How to Source Native Plants for Landscaping

A xeriscaped front yard.

Flowers and plants contribute to a welcoming atmosphere in your backyard oasis. While it's lovely to be surrounded by bright natural colors, sometimes finding the right plants for your yard can be challenging. After all, every climate is a little different and a plant that is prolific in one area will easily die elsewhere. That's why it's important to plant flowers, trees, and shrubs that are native or indigenous to your specific area.

These will be plants that have already proven themselves to be hardy in your local weather and soil conditions. This not only makes them easier for you to successfully grow, but also requires less resources such as fertilizer, water, and bug repellents. Plus, native plants naturally attract birds, butterflies, and pollinating bees. So how do you go about sourcing native plants for your yard? Here are some tips and resources to help you out.

Find Your Planting Zone

The first step in identifying plants that will grow well in your area is to be aware of which plants are best adapted to your typical climate and soil conditions. The United States Department of Agriculture has created a map of hardiness zones to help with this process. All major plant and seed sellers will be able to supply a similar hardiness zone classification. For example, if you are a zone 7, you would not want to purchase bulbs best suited for zone 4, or it will be too hot for them and they are not likely to be successful.

Check Your Soil Health

A wheelbarrow with soil in it.

Once you’ve narrowed down plants classified for your area, the next consideration is your soil. Even within the same general area, soils can contain significantly different amounts of lime or clay, for example. Your local university extension office or garden club can help you find a lab to test your soil for pertinent components such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. You can also pick up a do-it-yourself kit at the local home improvement store or garden center to test your own soil. Knowing the pH and texture of your soil will direct you towards plants that will succeed.

Think About Yard Location

Even within your backyard, a hosta that might thrive in the shade will be miserable and temperamental in the direct sun. Sunflowers, on the other hand, will fail to thrive if planted on the dark north side of the house. Select plants carefully based on whether they are recommended for partial sun, full sun, or full shade.

Find Native

A pink hibiscus bush.

While you might have found plants recommended for your soil type and growing region, finding plants that are native is the key to minimizing upkeep and maximizing growth potential. The Audubon Society provides a nice database to get you started. Although their focus is on plants that attract birds, these plants are chosen specifically for your area and should be found at the local nursery.

Visit the Nursery

The nurseries and even the garden section at your local home improvement store can provide a wealth of information on this topic. Be informed about what you are looking for. Ask for recommendations for a tree that loves to drink water for your soggy backyard or that can tolerate direct sunlight and clay soil. Also ask about toxicity when dogs and kids are involved. Pay attention to the plant’s maximum size in order to avoid crowding in your flower beds and the need to transplant later as they grow.

With a plan and knowledge, you can create a backyard space that will provide endless pleasure for many seasons into the future. The key is to source native plants that can live a long and healthy existence while attracting the appropriate wildlife and minimizing required resources.