What are Native Plants?

When people say “native plants” they’re talking about plants that naturally occur in a specific habitat or bio-region. Plants that are native to the Chesapeake Bay region are already accustomed to this area’s soil and climate and have evolved to withstand many diseases and insect pests.

When should I plant Native Plants? 

Fall is the best time of the year to plant native plants. Once September rolls around, head over to your local nursery and start stocking up! Autumn days are cooler so it requires less water to get plant roots established. And, as a bonus, you won’t break as much of a sweat with your shovel digging in the fall compared to hot summer days. 

How do Native Plants help the Chesapeake Bay and local rivers and streams?

When it rains, stormwater washes chemicals and fertilizers into our streams and rivers, which ultimately flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Once in our waterways, these pollutants fuel the growth of excess algae, which clouds the water and threatens the health of fish, crabs, and the entire Chesapeake Bay.

One of the easiest ways for us to reduce our pollution contribution to the Chesapeake Bay is to plant native plants. These plants, having lived in our region for hundreds of years, are accustomed to local sun, soil, and climate and don’t require additional fertilizer or water. By replacing some of your lawn and typical landscaping with native plants, you’ll not only help the Bay and pollinators. You’ll also save money on fertilizer, water, and pest control…and, even raise your property value!

5 of our Favorite Native Plants

1. Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Native Columbine

Wild Columbine is a native perennial plant with nodding, bell-shaped, red and yellow flowers that bloom in spring and early summer. (Flatbush Gardener/Flickr)

Wild columbine is a native perennial plant with nodding, bell-shaped, red and yellow flowers that bloom in spring and early summer. They do great in a variety of conditions and attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Wild columbine grows 1 to 3 feet tall and can spread easily overtime filling in open spaces in your garden.

2. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Alliance staff like this plant so much we made a video about it – Coneflower Power! (Visit our Native Plant Narratives page to see other videos). 

Purple Coneflowers are a native perennial with large, lavender flowers that bloom in early summer. They have large, lavender flowers with a spiny, dome-shaped, orange or brown center. Its stems have small, rough hairs. Flowers bloom in early summer, usually in June to July. Purple coneflower grows 1 to 3 feet tall. They are very popular with birds, bees and butterflies…and humans! Echinacea, drawn from the coneflower plant, is used as a popular herbal tea. Studies have shown that echinacea may help boost the immune system and fend off infections.

3. Spotted Cranesbill or Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Native Wild GeraniumWild Geranium is an excellent addition to any garden and is easy to grow here in the Chesapeake region. Its beautiful pinkish-purple flowers start appearing in late spring and continue to bloom, attracting bees and butterflies for six to seven weeks. Wild Geraniums have a unique way of spreading their seeds. About a month after blooming, seed pods (that resemble a cranesbill) explode, catapulting seeds up to 30 feet away from the parent plant.

4. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Native Little Blue StemNo garden is complete without an ornamental native grass for winter interest and color. Little bluestem is perfect for this. The bluish-green grass only gets around 3 feet tall (hence the “little”) but turns a beautiful mahogany in the Fall and white, fluffy seed tufts that feed birds throughout the winter months.

5. Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Baltimore checkerspot butterfly landing on a Turtlehead in Bucks, PA on June 4, 2015. (Photo courtesy Jason Ksepka/iNaturalist CC BY-NC) www.inaturalist.org/photos/26453989

This plant gets its nickname because its leaves are shaped like a tortoise and the flowers look like a tortoise’s head. They grow from 2 to 3 feet tall and prefer moist soil in full to partial sun. We have a soft spot for this plant because its a key food plant for the caterpillars of the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Maryland’s State Insect). Turtleheads also attract long-horned bees, bumble bees and hummingbirds.

As you can see, adding some native plants to your garden will enhance the ecosystem’s health around your home. Now that you know what to plant and why to plant it, it’s time to visit your local nursery, grab your shovel, and get planting!