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COLUMN: Making a case for native plants

Rosanne LoParco
Master Gardener Volunteer
Posted 3/13/22

Having a garden that is sustainable is becoming more important than ever. For those new to the term, “sustainable” means capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the …

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COLUMN: Making a case for native plants


Having a garden that is sustainable is becoming more important than ever.

For those new to the term, “sustainable” means capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment. You may have heard or been advised to “grow native” and wonder what that means and whether it could make a difference and be more sustainable.

Native plants can make a tremendous difference. The true definition of native plants is those that occur naturally in a particular region or ecosystem without human intervention. However, instead of focusing on the definition, consider native plants as those that can adapt to the local climate and soil conditions.

Native plants provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals.

Native wildlife and beneficial insects prefer natives to common horticultural plant cultivars that are bred for specific desired traits. Once established, native plants need minimal water, other than normal rainfall.

Natives are low maintenance, require little to no fertilizer, and less pruning.

Natives are not invasive, and they preserve the area’s biodiversity. So, natives are easier to grow and cheaper to maintain.

So, what’s the problem?

Garden centers know what sells and many native plant species don’t sell well for various reasons. In truth, many garden centers don’t sell native plants. Garden centers often stock nativars, varieties and cultivars of native plants. They have been bred to offer different ornamental value, i.e., more colors and different foliage than their native parent.

There are many different studies that explore the pros and cons of planting nativars. It’s understandable that a home gardener has certain goals they want to accomplish with their landscape; and what if you can’t find native plants?

Nativars are the closest to natives and having a few of these in the landscape is not a bad alternative.

Do your own research online regarding natives versus nativars. As you build on your existing garden, consider and embrace actual native plants as the best option for sustainability. To see what native plants will work for you visit the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website at There you will find a great fact sheet on going native along with other ideas to make your home landscape more sustainable.

The DEC has a list of native plants, grasses, trees and shrubs that grow well in New
York State; visit

Never take native plants from the wild; it’s not only a threat and disruption to the natural
ecosystem, there’s also the possibility that you take an invasive species with you.

Speaking of invasives, you may already have a plant in your landscape that has spread too much or maybe you accidentally planted something that is on the invasive plant list. The NYSDEC also provides a current list of those plants that are invasive in New York.

There’s a great brochure that gives suggestions on native plant replacements that can be used in the landscape as alternatives to invasives. The brochure is called Plant Wise New York and you can download it by visiting

Always buy your plants from a reputable source. There are plenty of on-line resources that specialize in native plants. However, it’s always good to support local nurseries. If your favorite nursery doesn’t stock native plants, ask them to; or they may have them already and you don’t recognize them. More and more nurseries are jumping on the native plant bandwagon as more gardeners strive to attract pollinators, add to our plant diversity, and have a positive impact on our ecosystems.

Resolve to add one native plant to your landscape this year; you won’t be disappointed!

Happy sustainable gardening!


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