The “right plant in the right place” is a rule of thumb for native plant gardening that offers a tried-and-true path to creating a healthy, thriving landscape. While we all break the rules at some point — and sometimes with decent results — straying too far from this old adage usually leads to a high maintenance planting and a lot more work than you bargained for. Digging-up and relocating plants is a labor intensive job, and it’s probably fair to say that we all want to avoid it.
Especially relevant to choosing native plants, this common gardening wisdom opens the door to their many ecological benefits. The right native plant in the right place is key to:
— A yard that can easily survive on local rainfall, once plants are established.
— No need for soil amendment, fertilizers or additional resources.
— A garden that will flourish with minimal maintenance or intervention.
— A planting that help build soil health and is capable of repairing degraded situations.
— A landscape that is networked with the indigenous wildlife community.
There are two pieces of very good news about choosing native plants. First, there are native plants that will thrive in virtually any soil or growing conditions which you may have; and second, many native plants are very adaptable and will thrive in a wide range of conditions.
Where to Start
Each yard or landscape is unique and has its own characteristics and micro-climates. Get to know the unique qualities within your landscape. As you become more familiar you will be able to pick the right plants. Is the planting area on the east, south or north side of the house? Is there a steep hill, or a dip in the elevation? Is the area high and dry? Is there any root competition from trees? Do you want to plant in an area that gets standing water? The soil, sunlight and the moisture can all vary in different parts of your yard. Familiarity is key.
If familiarity is first, then acceptance is second. Be realistic about the conditions you find, so you can find what will actually thrive there. Most plants are able to thrive within a range of soil and light situations, but there are some native plants that definitely need to be planted in very specific situations.
Know Your Site Conditions Before Choosing
There are three things you need to know about the site before choosing your plants:
1. Soil Type – Soil type is determined by the size of the particles, the amount of organic matter, and the water-holding capacity of the soil. Examine the soil by squeezing a clump of dirt in your hand and rubbing it between your fingers. Sand, loam or clay?
2. Soil Moisture – Soil Moisture is the result of elevation in the landscape, or proximity to groundwater or to surface water. Dry, medium, moist or wet?
3. Light Conditions – Indicates the amount of sunlight received in a given area, over the course of a day. Full sun, partial sun, or shade?
Use the Plantfinder on Our Website
Once you’ve determined the conditions at your planting site, or sites, use the filtering options on our website to create a list of the best plants for your setting. Start broadly, and choose just one attribute for each of the three main categories: Soil Type, Soil Moisture and Sunlight. This gives you a nice broad view of choices to start with.
What About Native Ranges?
Native range maps for each plant can be found on our website. These maps offer unique information and are a valuable reference tool. When using the maps, keep in mind that the map, on its own, will not tell you which plants are best for your site. The range maps don’t contain any information about the physical environment to which the plant is adapted (whether prairie, woodland or savanna, dry rocky, etc.). Always refer to the plants’ growing conditions to make a decision. The right plants will have requirements that align with your site conditions.
Native plants can be grown outside of their range in the appropriate conditions. Each map shows where the species has been reported to grow, or has grown. Plants don’t abide by the borders — birds, insects, mammals, humans and weather all play a role in moving the plants about, and it’s natural for ranges to shift over time.
Low-Maintenance is Not No-Maintenance
Even the best sited plants need some routine care in order to succeed. New transplants need special attention while they are getting established. Newly installed plants need to be watered and mulched for the first full growing season.
In a rapidly changing world where landscape degradation is all too common, native plants have the amazing capacity to help repair degraded situations, create sustainable gardens and bring biodiversity back into your landscape. The best choices for a beautiful thriving garden will be based on your specific site conditions. You’ll be happier with the results, and so will the plants, when they are chosen to fit the soil, light and temperate conditions at hand.