Getting Started — For Beginners

Caring for the land by improving or transforming a garden can be thought of as a series of small actions towards a larger purpose. Whether you start simply by planting a few natives in a small border, plant a new native tree in your yard, replace an entire flower bed with native shrubs— or whether you do a wholesale redesign and planting of a larger area— know that every step you take to improve biodiversity has an impact. So dig into the dirt, and dig deeper into the resources on this website, to find out how rewarding a relationship with native plants can be!

Enjoy the Learning Process

Read about native plants and peruse good books. There are many native plant references with great photographs and wonderful plant descriptions to help you get to know the great diversity of species that you might consider for your landscape. Take a class. Spend time outdoors observing native plants in the landscape. Connect with others who care about this issue.

Evaluate Growing Conditions in Your Landscape

What kind of soil is present— is it moist or dry? Soil tests can be useful. What are the light conditions on site, and how do they change through the seasons? Is it well-suited to become a meadow, a woodland, a wetland, or something else? Do your reading and research to determine which species will be best adapted to your conditions.

Decide What You Want to Accomplish

Think about a concept. What type of landscape do you want to create, and why? What are the local land characteristics that you have present to use to your best advantage?

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    Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.

        — Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 2013



  • Think about Plant Communities

    Learn more about which plants grow together in nature. Take a walk through the woods or on conservation lands to start observing naturally occurring plant communities. Attend a guided nature walk or workshop with an expert to become better at identifying individual species and their growing conditions.

    Plant Woody Plants— Trees and Shrubs

    Woody plants provide the essential foundation for healthy ecosystems. Many, many beautiful species are available in these categories. They are important as host plants to native insects, moths, bees, and butterflies, and they create habitat for birds and mammals. Because trees and shrubs will have the most long-term impact, both for improving biodiversity and for shaping the character of your landscape, plant them early on.

    Don’t be Afraid of the Wild

    Sit back and watch what comes up naturally in your garden. Letting things grow naturally allows native grasses, sedges, and flowers to emerge. Over time you will learn to identify the natives, non-natives, and invasives, and can begin to weed out the unwelcome plants in the mix.

    Leave Leaf Litter in Place

    It has become the norm to spend hours raking or blowing leaves off our lawns and flower beds. Resist the temptation to remove leaf litter. It is highly beneficial to the insects, birds, and animals in your garden to allow leaves to remain in place over the winter and throughout the seasons.

    Follow Good Planting Practices

    Before placing your plants in the ground, remove plants from their pots and gently loosen their roots. For small perennials, you can soak the plants in a couple of inches of water to ensure that they are well hydrated. Place them in a hole that is twice as wide as the plant and approximately the depth of the pot they came in. For trees and shrubs, be sure to free up the roots in the root ball, and plant with the root crown just above the soil surface. Water your plants daily at first, then weekly, and finally at lesser intervals until they are well established.

    Don’t Panic!

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of changing your garden to a native landscape. Many non-natives have sentimental value or their removal might be expensive if they are larger trees. Changing your garden to a native paradise can be a gradual process. Every native plant you introduce adds value to the landscape.