Are you ready to start growing native plants? We recommend starting small and going from there! Here are our top 7 tips for incorporating natives into your yard:
1. Know what plants you currently have
Before you add a single plant to your yard, it is helpful to know what you already have. If you live in the suburbs, you likely have a grassy lawn with a few trees and landscaped areas or a garden bed. Even if you only have a few container plants, take the time to figure out what plants you have and whether they are native or non-native.
How do you know what plants you have? It is worth grabbing your phone and taking an inventory of your yard. I highly recommend downloading the iNaturalist app. It uses a mix of artificial intelligence and citizen scientist input to help you identify any plant (or animal) photo that you upload to the app. Just take 2-3 shots of the plant including a close up of the leaves/flower.
Once you’ve identified the plant, read up on the plant to determine whether it is native to your area. If it is a non-native, find out whether it is considered invasive. For more information on these non-native and invasive plants, check out our Native Plant 101: Beginner’s Guide.
2. Identify opportunities to replace plants
Start by removing any known invasive plants in your yard. I discovered I had two invasive plants in my yard – nandina shurbs and a ligustrum (also called Chinese privet) tree. I had a landscaper pull out those plants and used the freed up space to plant native plants.
You can also identify any dead plants or bare spots in your landscaping that are good candidates for a fresh plant. I recommend working within the existing landscaped areas (or container pots) you have. Later you can move onto replacing turf grass with more native plants!
3. Assess the sun conditions
The right sun conditions go a long way in successfully growing native plants. Spend a day tracking the amount of sun you receive in the areas you plan to put natives. Use this free sun tracker spreadsheet to help you.
A full sun area is considered to have over 6 hours of direct sun a day, part sun is 4-6 hours of direct sun, and shade is considered less than 4 hours of direct sun a day. This will help you narrow down the list of plant candidates for your planting area.
4. Start a plant wish list
Now for the fun part! It’s time to explore native plants in your area. Native plant books are one of the best ways to learn about plants near you. Refer to our native plant book list to find one for your state and/or region.
Also be sure to check out my favorite online resources for learning about the native plants in your area. I recommend prioritizing native plants that serve as host plants to butterflies and moths. Second priority plants would be those that provide nectar sources or other wildlife benefits. Skip the natives that provide limited ecosystem benefits!
5. Time your planting with the best season
Depending on where you live, it is often best to plant in the spring or fall. Here in Texas, the fall is the best time to plant perennials and wildflower seeds. Plan accordingly for your area to maximize your chances for success. Nursery selection can also vary by season.
6. Head to your local native plant nursery
Often times we are limited to what our local nurseries carry. Avoid big-box store nurseries like Lowes and Home Depot, which tend to carry primarily non-native plants. Instead seek out local nurseries that specialize in natives. Start by Googling “native plant nurseries near me”. Once at the nursery, ask for their recommendations based on sun conditions and mature plant sizes.