Chesapeake Bay Field Office
Northeast Region


Planning beneficial landscaping:
How do you use native plants for environmental gain?

• For new developments, reduce the amount of disturbance to existing habitat by using careful siting and design of buildings and other facilities.

• Incorporate native species into your existing landscape, using the following principles:

  • Think big, start small. Plan for the long term, but start with something you can do easily in one season. Maybe you’d like to eventually convert your whole yard to native species. Draw up a plan for that goal, but choose one area, even one small garden bed for your first effort. Trial and error with the first project will help you learn without being overwhelmed. Phase in the whole project over time.
  • Use native alternatives. Simply use native plants where you would otherwise use non-natives. Start by using natives to replace dead or dying non-native plants, or as a substitute for invasive non-natives.
  • Avoid the use of invasive species. What is native to one state or even part of a state may not be native to another. Non-native or exotic plants introduced from other parts of the world or other parts of the country have degraded many natural ecosystems. Although many non-native plants do not escape into the natural environment, it is difficult for most of us to know or predict the risks of every ornamental plant. Some of these introduced plants are invasive, meaning that there are few or no naturally occurring measures such as insects or competitors to control them. Invasive plants can spread rapidly and smother or out-compete native vegetation. Ecosystems impacted by invasive, non-native plants have a reduced ability to clean our air and water, stabilize the soil, buffer floods, and provide for wildlife. Some native species, in certain conditions, can also become aggressive spreaders in the landscape, though their spread is usually somewhat more limited by natural controls or site conditions than that of non-native aggressors. To avoid outcompeting other desirable species, plants such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species), plants in the mint family (such as Monarda species) or others that spread by lateral roots (such as false dragonhead, Physostegia virginiana) should be used sparingly or controlled in gardens or meadows.
  • Reduce lawn or high maintenance areas by landscaping with native plants. Add new landscaping beds and/or enlarge existing ones.
  • Improve water quality by planting native species on slopes, along water bodies, and along drainage ditches – anywhere that the plants will help prevent erosion and pollution by stabilizing the soil and slowing the flow of rainwater runoff. To collect runoff, depressions can be created and planted with native plants suited to temporary wet conditions. These “rain gardens” will capture water and hold it temporarily, trap sediment, and remove pollutants washing off of the surrounding land.
  • Enhance habitat value by using trees, shrubs, and perennials to create layers rather than planting a single tree in the middle of lawn. These layers will provide the structure and variety needed to support different types of wildlife. Use plants that produce seeds, nuts, berries, or nectar. Allow stems and seedheads of flowers and grasses to remain standing throughout fall and winter to provide food and cover.
  • Incorporate water into your design, as all animals need water year-round to survive. Even a small dish of water (changed daily to prevent mosquito growth) will provide for some birds and butterflies. Puddles, pools, or a small pond can be a home for amphibians and aquatic insects. A larger pond can provide for waterfowl such as ducks and geese, and wading birds such as herons. Running or circulating water will attract wildlife, stay cleaner, and prevent mosquitoes. Rock walls or piles, stacked wood, or brush piles provide homes for insects, certain birds, and small mammals. Fallen logs and leaf litter provide moist places for salamanders, and the many organisms who recycle such organic matter contribute nutrients to the soil. Dead tree trunks left standing benefit cavity nesting wildlife such as woodpeckers.
  • Consider naturalistic planting, or habitat restoration where possible. In some settings it may be feasible to create a more naturalistic landscaping project instead of a more formal one. Naturalistic landscaping uses patterns found in nature – for example, several large patches of single species or masses of color, rather than repeating or symmetrical patterns – and allows some nature-driven changes to occur. Plants multiply, and succession or gradual replacement of species may take place, with less human intervention than in conventional landscaping. And don’t forget to look beyond the landscaped area for more comprehensive habitat enhancement, creation, or restoration. A property located adjacent to natural areas, such as forests or woodlands, wetlands, and meadows, is a good candidate for a habitat project. Expand existing forest by planting trees and shrubs along the woods line, using native species that grow in the area, and allow birds and wind to bring the understory plants over time. Wet sites, areas with clay soils, or drainage ditches can be converted to wetlands. An open piece of ground or lawn can be planted as a meadow or grassland. Schools, homes, smaller businesses as well as large corporate sites, municipalities, military installations, recreational areas and other public lands can all include habitat plantings.

Why BayScape?

Choosing Plants

How To

USFWS Plant List

Finding Natives

Other Web Resources


Online Native Plant Center now available to help you find native Plants of the same type, shape color, size and other desirable plant characteristics for creating attractive and more natural landscapes in your yard.


Last updated: June 28, 2011