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Tips for choosing native plants for your garden

By: Jim Childs
Curious about gardening with native plants? Author Alan Branhagen shares his tips for choosing native plants that are best for your garden.

how-to-use-native-plants-in-your-garden-lead2: Gloriosa daisy is a great native flower to add to a garden border in several regions.

Native plants don’t have to look wild and weedy! The truth is, anyone can work a few natives into an existing garden and even one planted entirely with natives can look just as tidy as one filled with more “civilized” varieties.

Why should you grow native plants?

There are a couple of advantages to growing native plants, those that occur naturally in a certain region. They’re adapted to your regional climate, so you won’t have to bring in loads of topsoil, run a sprinkler all summer or baby them with extra winter protection. And wildlife will appreciate finding foods they already know.

But to get the full benefit, you can’t buy just any old plant labeled “native.” That’s why I spoke with Alan Branhagen, author and Director of Operations at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, near Minneapolis. He specializes in natives and had great tips on how to choose and use them.

Choose the right native plant for the right spot

Just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it grows anywhere. A tree that naturally grows near a stream won’t do well next to a hot concrete driveway. So make sure you know a plant’s natural habitat. It’ll look healthier and you’ll be happier with your choice.

Find native plants grown in your region

Try to find natives that were propagated from plants growing in your region. Sugar maple is native in both Vermont and Missouri, but a seedling grown from a tree in Vermont may not tolerate Missouri’s hot summers. A Missouri gardener should look for one started in the Midwest. Ask your retailer for information or check out regional plant societies for suppliers in your area.

Cultivars are still considered natives

And don’t feel like you have to be a purist. Named cultivars of natives still count! They’ve just been selected for a specific trait, such as compact size or heat or cold tolerance.

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Published: Nov. 19, 2019
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