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Are All Native Plants a Safe Bet?

When we talk about adding native plants to our yards, it’s often a result of homeowners wanting to plant for pollinators, which is wonderful!  However, some of the chatter about native plants can be a bit misleading and I fear may set those that are new to gardening or gardening with native plants, up for failure. It’s common to read that native plants are ideal for supporting our native pollinators, and that they’re perfectly suited for our environment. This is true when it comes to supporting our native pollinators. But when it comes to being a perfect fit for our landscapes, that’s a longer conversation.

For one, very little of what we have in our home landscape is native: the soil has been displaced, trees removed, new trees added, and the soil’s grade and the flow of water may have been altered. There’s also a false sense of security when considering native plants in that if a native plant is used, it will grow without fail. Some plant descriptions would make one believe that if you plant a native plant, it will survive on its own. This is fairly true, in that many of the native plants are very self-reliant. However, even your pollinator, nature inspired garden will need tending to. It won’t demand the attention of a formal, traditional garden, but it will take some maintenance, such as supplemental watering. There’s quite a distinction between drought tolerant and no water. No plant can survive without water. Many of the plants we use in our pollinator gardens have low water requirements, but still require supplemental watering their first year and perhaps from time to time during our extreme summer conditions. 

As for the survival rate of native plants, yes, when careful consideration is given to selecting the right plant, native or cultivar, for any space the plant should do quite well. But there are some native plants that you may want to use with caution. Just because it’s a native plant doesn’t mean it’s well suited for your yard, especially one in the city, with the neighbor’s yard within close proximity of your proposed garden. One plant to use with caution is mountain mint. You’ve heard us talk about this wonderful plant. It’s irresistible to every type of bee and pollinator. It’s simply amazing , but it’s also very, very vigorous. I believe it’s been growing throughout the winter in our front garden. This is not the plant to use when you have a specific space in the garden where a plant needs to adhere to that space only.

So, what are you to do? Research all the plants you are considering for your new garden. Plant descriptions that go beyond the physical traits of the plant and its sun requirements are the best. We want to know about a plant’s resistance to pests and diseases, its growth rate, and if it spreads via runners or seeds and how aggressively. My favorite go-to site is the Missouri Botanical Garden’s website. This website offers an in depth look at hundreds of plants: a great resource for any gardener.

Do you have plant or garden related questions? I would love to hear from you. Email me :

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