Of all the ways to increase sustainability in your yard, the most impactful is planting a native garden. So what gives a plant “native status”? If it has occurred naturally in a certain ecosystem or region without human introduction, it’s considered native (1). In North America, that often means any plant that was growing here before settlement by Europeans (2).
Because they’ve been growing for thousands of years in the same place, native plants have developed symbiotic relationships with wildlife that allow them to survive. (You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!) They’re adapted to local soil and climate, making them more resilient to extreme conditions (e.g. drought) and disease. Plus, they provide a multitude of ecosystem services that supply us with cleaner air, water, and soil so we can live a bit easier. Still not convinced? Here are some additional advantages:
So you’re ready to grow native? Congrats! Planting any garden is a genuine labor of love, but that effect is multiplied when you’re giving back to your local ecosystem. Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re planning your landscape (5):
Sunday ProTip: Can’t wait for your garden to leap? Get instant gratification by becoming a member of the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to pollinator conservation and pesticide reduction. Psst! You can also get involved by enrolling in a Sunday lawn plan. As a 1% for the Planet member, we donate a portion of every sale to conservationist innovators such as Xerces—and more.
“Finders, keepers” does not apply here, as you should never take native plants from the wild. Reach out to your local conservation organization or extension office to find the most reputable places to purchase near you.
Ready to get started? Check out this fun and informative tool from the National Wildlife Federation, which lets you enter your zip code to find the best native plants for your area! You can also use this one from the National Audubon Society, and help them reach the goal of planting 1 million bird-friendly plants.
At the other end of the spectrum are “invasive plants”: Those that are alien to the ecosystem and whose introduction can cause economic and environmental harm (4). According to the U.S. Forest Service, invasive species are responsible, in part, for the decline of 42% of endangered and threatened species in the country! This, along with increasing urban sprawl, means there’s less and less room for the native plants and wildlife that we rely on for our own survival. No pollinators = no crops, no crops = no dinner.
With biodiversity declining, the above scenario is no longer hypothetical. Farmers in China have begun using costly hand-pollination to grow some fruit crops due to the lack of native bees (2)! That means it’s more important than ever to get back to our (native) roots, and we’re here to walk you through it.