Once you've made the decision to convert part of your yard or outdoor space to native plants, it's tempting to just rush out and starting buying plants and seeds. But a little forethought and planning will help make the transition easier and more successful. We spoke to native plant experts around the Audubon network for advice on what to look for, what rookie mistakes to avoid, and how to best use the space available.
Know Your Space
Erin Reed, education manager for the Patterson Park Audubon Center, said it’s crucial to know your surroundings before breaking ground. Native plants have a tendency to spread, often rapidly, so knowing how your garden may affect your neighbor could go a long way in avoiding headaches later. “As opposed to just going to your nursery and picking what’s prettiest, know what plants make the most sense,” Reed said. Reed suggests creating a bird’s-eye map of your property, and crossing out the areas where you want to walk or do activities.
Additionally, it’s important to know how directly the sun or wind hits your garden. Whether the sun fully or partially hits your garden can affect the type of soil you use, and it will certainly affect which plants you'll put in specific spots. Want to find out which plants are native to your area? Use our database to find out.
Avoid a ‘Plant Zoo’
This is the one where we'd totally go wrong if left to our own devices. If one or two native plant species is good, then 100 are better, right? The idea of planting a garden with a diverse group of the prettiest and liveliest plants sounds like fun, but it’s a common error among rookie gardeners. Planting a bunch of different types of plants in your garden makes it difficult for pollinators to forage. For example, if your goal is to attract monarch butterflies, planting 10 milkweeds is more efficient than planting one. Reed suggests “planting in masses” to create a successful ecosystem for birds and bugs.
Ask an Expert
Kristin Lamberson and Mitch Robinson, respectively the native plant specialist and conservation education and land manager at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, said doing your homework before growing native plants is vital to success. Regular nurseries often aren’t as knowledgeable about the proper native plants to grow, so Lamberson recommends asking your local nature center or Audubon center about the bird-friendly plants that grow best in your area or neighborhood. To find a native plant nursery near you, enter your zipcode into our database and we'll tell you where they are.
Keep It Natural
Perhaps the easiest piece of advice to follow: Keep the garden as natural as possible. Don’t break off the deadheads (birds eat those), don’t rake the leaves, and of course avoid all pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Keeping your garden as naturalized as possible is better for supporting birds and other surrounding wildlife.