2016-04-01 / Features

Growing Native

Native Plants in the Residential Landscape
Lara Kauffman

You may have heard that planting North American native species in your garden is beneficial to our local environment, and that is true. They have evolved over thousands of years to grow in our soils and climate while sustaining and providing habitat for birds, bees, insects and other wildlife that need them to survive and maintain our ecosystem. But that same evolution also makes them beneficial to gardeners — native plants have adapted to tolerate stress and can be used in tough situations such as wet locations, heavy shade, dry prairies or wide-open meadows. Suburban landscapes often have microclimates that include any or all of these types of spaces, and growing healthy plants can be a challenge. Selecting the right plant for the location is essential, and designing these landscapes can be complex.

Fortunately, choosing native plants to grow in your residential garden is becoming much easier thanks to the abundance of native plants available for purchase. Many growers are now including native plants in their offerings, and each spring our local region hosts several plant sales, all of which include a variety of native plants that are wonderful to use in the residential landscape.

Plus, if you’re under the impression that native plants aren’t showstoppers, think again. Here are five favorite and time-tested native plants that can easily be integrated into the home landscape to add some real interest. Ready, set, go native! •SCM

Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) is a flowering perennial plant in the pea family that is native to eastern and central North America. It is found growing in meadows or along streams or woodland edges. It likes sun but will tolerate some shade and grows in dry to medium soil. The plant is a beautiful mounded specimen that grows 3 to 4 feet high and wide with large blue-green leaves. The flowers are a lovely blue-purple hue that burst open in the spring. When it is finished blooming, it offers large seed pods that add interest in late summer and into the fall. It dies all the way to the ground in the winter but is up early in the spring. Blue wild indigo is nicely accompanied by spring flowering bulbs to fill the void in the earliest spring days as it begins to grow.

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrechtii) is a showstopper in the fall garden but has merit most of the growing season. This North American native, which hails from Arkansas, adapts well to most soil and sun situations and seems to thrive easily in central PA. Its common name comes from the light blue flowers it puts out in the spring, which are star-shaped clusters floating on the soft feathery green new growth. As the season goes on, the plant changes colors with the sun — it hues out in the summer to a lime green with a hint of yellow, and by fall the vibrant bright gold, orange, pink and rust color is a standout as the season emerges. It holds its color well into the latter part of the season and looks gorgeous in masses. In addition bluestar seems to be deer resistant and attracts butterflies in the early summer.

Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is a tall deciduous shrub and is a favorite of many avid gardeners in our area (despite it being a Buckeye). It is a deer-resistant native from a bit farther inland and south, but it does very well in central Pennsylvania. It is best used to fill open spaces in large bed areas in the back of a border. It can reach up to 10 to 15 feet in height and equally as wide or wider. It offers a grand display of giant white fragrant ‘bottlebrush’ flowers that pollinators love. It prefers sun or partial shade, and the flowers tend to hold longer when it is not in late-day sunshine. It does well in nearly all types of soil and was bestowed the Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is a perennial ground cover that grows in part to full shade. Though no relation to the Asian ginger plant used in cooking, it does have a similar fragrance and was used by Native Americans for its medicinal properties. It reaches no higher than a foot tall and spreads up to about 2 feet with a rhizome system. The North American ginger is a slow-growing plant that is non-invasive yet forms a dense carpet once established. The leaves are large, heart shaped and beautifully cover and layer the front of a shade border. It does flower in the spring, but the blooms are hidden under the plant and are pollinated by ground insects. It can be easily divided in the spring and added to other parts of the landscape. Wild ginger is a must for every shade garden!

White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a fragrant flowering woody plant that is native in the eastern and central United States. It is a large shrub or small tree that can grow up to 30 feet tall but locally can be found much smaller, even at maturity. Specimens of the tree are best used as a focal point in a border or as an accent in small areas. It is glorious when in bloom, usually in late May, with delicate white drooping fringe-like blossoms that are richly scented and exude a glow, particularly at dusk. It is late to leaf out in the spring, but the fragrance and loveliness of the blooms make it well worth growing in your home landscape.


College Gardens
2481 Commercial Blvd.

Fox Hill Gardens
1035 Fox Hill Road

Wheatfield Nursery
1948 General Potter Hwy.
Centre Hall

2016 Central PA Native Plant Festival
Saturday, May 7
PA Military Museum

21st Annual Plant Celebration
Saturday, May 14
Centre Furnace Mansion

Centre County Master Gardener Garden Fair and Plant Sale
Saturday, May 21
Ag Progress Days Site

Lara Kauffman is a landscape architect, garden enthusiast and owner of LARA design Co. in State College.

Return to top