Choosing Natives

You may ask yourself, what is a native plant? Well, simply said (or not so simply) a native plant is one that has occurred naturally, without human help, in a particular place since before European settlements. These plants have existed and evolved over thousands of years in a specific ecosystem, which are communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms found within a particular area, interacting with the environment.

In Wisconsin, our ecosystems are typically forest, grassland, and wetlands and each break down to various, diverse communities within each. For example, grasslands also include prairies, savannas, fens, and meadows. Many of these different ecosystems within the state can be observed just by driving down the freeway, or on winding side roads, or taking a walk through a woodland forest. Within these different native communities are large varieties of trees, shrubs, and perennials that all have adapted to the climate, soil conditions, and wildlife. While some people have the impression that native plants look wild and unkempt, in reality they are some of the most beautiful with colorful flowers, wonderful fruit displays (most lasting through the winter) interesting bark, and even great fall color.

Left: Buttonbush - Cephalanthus occidentalis | Right: Red Milkweed - Asclepias incarnata

Now you may be asking, can native plants be a part of my landscape? Can choosing natives help my landscape? The answer is…absolutely, when placed properly. The first thing that would need to be determined is site selection. Is the area to be planted hot and dry all day, is it shady and always feels moist to the touch, or is it somewhat a mixture of both. Also the size of the area to be planted also needs to be considered.

Native plants offer many benefits for the home landscape. Because they have naturally adapted to their habitat, native plants practically take care of themselves. When sited correctly and established, they typically require little maintenance such as watering, fertilizing, and pruning. Many natives help control erosion and reduce runoff with their deep and fibrous root systems or suckering habit. They provide food or shelter in some way for wildlife, many of the flowering plants provide a generous food supply with either their nectar or with abundant seed heads.

Johnson’s Nursery, Inc. is a leading grower of Wisconsin native plants. Our expert designers can help you choose natives and incorporate them into your home landscape. This is an awesome time to think about your landscape and what types of plants to add to it. Why not think about choosing natives and creating a natural habitat in your yard with all their wonderful benefits to you, wildlife and the environment.

See all of our articles about Wisconsin native plants.