The Plant Native

How much time does native gardening take?

There is a strange misconception that gardening requires hours and hours of work and care. Native plants have grown for thousands of years with no human help at all. Native gardening requires very little time (unless you’d like to spend it!)

Non-native plants and lawns need special care and take hours of time. We did the math: lawns and non-native plants can take 2400% more time than a native garden. Plant a native garden to enjoy beautiful flowers, help the butterflies and hummingbirds, and get some time back.

Non-Native vs. Native Garden – Pros + Cons

Stacking up the pros and cons of a non-native versus a native garden makes it easy to see that native gardening saves time compared to non-native gardening.

Non-Native Garden

Basic needs for a non-native flower garden
1-2 hours Weekly
  • Needs water during drought periods
  • Can require digging up bulbs
  • Seasonal fertilizing
  • Requires weeding (or chemicals)

Native Garden

Basic needs for a native flower garden
0-30 mins Weekly
  • Only needs rain
  • Perennials come back year after year
  • No special care after plants are established
  • No weeding with mulch or gravel

Native plants make gardening easy

Don’t be intimidated: gardening with native plants is easy! We may have all encountered a gardening article or interview that makes gardening seem cumbersome or better left to professionals. But planting native is so easy that native plants literally plant themselves with no human assistance at all.

Let’s dig deeper (pun definitely intended) and see how much time native gardening takes, and tackle some of the intimidating stories you may have heard. We’re going to look at:

  • The difference between native and non-native plants
  • Non-native vs. native gardening
  • Native gardens vs. lawns

Native vs. Non-Native Plants

First up, let’s talk about native plants vs. non-native plants. Native plants are plants that have grown in an area for thousands of years. Native plants are built to thrive in their home area’s weather, temperature, and soil. All they need is rain to thrive. They are also the preferred food and habitat for the bugs, butterflies, birds, and animals in their home area.

Non-native plants are plants that are native to somewhere else. They are in our gardens because humans are creative, wonderful creatures who bring in things from all over—including plants! There are many non-native plants in our gardens, including tulips (which are actually from Central Asia!), daffodils (Spain/Portugal), and dahlias (Mexico). 

Now that we know what native and non-native means, let’s see how natives vs. non-natives compare, in terms of gardening time and energy.

Non-native gardening = time, money, water

Non-native plants become a time-suck because they are not used to the weather, water, and soil of our homes. Non-native plants have evolved to thrive in their own home areas (or, they have been so significantly cultivated, they are just plain finicky.) Examples of this extra care for non-natives include:

How much time does non-native gardening take?

Let’s imagine we plant a smallish (5 x 5 foot) garden with dahlias, a rose bush, and tulips somewhere in the Northeast, Midwest, or Mid-Atlantic. Here’s the time it would take to get this non-native garden going:

  • Each tulip and dahlia bulb must be individually planted
  • It takes approximately five bulbs per square foot (Horticulture Magazine)
  • Our 5 x 5 garden = 25 square feet x 5 bulbs = 125 bulbs
  • Each bulb needs a hole dug and bulb planted = 3 minutes per bulb
  • 6.25 hours to plant the bulbs
  • Bare root roses need to sit in a bucket of water for a few hours before being planted
  • The rose bush needs a hole dug, compost added, and mulch applied
  • 3 hours to plant the rose bush
  • When bugs arrive (roses are especially susceptible), environmentally friendly horticultural oil is applied (2 hours)
  • Deadheading tulips, dahlias, and roses (4 hours)
  • In the fall, dahlia bulbs must be dug up and stored indoors and roses need burlap or 2 inches of mulch (8 hours)
  • 12 hours of additional gardening

23.25 hours for a small, non-native garden

If you think gardening takes a lot of time, you would be right if we were talking about non-native plants. Because they are not comfortable in our water, weather, and soil, it takes extra time, money, and water to keep them happy. Now, let’s see what it takes to keep a native garden going…

How much time does native gardening take?

Native plants literally plant themselves—they seed, thrive, and grow with no human help at all. They have done this for thousands of years in all the hurricanes, droughts, and seasons in their home areas. If they have thrived without any help, they can thrive without much help in your garden, too.

Once a native plant is established (usually after the first year, read more about what ‘established’ means in this short article), it should thrive with just rain and a yearly mulch/gravel application to keep the weeds down. Yes—that’s it. 

After getting established, native plants will be happy with rain

Yes, that’s right. Established native plants will thrive in their home areas with normal weather and rain. So that saves hours of time watering, not to mention the higher water bills.

(*A note for the sticklers: of course, in times of extreme weather—extreme droughts, floods, or storms, some native plants may not survive. However: we’ve already experienced thousands of droughts/storms/floods and native plants have survived. Native plants are much more resilient, even in the toughest weather, than we may give them credit for. Want to discuss further? Get in touch!)

Cut down on weeding with mulch or gravel

The next worry is that having a native garden will require hours of back-bending weeding. There is a simple way to make weeding easy: put mulch or gravel around a plant after you plant it, or in the spring. That’s it! Most weed seeds start growing when they find sunlight. Putting a layer of mulch or gravel keeps the light away, and keeps any weeds in their dormant seed-form. Voila—weeding now takes the time to finish a cup of coffee, as often as you’d like.

Now that we’ve looked at non-native and native gardening, let’s see how they compare:

Native perennials come back year after year 

Plant a native perennial once, and enjoy them for years and years—even decades! Spend an hour (or honestly, it can take just 15 minutes) planting a single native plant and enjoy it for years. Explore native perennials in our native plant library

Native gardens vs. Lawns

Lawns are much more time and money than native gardens

We’ve done the math: lawns can take 2400% MORE TIME than a native garden in terms of care and upkeep. See our stack-up of lawns versus native gardens to see more.

Lawn vs. native garden misconceptions probably come from the 177 BILLION DOLLAR landscaping and lawncare industry. (According to IBS World, “The market size, measured by revenue, of the Landscaping Services industry is $176.5bn in 2023.”)

Native plants are perfect for all types of gardeners—including the new or proudly lazy ones. You can absolutely have a beautiful garden of native plants and spend under five hours A YEAR in maintenance. 

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