If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve probably seen me post many pictures of native plants. I am a huge advocate of native planting regardless of where you live. Native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions and they require far less water, which means you save money and a natural resource. They are also beneficial to wildlife in the area whether it be insects or birds.
To help you decide on plants for your garden, I’d like to present what I call The 5 Commandments of Native Plants:
- Know thy planting zone
- Know thy ecoregion
- Know thy soil
- Understand the sun
- Understand water use
1. Know thy planting zone
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. You can find the map here. You can also enter in your zip code to determine exactly what zone your garden is in. This is where you should start off with the purchase of plants. I love Peonies and Poppies but I live in zone 9A. It would be a waste of money to plant them because they would not survive the sun/ heat.
2. Know thy ecoregion
Within all the zones of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, there are many ecoregions. An ecoregion is geographical area with plants, animals and ecosystems that are characteristic to that area. Texas has 10 different ecoregions. Why is this important? For choosing what plants are truly native to your area of course! Plants found in a plains setting would probably not be found in a desert setting. I live in the Gulf Coast Prairie ecosystem so naturally I would choose plants found in this ecoregion. By doing so, I know my plants will thrive better than plants meant for a desert such as a agave. Even though the an agave would technically be safe because of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, the amount of rain we get here would be hard on the plant. Find your ecoregion here.
3. Know thy soil
There are 6 main soil types: Clay, Sandy, Silty, Peaty, Chalky, and Loamy. Each of the different soil types has a different acidity and passes water differently. Clay drains poorly and sandy drains quickly. Knowing what type of soil you have will also help you know which type of plants to select because as you might have guessed, different plants from different ecoregions are used to different types of soils. Where I live in the gulf coast prairie, I have primarily clay or clay-loam. Knowing this, I would not choose a plant that would prefer to live in sandy soil. There would be too much water retention for the plant and it would more than likely die. Here is a great explanation of the different soils.
4. Understand the sun
Seems simple enough, right? The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. But, as the Earth rotates, where the sun is shining on your house or garden changes. Before planting a plant, or even starting a garden for that matter, take a day to watch the sunlight direction change around your house. This way, you will know what areas have full sun, partial sun, and full shade. If you plant a plant that requires full shade in full sun, it will die. Full sun is 6+ hours, partial sun is 3-6 hours and full shade -3 hours.
5. Understand water use
One of the benefits of native plants is they require less water once established than other plants. Usually. Of course, there are some native plants that always require a lot of water because they come from a waterlogged environment. Understanding what type of soil you have will aide in water use. For example, if you have sandy soil, and you plant a plant that requires a lot of water, you are going to be wasting a lot of water trying to keep the plant hydrated.
So there are the Five Commandments of Native Plants. If you are interested in have a beautiful garden that requires less water and maybe even less maintenance, try going native. You might be surprised at how many different types of native plants are out there. To get you started, here are some of my favorite resources:
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center- wildflower.org
Texas Parks and Wildlife- tpwd.texas.gov
Wildflower and Native Grass Seeds- seedsource.com
Gulf Coast Prairie Plant List- wildflower.org
Native Plant Society of Texas- npsot.org