

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New England aster (symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

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.”

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Little bluestem (schizachyrium scoparium)

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.

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Eastern red columbine (aquilegia canadensis)

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.

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Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

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.

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Common wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

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.


More help choosing

National Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database

Enter your zip code and you’ll be rewarded with a custom list of the native plants for your backyard. You can further sort by type of plant as well as the type of birds you’re hoping to attract.

New England Wildflower Society’s Plantfinder

This tool lets you explore the plants that will thrive in your digs, and allows you to sort by everything from plant type and color to exposure and landscape use.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plants Database

Explore the wealth of native plants in North America (all 10,052 of them, should you so choose), and then narrow your search by state (Connecticut itself yields 2,134 results), appearance, size, lifespan and more.

This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.