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Planting Natives

Tennessee Native Plant Society
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Planting Natives

Whether you are planting natives in your own yard or adding native plants to a schoolyard, business campus, or non-profit, it’s always easier to start small and grow the project over time. One planting can be expanded over time or more areas included in 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, and during droughts).
  • Support for native pollinators (bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, etc.) as host plants for eggs, larvae, and adults, feeding pollinators at multiple stages of development.
  • No pesticides are needed since we WANT the pollinators to feed on the plants, knowing their native predators will keep preditor populations in check.
  • Our native plants are as beautiful as any in the world and provide a sense of place different from any other area of the world.

Possible Limitations

Does your HOA view native plants as weeds? If so, can they even identify a native plant? Make sure plantings 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 plants. Keep your native plantings 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?

If finances are limited, then seek out native plant/seed swaps. Native plants that like their location are often prolific, so seek out those who are willing to share their abundance of plants.

Site Conditions

Before choosing plants, determine your site conditions. Is it sunny or shady? When is there sunshine and for how long? Is the sunshine daily or seasonal? Consider planting spring ephemerals under deciduous shrubs and trees to mimic 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 under-laid by limestone?

Is the site flat or sloped? Is it a depression that holds water? Is it a hilltop with lots of wind? Before planting, make an effort to understand your site conditions and select your plants accordingly.

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:

To refine 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
  • 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,

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:

And here’s a little guidance in your choices: How to Buy a Native Plant

Grants 4 Native Plants

The Tennessee Native Plant Society provides grants for public, private, and home school groups to purchase native plants with the goal of improving recognition and appreciation of our beautiful Tennessee native plants. Native plants supply native pollinators with food for both larval and adult stages of development, and provide schools with native habitat for an array of native pollinators and other wildlife. These three links include Information, an Application form, and an Action Plan form:


Application criteria:

  • Must be a public or private school or home-school association in Tennessee.
  • Must be willing to use the Symbiotic Schoolyard or similar hands-on student curriculum.
  • May apply for a grant annually.

Schools receiving grants from TNPS will be provided:

  • Up to $500 for native plants and supplies
  • One Wildflowers of Tennessee book and one Woody Plants of Kentucky and Tennessee book for reference
  • A mentor to assist in decisions regarding site selection, plant choices, planting techniques, maintenance needs and possibilities for future planting projects


  • Grant Application deadline: June 30, 2024
  • Notification of grants awarded, and mentor provided by: August 1, 2024
  • Action Plan due: September 1, 2024
  • Grant check and books will be delivered shortly after the Action Plan is received.
  • Provide TNPS with before and after photos, student written article, and extended maintenance plan by May 1, 2025


Please send Grant Application and Action Plan via email to TNPS at

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Grants are also available from:

Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education –

Tennessee Environmental Education Association –