Professional Practice

Applying Ecological Design: Native Plants

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A meadow on a lakeside property in Lakeville, Connecticut / Larry Weaner Landscape Associates with Jaime Purinton Landscape Architect

Native plants offer aesthetic and ecological benefits for residential landscapes. They are crucial to restoring local ecosystems, increase biodiversity, and provide ideal habitat for wildlife. Due to their hardiness and high resistance, native plants can effectively filter stormwater and greywater. And once established, native plants are low maintenance and require minimal irrigation.

Using native plants can help achieve The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) credit for soil and vegetation. By using native vegetation that contributes to the site’s eco-region, homeowners can minimize damage to healthy plant communities while restoring diminished plant communities. In addition to their inherent environmental benefits, native plants reduce the need to use pesticides, which runoff into water supplies, and equipment that release a range of pollutants and can cumulatively affect air quality.

Native plant benefits include:

  • Reduced environmental contamination: Native plants reduce the need to use chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other toxic lawn maintenance treatments.
  • Increased water quality: Native plants filter stormwater and greywater
  • Improved air quality: Landscape maintenance equipment produces up to five percent of ozone-forming volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and can also emit toxic particulates.
  • Due to the inherent low maintenance nature of native plants, the need for mowing and other conventional maintenance equipment can be eliminated.

There are a variety of plants native to different regions, and selection depends on local soil type and site conditions. Many localities around the world fund registries of local native plants; check with native plant societies and nurseries. Governments also support the planting of native species. In 2016, the Washington, D.C. department of energy and the environment handed out 8,000 packets of native seeds at metro stop throughout the city.

At the neighborhood scale, multiple residents using native plants on their property can help to build a network that supports biodiversity, pollinator health, and ecological restoration. Integrating more native plants into back and front yards, as well as streetscapes and parks, creates more opportunities for local insects, including pollinators, and birds to move across the landscape.

Sources: Greenacres: Green Landscaping, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Four Ways to Reduce the Loss of Native Plants and Animals from Our Cities and Towns, Mark McDonnell, Amy Hahs, The Nature of Cities

Organizations

Australia Native Plants Society

California Native Plant Society

Florida Native Plant Society

Center for Plant Conservation

North American Native Plant Society

Note: Most U.S. states and countries have native plant societies. These are just a few examples. The American Horticultural Society has list of native plant societies by state.


Resources

Plant Native

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

How to Go Native, NC State University

Native Landscape Design Center, Adkins Arboretum

How Cities Drive Plant Extinct, BBC News

Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes

Choosing Your Plants, National Wildlife Federation

Native Plant Database, Audubon

Native Landscaping Manual: A Guide to Native Landscaping in Missouri, Missouri Botanical Garden

Resource-efficient Natural Landscaping: Design – Build – Maintain, Seattle Public Utilities

Your Mega Guide to Australian Native Plants, Australian Outdoor Living

Research

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, Timber Press, 2015

Garden Revolution: How our Landscapes can be a Source of Environmental Change,” Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher, Timber Press, 2016

Principles of Ecological Landscape Design,” Travis Beck, Island Press, 2013

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden,” Rick Darke and Douglas W. Tallamy, Timber Press, 2014

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” Douglas W. Tallamy and Rick Darke, Timber Press, 2009

"Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants," C. Colston Burrell. Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2006

"Native Ferns, Moss, and Grasses: From Emerald Carpet to Amber Wave, Serene and Sensuous Plants for the Garden," William Cullina. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008

Government Resources

Green Landscaping: Greenacres, Environmental Protection Agency

Model Native Plant Landscape Ordinance Handbook, University of Florida Levin College of Law

Conservation Assistance Program, Fairfax County, Virginia

Backyard Habitat Certification Program, City of Portland, Oregon

RiverSmart Homes – Bayscaping, Department of Energy & Environment, DC

Colorado Plateau Native Plants Initiative, National Landscape Conservation System, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior

Landscaping with Native Plants, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, State of Pennsylvania

Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration and Landscaping, Department of Conservation & Recreation, State of Virginia

Projects

Flying Point Residence, Southampton, New York
Edmund Hollander Landscape Architect Design

Water Calculation and Poetic Interpretation, Monterey Cypress, California
Arterra Landscape Architects

West Texas Ranch, Marfa, Texas
Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

Maple Hill Residence, Westwood Massachusetts
Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects

Farrar Pont Residence, Lincoln, Massachusetts
Mikyoung Kim Design, Brookline, Massachusetts

Ketchum Residence, Ketchum, Idaho
Lutsko Associates

Lee Landscape, Calistoga, California
Blasen Landscape Architecture, San Anselmo, California

Pump House, Highland Park, Texas
MESA, Dallas, Texas and D.I.R.T. Studio, Charlottesville, Virginia

San Juan Island Residence, San Juan Islands, Washington
Paul Broadhurst & Associates, Seattle, Washington

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