10 native plants (& nativars) to grow this year

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In recent years, enthusiasm for gardening has boomed, welcoming beginners to start their first gardens. But that leaves many of them wondering, “what are the best plants to grow?” In short, it all depends on what purpose you’d like your garden to serve. If you’re looking to support pollinators and local wildlife, choose natives.

Native plants (sometimes called “straight species”) are naturally found in an area or region without human intervention. That means they’re well adapted to their climate, low maintenance, and can handle problems (like drought or poor soils) with ease. More importantly, they tend to be favored by native wildlife and pollinators, probably because they’ve evolved together for centuries.

Plant breeders admire these qualities in native plants and have worked to breed them into “cultivars” with distinguishing characteristics. Cultivars are the product of plant breeding. They are defined as plants selected for specific traits, like foliage color, flower size, or disease resistance. Cultivars of native plants were given the catchy term “nativar,” leaving many gardeners wondering if it is still technically native. Here at Great Garden Plants, we say yes!

Are nativars just as beneficial as native plants? The jury is still out! Studies have noted that specific changes (like foliage color) can make plants less appealing to native insects, or nativars with double flowers can prevent pollinators from reaching their nectar and pollen. However, other traits that nativars offer are even more beneficial for the environment. Some nativars produce more flowers, bloom for longer, and provide more food for wildlife. While we can’t say for certain that nativars are better or worse than natives, we can say they are leaps and bounds better than non-native plants.

We’ve compiled all of our plants native to North America (including nativars) into one collection so they’re easier to shop. It boasts over 200 plants, so we’ll highlight some of our favorite North American natives that will happily call your garden home. 

1.) Bluestar (Amsonia)

Bluestar (or Amsonia) provides season-long interest, starting in spring when clusters of pale blue flowers start to bloom. Their flowers and foliage both attract pollinators, serving as a nectar source and host plant. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the nectar-rich blooms and coral hairstreak butterfly caterpillars feed on the foliage. It’s just as stunning in fall as the foliage takes on vibrant yellow hues. We offer the straight species native (Amsonia hubrichtii) as well as some nativars:

String Theory Bluestar (Amsonia) has light blue flowers
Giant coneflower with vibrant yellow blooms growing near water

2.) Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Black-eyed Susan (or Rudbeckia) are cherished for their glowing yellow flowers in late summer and early fall, just when it’s needed the most. Their later blooms offer nectar to pollinators at a time when other flowers typically start to fade. They attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds in summer and birds in the fall as the flowers give way to seedheads. Since they’re native, they’re naturally deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, and able to handle a wide range of soils. Here are the natives and nativars we offer:

3.) Coneflowers (Echinacea)

Coneflowers are a garden staple for a reason; their cheery fragrant flowers are beloved by pollinators and remarkably easy to care for. Fritillaries, swallowtails, and painted lady butterflies flock to the blooms alongside hummingbirds and bees. To best serve your local wildlife, we don’t recommend deadheading when the flowers fade in fall! Their seed heads provide an important source of food for birds through fall and winter. We offer over 18 different nativars, including:

Purple emperor coneflower with pollinator friendly purple blooms
close up of the tall lilac flower spikes of the Fascination culvers root

4.) Culver's Root (Veronicastrum)

Tall spikes of flowers bloom in the summer, providing a long-lasting source of nectar and pollen. Flowers start to bloom as the base of the spikes first, and as they fade, the buds above start to open. That means a continuous source of flowers for wildlife and gardeners to enjoy. If you love Veronica (or spike speedwell), you’ll definitely enjoy this perennial. While it differs in its presentation from leaves, it provides the same easy-care beauty, just bigger. We offer one nativar right now:

5.) Bowman's Root (Gillenia trifoliata)

Bowman’s root (or Gillenia trifoliata) is a bushy native perennial that boasts clusters of white flowers in late spring and early summer. It attracts butterflies, skippers, and most importantly, a variety of native bees. The foliage takes on vibrant red hues in fall, making it even more spectacular. We offer the straight species native:

Bowman's Root boasts white flowers in spring and summer
Close up of the white circular flowers of the Buttonbush

6.) Buttonbush

Buttonbush (or Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a native shrub with spherical white blooms you just have to see to believe.  They’re fragrant, loaded with nectar, and irresistible to butterflies and other pollinators. Plus, birds love the bright red seed heads that follow. While the flowers are showy, the foliage is just as important. Buttonbush serves as a host plant for a variety of showy moths (like the titan sphinx), making nearly every part of this plant beneficial for local wildlife. We offer a compact nativar from Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs:

7.) Goatsbeard

Goatsbeard (or Aruncus) is a native perennial that brings life to the shaded regions of your garden. The ethereal, feather-like flowers attract butterflies, bees, and birds, making it the perfect specimen in a pollinator garden. We offer the straight native (Aruncus dioicus) which grows in bushy clumps that reach up to 6 feet tall. However, if you don’t have the space, you can always opt for the compact nativar version. 

Goatsbeard with creamy white plume flowers growing in a shade garden
Milkweed with vibrant orange blooms that are important for monarch butterflies

8.) Milkweed

There really are so many reasons why milkweed (or Asclepias) belongs in your garden. They boast showy flowers, support pollinators, are easy to grow, deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, low maintenance, and generally disease-free. While many types of pollinators adore milkweed, it’s especially important to Monarch butterflies. Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on their leaves. We offer a few different native and nativars: 

9.) Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas (or Hydrangea quercifolia) are North American native shrubs that boast bold foliage, summer blooms, fall color, and peeling bark. The result is four seasons of interest for gardeners to enjoy. Their massive lacecap flowers carry a sweet fragrance that attracts pollinators by the score. Plus, they’re versatile, shade tolerant, and heat tolerant, which means they’re outstanding in nearly any garden. We offer several nativars, including the Gatsby series from Proven Winners:

Oakleaf hydrangeas have fragrant pink lacecap flowers
Close up of the deep red blooms of the Summerific Holy Grail Hardy Hibiscus which is native to North American wetlands

10.) Perennial Hibiscus

Perennial hibiscus (hardy hibiscus, swamp mallow, or Hibiscus moscheutos) easily attracts pollinators far and wide with massive dinner-plate size flowers. Large petals are arranged around a prominent staminal column that is loaded with pollen, making it hard for pollinators to miss. They naturally grow in wet soils in the Eastern and Southern United States, making them perfectly suited for wet troublesome sites in your garden. We offer the nativars from the Summerific® series from Proven Winners, including:

Questions, comments, or concerns? Let us know! We have an experienced, knowledgeable staff ready to make sure your garden turns out perfect. Or check out our other blogs, here.
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