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March 2018: Native Gardening


Purple coneflowers

Spring is nearly here! As we get closer and closer to planting and rejuvenating our gardens, let’s take a moment to review an ecologically beneficial option: native gardening. Native gardening, or natural landscaping, is the process of planting trees, plants, shrubs, or groundcover that are indigenous to the geographic area of the garden, meaning that the plants can occur naturally in the region. Because these plants are native to the area and already accustomed to the climate and soil, they are generally more successful than plants brought in from different areas.  

Over the past two centuries, urbanization has taken a toll on the environment surrounding us. What once was an area that could functionally sustain an ecosystem has been turned into lawns and filled with ornamental and exotic plants (Source: Audubon). Because these plants and grasses are exotic to the land, they often require pesticides and other harmful chemicals to keep them alive. In turn, these unnatural chemicals kill or harm insects, birds, and other creatures that rely on plants to survive. These insects and creatures are essential in keeping our ecosystem intact.

Native gardening is one way to help with this issue. There are various benefits to planting native plants:

Native plants are far more low maintenance than exotic plants. They do not require as much watering nor as many pesticides or fertilizers because they are adapted to the climate and natural soil conditions as they are (Source: USDA Forest Service).

Native plants are all around good for the environment. Because they don’t require as much maintenance, the amount of water being wasted and unnatural chemicals being used are reduced. Some long-living trees, such as the maple and oak, even store greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (Source: Audubon).  

They also provide a healthy habitat for birds, insects, and other creatures that are vital to our surroundings. Each creature plays a role in keeping our environment and ecosystem healthy and functional.

If you are interested in native plants/native gardening, The Sterling Morton Library has a plethora of available resources:

Native Gardening

Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees: Gardening Alternatives to Nonnative Species by Charlotte Adelman*

Gardening with Native Plants by Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants: How to Attract and Identify Butterflies by Christopher Kline*

Native Plants of the Midwest

Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden by Alan Branhagen 

Gardening with Native Plants in the Upper Midwest: Bringing the Tallgrass Prairie Home by Judy Nauseef

Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds by Mariette Nowak


*Access the Library’s e-book collection by entering the number on the back of your Sterling Morton Library card.


On June 6, The Morton Arboretum will be host Native Plants for the Home Gardener, a class on how to successfully incorporate native plants into home landscapes. 

For more help from the Arboretum, check out the Arboretum's Plant Database. Within the search options, users can search by plants native to the Chicago region and/or Illinois. The database will show an image of the plant, supply helpful information on the plant, and even show a map of where you can find the plant at the Arboretum.


Flower with thin purple pedals and yellow center.


Why Native Plants Matter. (2017, May 18). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from http://www.audubon.org/content/why-native-plants-matter.

Gardening with Wildflowers. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/Native_Plant_Materials/Native_Gardening/index.shtml