Native plants: why I’m hooked (the benefits) and how to get started

For me, one of the most exciting parts about buying a home was that I was going to have a yard. A yard probably isn’t as high on everyone’s list, but many of us will end up with one at some point in our lives. What we do with our patches of land can make a positive difference for the environment, wildlife, and us.

What I’m talking about is planting native plants. Nothing crazy, just choosing local plants for your yard.

Why native plants?

There are a lot of reasons to plant native plants in your yard, but all you need is one.

Native plants support local wildlife

Making our yards more natural and biodiverse – like planting a mixture of native trees, plants and flowers instead of mostly grass and non-native plants – can help connect and restore some areas of habitat and provide food for the birds, bees and wildlife.

Native plants will attract more birds and wildlife to your yard

Having more plants in your yard will make your yard friendly to wildlife, and even more so if they’re native plants. Birds and wildlife want places to hide and perch and things to eat (like berries, bugs and nectar) that our native plants provide.

Native plants = a lower maintenance yard

Because native plants are adapted to our climate and soils, naturescaping (landscaping with native plants) can make your yard much more self sufficient and low maintenance. As long as you pick the right plant for the right place in your yard (full sun vs. shade, dry vs. moist soil, etc.), they won’t need fertilizer, soil amendments, or much watering once they’re established, unlike many random plants you might get at a typical nursery. And native plants don’t need mowed or pruned.

Naturescaped yards have environmental benefits

Compared to a typical yard, one with lots of native trees and plants will use much less water from us, reduce the amount of stormwater that runs off and takes gunk with it to rivers and streams, and longer living trees can help store carbon dioxide and combat climate change.

How to get started with native plants:

  • Look for a resource or list of plants that are native to your region*. For people in the Portland area, we have the all-inclusive Portland Plant List and this handy brochure from Metro.
  • Look for a local nursery that specializes in native plants and talk to them for recommendations for your yard. In the Portland area, I like Echo Valley Natives, Bosky Dell Natives and the native section at Portland Nursery.
  • See if your region or city has some sort of native plant or backyard habitat program. Here in Portland we have the wonderful Backyard Habitat Certification Program that I highly recommend – they’ll come out and give you custom recommendations, plus coupons for local nurseries and lots of resources.
  • See if there are native plant or “naturescaping” workshops or classes in your area. Portland has some helpful free workshops from the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District.

*Whenever possible try to find plants that are native to your specific region and conditions. Plants that natively grow near the mountains in your state will be quite different from those in the valley, and so on.

Native plants in my yard

I wasn’t sure what to do with my yard when I first moved in, but I’m thankful I learned about native plants because it’s helped give me a plan and made yard work much more rewarding. Here’s what the back of our yard looks like after we planted several natives in the spring. To the right you can see a young Cascara tree, in the front is an Evergreen Huckleberry, in the back left is an Ocean Spray, Sword Ferns and Woodland Strawberries throughout.

Kristina's backyard with native plants

Some of my favorite Portland-area native plants so far:

  • Cascara, a small tree or arborescent shrub that produces berries for birds.
  • Douglas Aster (aster subspicatus)
  • Meadow Checkermallow (sidalcea campestris)
  • Evergreen huckleberry, a slow-growing evergreen (won’t lose its leaves in the winter) shrub that produces edible huckleberries for people and birds.

Got a question? Comment below, or feel free to contact me.