There are three reasons to plant native:
- Native plants give birds and butterflies the food and homes they need
- Native plants let you be a lazy gardener: they rarely require water besides rain once they are established
- Native plants are gorgeous: your neighborhood or yard will look incredible
Let’s explore these three reasons to plant native, and meet some amazing native plants along the way.
Give birds and butterflies the food they need: plant native
Butterflies need native plants to survive
Native plants are necessary food for many butterfly caterpillars. As we remember from elementary school, butterflies start as eggs that turn into tiny hungry caterpillars, who then munch away until they make a cocoon and emerge as beautiful butterflies. Unlike The Very Hungry Caterpillar, caterpillars in nature eat mostly leaves (and some flowers).
Some caterpillars eat only one thing: their host plant
Some caterpillars only eat one species of plant—these are called host plants. A host plant you may know is Milkweed. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch butterfly. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, so monarch butterfly moms only lay their eggs on milkweed. (Thankfully there are 100+ species of milkweed found throughout North America—everyone can plant some!)
Monarch caterpillars eat ONE thing: milkweed
Without Milkweed, there would be no monarch butterflies. This is why it is important for every American living in the continental US—from Maine to Texas, from Oregon to Florida—to plant Milkweed in our gardens and help the endangered Monarch butterfly.
All host plants are native plants
Milkweed is just one native host plant. Here are some host plants and their butterfly mates found throughout North America:
Plant the native host plants for your area’s butterflies to help increase butterfly populations. Host plants and animals have evolved together over thousands of years to become almost monogamous with each other’s species. A native host plant and its butterfly are examples of these codependent relationships. These relationships require the host plants to thrive for the butterflies to survive. Explore the National Wildlife Federation’s Butterfly Database to find hundreds of host plants for your zip code or visit our list of butterfly favorites to find inspiration.
Native plants let you be a lazy gardener
Native plants grow in your home area with absolutely no human help at all. They have survived for thousands of years where our homes once stood without any human assistance. They thrive without fertilizer, without sprinkler systems, and without any annoying digging up at the end of the season. All they need to live, grow, and multiply is the soil and light they prefer in their home area. Once you give them that, you can forget about them once they are established after the first year.
Native plants give everyone a ‘green thumb’
If you feel gardening is frustrating, disappointing, a time-suck, or a waste of money: try native plants. Native plants are the easiest to care for and are literally made for your home area.
- If you’ve planted things in the past that have withered and died, native plants are for you.
- If you’re worried about your garden surviving while you take a vacation, native plants will help.
- If you’d like to save money on landscaping, plant native perennials plants that come back year after year to be one-and-done with your garden.
Planting native saves water
No matter your politics, water bills are a real pain. You can enjoy a beautiful native garden without a higher water bill. Native plants only need the normal rainfall in their area once established. (Don’t just take it from The Plant Native! The New York Times agreed, saying, “[native plants] save water, since native species, when they’re placed in an appropriate spot, generally don’t require watering once established.”
Plant native and you won’t have to spend time putting in expensive hydration systems, or hauling hoses and watering cans around your yard. Go on vacation and don’t worry about your landscaping. Native plants are happy with rain.
Finally, native plants are gorgeous
Native plants are not boring, or bleh-looking. There are dozens that have beautiful flowers and leaves every color of the rainbow.
- Redbud trees have heart-shaped leaves and cover their trunks with tiny pink flowers during the first weeks of spring.
- Little Bluestem grasses change color throughout the seasons, behaving more like a fashionista than a plant.
- Heuchera love shade, are semi-evergreen and have leaves that come in dozens of colors.
- Pawpaws make North America’s largest edible fruit! (it’s like a mango…that can grow in Nebraska!)
- Fringe trees…well, you’re not going to believe what they look like (or smell like!) in bloom
Some have incredible names, too! Here are some new favorites for your garden:
Planting native plants is an important way to give food and homes to birds and butterflies, while saving time and money on gardening. Your garden will look better than ever with native plants, too. Now is the perfect time to start your native garden.
Find inspiration on where to start:
- Einhorn, Catrin.“Nurturing Nature in Your Yard.” The New York Times, April 21, 2023.
- Harstad, Carolyn. Go Native! Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest. (1999).
- Nelson, Gil. Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens: A Handbook for Gardeners, Homeowners, and Professionals, (2010).