Native Plant Gardens
Whether you are planting natives in your own yard or creating native plant gardens at a school, business, or non-profit, it’s always easier to start small and grow the project over time. One garden can be expanded or more gardens can be added to the plans when you learn what works for you and your location.
Advantages of Planting Natives
- Less weeding as native plants spread out to fill the space available to them thus eliminating spaces between plants.
- No/less watering since native plants evolved with the local weather conditions (the exception is that transplants need watering for the first two weeks or so).
- Support for pollinators (bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, etc.) as host plants for eggs, larvae, and adults, feeding pollinators at one or multiple stages of development.
- No pesticides are needed since we WANT the pollinators to feed on the plants, and their native predators will keep their populations in check.
- Our native plants are as beautiful as any in the world and provide a sense of place that is different from any other state or continent.
Does your HOA limit native plant gardens? If so, can they even identify a native plant? Make sure beds are edged with rocks, bricks, or something to make the edges look tidy and deliberate. Place a small sign indicating what’s happening, such as, “Pardon us, we’re feeding the bees.”
Some cities have weed ordinances that they might apply to native plant gardens. Keep your native plant gardens looking deliberate and/or explain with signage. If cited for “weeds”, then make an effort to educate them. Or you could fight the weed ordinance, since so many places are now beginning to embrace native plants. Besides, who would deny bees and butterflies their necessary food plants? (WildOnes has native lawyers available for advice, but NOT for hire. Go to: )
If you are limited by finances, then seek out plant and seed swaps. Native plants that like their location are often prolific, so seek out those who are willing to share their abundance of plants.
Before choosing plants, determine the conditions of your site. Is it sunny or shady? When is there sun and for how long? Is the sunshine daily or seasonal? Consider planting spring ephemerals under deciduous shrubs and trees to mimick nature.
Is your site wet or dry? Is the moisture seasonal? How moist? Is there standing water sometimes?
What is the condition of the soil? Does it compact into concrete in summer? Is it loose like woodland soils? Is it acid or basic? Is it underlaid by limestone?
Is the site flat or sloped? Is it a depression that holds water? Is it a hilltop with lots of wind?
Which Plants to Plant
To learn which plants are native to your locality, visit one or more of these websites, zeroing in on your location using your zip code or state/county:
- Audubon’s Native Plant Database, https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
- National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder, https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
- USDA NRCS Plant Database, https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/home
- Tennessee-Kentucky Plant Atlas, https://tennessee-kentucky.plantatlas.usf.edu/
- TDOT’s Tennessee Pollinator Database & Map Tool, http://www.tnpollinators.org/
To narrow your list of plants, you might use one of these books to help make choices:
- Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee by TNPS member Margie Hunter
- The Southeast Native Plant Primer by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross
- Official Field Guide: Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians by Horn et al.
The Tennessee Invasive Plant Council offers lists of native plants by region, https://www.tnipc.org/landscaping/
- Landscaping with Native Plants—East Tennessee
- Landscaping with Native Plants—Middle Tennessee
- Landscaping with Native Plants—West Tennessee
Be sure to choose plants whose site needs match the conditions of their planting locations. It’s best to avoid “rare” plants since they are not likely to be available and/or they may be rare because they are very picky about location. (Orchids do not transplant well because of their very particular soil/fungal requirements.) Start with more common, readily available native plants. More unique plants can be added later when you better understand the location you will be planting.
Plant and Seed Sources
DO NOT DIG UP PLANTS IN THE WILD TO TRANSPLANT TO YOUR GARDEN! First, it is illegal to collect plants from private property, or on state or federal property. Second, this is why many plant species are endangered. Don’t contribute to the problem, even if you think you won’t get caught.
Here are a few links to native plant nurseries and landscapers in Tennessee:
- TNPS – https://www.tnps.org/more-resources/
- Audubon – https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
- National Wildlife Federation – https://gardenforwildlife.com/collections/
- Wild Ones – https://nativegardendesigns.wildones.org/nursery-list/
Grants for Plants
The Tennessee Native Plant Society will soon provide an application with guidelines for schools and student groups to apply for funds to purchase native plants and seeds. Check back here soon.
Grants are also available from:
Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education – https://wildones.org/seeds-for-education/
Student Native Gardens