Why native plants?

As a Master Gardener I've gradually learned more about the role of our plant choices in providing habitat that is being lost at alarming rates.  Though our part of the world often looks very green, the diversity and quality of habitat is in decline.  Most of our wooded areas, for example, are full of invasive species replacing the native undergrowth.   If each of us tries to plant natives -- canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcover -- we can help mitigate native plant losses.        --Merikay  

Why plant a native tree?  Here's just one example.  The native dogwood (Cornus florda) supports 117 species of native moths and butterflies.   The Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) supports no native insect herbivores (from Dr. Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware entomologist).  Often there are very complex relationships between plants and insects, birds and other animals.  When a native plant is no longer growing in an area, creatures dependent on that plant are also lost.  The web of life unravels.

Getting Started

Match the right plant to the right place. 

If you have a space that is small or large, shady or full sun, soggy or dry there's a native plant that can and will take root if you give it a chance. From trees (large and small), shrubs, perennials, vines, ground covers, these plants will fit the conditions of the area because they are adapted to the weather, pests, soil, and seasons of Eastern North America.   They provide habitat for insects and other creatures which have co-evolved often over millions of years in intricate relationships. This is why replacing extensive areas of non-native turf grass with native plants can be so beneficial.  A mix of native and non-native plants, particularly if they are diverse, can also be a practical, beautiful and life-providing alternative to turf.

Take Action

Reduce lawn by adding or extending beds. Remove invasive plants. If you have woods, increase native understory and ground cover and add native shrubs and perennials at the edge.


Online Resources

Douglas Tallamy's companion site to his book, The Living Landscape: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens

Lists native trees large and small, coupon to buy trees, how to plant.

Native Plants of Maryland: What, When and Where HG#130

Rebates for rain gardens / conservation landscape


Extensive native plant garden near Wilmington, DE which does 3-year trials of many species and cultivars of native plants used in gardens.  Plants are assessed on vigor, flower profusion, disease resistance, and insect visits.  Recent published trials include monarda, baptisia, coreopsis, asters, coneflowers and more.  Upcoming trials include garden phlox, helenium, amsonia, hydrangea and clematis.  (See photos of Mt. Cuba on eartheast.org under the heading "Trails & Natural Areas".)


Darke, Rick and Doug Tallamy, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, Timber Press, 2014.

Greenlee, John. The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn, Timber Press, 2009.

Rainer, Thomas and Claudia West, Planting in a Post-Wild World, Timber Press, 2016.

Tallamy, Douglas W. Bringing Nature Home : How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens, Timber Press, 2007. www.bringingnaturehome.net

Native Plant Information

Maryland Native Plant Society database of native plants including a list of woody plants native to Montgomery County; talks, fieldtrips, native plant sources/sales

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Native Plants Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping Chesapeake Bay Watershed

“Plant Lists for Maryland Regions” Useful for identifying local natives vs. regional natives.

Plant lists by region; commonly available natives, MD, VA and WV.

Some Native Plant Sources  

Local nurseries: Plants tagged as native may not be locally native, check. Ask for the source of the plant.  Buy nursery propagated vs. nursery grown (may have been wild collected).  Don't collect from the wild yourself unless the area is going to be destroyed and plants need to be rescued.  Most plants don't survive being transplanted.

Lists native plant sales held throughout the year.  These sales are often the best source for local, native plants.  A few particularly good native plant sales are listed below.

Adkins Arboretum, MD Eastern Shore, native plant sale days April and September, otherwise native plant nursery is open M-F, April 15 – Nov. 1.

Audubon Society of Central Maryland
Audubon Society of Central Maryland, Mount Airy. Native plant sale the last Saturday in April.

Black Hill Nature Center, Boyds, Maryland. Native plant sale at the greenhouse in April. Mostly herbaceous plants. 

Brookside, Wheaton. Native and edible plant sale, Spring.

National Arboretum, annual Lahr Symposium and native plant sale

Go Native Tree Farm.  Manheim, PA. Seed grown native trees, wholesale and retail. By appointment only, call 717-538- 0393.

www.bluewaterbaltimore.org/herring-run- nursery/native-plants/
Herring Run Natives. MD native shrubs and trees, a non-profit to benefit Baltimore waterway conservation.

Nature by Design in Alexandria.  Range of natives is good for trees, shrubs, and perennials, including some unavailable at local nurseries.

Newsom Seed (local) has a UMD-selected wildflower mix that has both annuals and perennials.  


Rare and unusual plants -- not specifically native plants but a useful source for unusual or difficult to find native plants.  Mail order and retail, located in NJ.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. High quality organic seed www.southernexposure.com

Native plant gardens

Pleasant View Historic Site.  Our very own native plant garden begun in April 2017.  This site is open to the public.  Come see what Earth Stewardship East along with community volunteers has been able to create.  11810 Darnestown Road.

National Arboretum.  In the past this has been more an interesting place to see diverse non-native plants but displays have increasingly included natives.  Of particular note is the fern valley collection.  Ask at the info desk for directions to areas with native plants.  Free and open every day except Dec. 25.


Asters and amsonia in the fall, 2016.  ESE tour of the Arboretum and river trip on the Anacostia.

Asters and amsonia in the fall, 2016.  ESE tour of the Arboretum and river trip on the Anacostia.

National Botanic Gardens.  The three-acre National Garden draws inspiration from the environments of the Mid-Atlantic region. Conceived as an outdoor laboratory for gardening in harmony with natural ecosystems, the Garden opened in the fall of 2006 next to the Conservatory.  Free parking is available on weekends - in front of the Capitol building.  A great place to get native plant ideas -- I like to visit in different seasons.  Not all plants are native but many are.  Website shows photos of many plants and descriptions.



Mt. Cuba Center.  This massive native plant garden near Wilmington, DE is worth a visit if you're in the area.  Open April - November from 10 am to 4 pm on Wednesday - Sunday.  Modest admission fee.  Formal gardens, woodland trails, wetland garden, meadow trail.  Trial garden of particular interest.  Their native plant trial reports a must-read to know about the best cultivars/species of the plants trialed.  The reports give useful historical and cultivation information, photographs and plant recommendations.


Photo:  Merikay Smith

Photo:  Merikay Smith

River Farm.  Home to the American Horticultural Society headquarters, River Farm is a historic landscape located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, Virginia. The River Farm property was established in 1653-54 by Giles Brent and his wife, a princess of the Piscataway tribe, who received a grant of 1,800 acres.  The farm was later purchased by George Washington.  There are themed garden areas but of note to native plant enthusiasts is the 4-acre are that was formerly lawn and is now a native plant meadow on a slope extending to the Potomac River.  Free.   Open year-round Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. From April through September, it is also open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. River Farm is closed on national holidays.


Photo:  Merikay.  Native plant meadow replaces 4 acres of lawn.

Photo:  Merikay.  Native plant meadow replaces 4 acres of lawn.