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Greenacres: Landscaping with Native Plants


Danielle Green

Greenacres Links
Landscaping Resources

Landscaping with native wildflowers and grasses improves the environment. Natural landscaping brings a taste of wilderness to urban, suburban, and corporate settings by attracting a variety of birds, butterflies and other animals. Once established, native plants do not need fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or watering, thus benefiting the environment and reducing maintenance costs. Gardeners and admirers enjoy the variety of colors, shapes, and seasonal beauty of these plants.

Native Forest Plants
Native Forest Plants
Native Prairie Plants
Native Prairie Plants
Native Wetland Plants
Native Wetland Plants
Birds, Bees and More
Birds, Bees & More

There are a variety of ecosystems in the Great Lakes basin. Many of the plants found in these ecosystems can also thrive in your yard, on corporate and university campuses, in parks, golf courses and on road sides. These native plants are attractive and benefit the environment. Many native plant seeds or seedlings are available from nurseries for landscaping. While these native plants are yours to admire in the wild, they must remain in their natural setting to ensure that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

How to get started

Everyone can include native plants in their landscaping; from those with acres of land (e.g. corporations, universities), to those with small urban lots, to those protecting a pristine ecosystem during a construction project. There are some tips to know how to get started and what to expect while your wild plants are taking root. And while natural prairies require fire for maintenance, mowing the native plants in your yard or next to buildings works just as well. There is a toolkit for local governments to promote the use of native plants - individuals may also find it useful! Be sure to read the wonderful law review article on municipal weed laws.

Case Studies

Native plants are beautiful, hardy and once established require less maintenance than a conventional lawn. The native flowers and grasses also function much like a natural system, with diverse plants providing food and shelter for a host of birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. Within the Great Lakes basin, and beyond, people are incorporating native plants into their landscapes. There are successful examples of native landscaping at corporations, universities, residences, schools, and other places.

Gnome Wizard

Find out about native plant experts and resources for your Great Lakes state. A feasibility study about turning abandoned lots into native plant seed gardens written by The Nature Conservancy.


Landscaping with native plants improves the environment. Native plants are hardy because they have adapted to the local conditions. Once established, native plants do not need pesticides, fertilizers, or watering. Not only is this good for the environment, it saves time and money. A native landscape does not need to be mowed like a conventional lawn. This reduces the demand for non-renewable resources and improves the water and air quality. The periodic burning (or mowing when burning is not practical) required for maintenance of a prairie landscape mimics the natural prairie cycle and is much better for the environment. Landscaping with native wildflowers and grasses helps return the area to a healthy ecosystem. Diverse varieties of birds, butterflies and animals, are attracted to the native plants, thus enhancing the biodiversity of the area. The beauty of native wildflowers and grasses creates a sense of place, both at home and work. The native plants increase our connection to nature, help educate our neighbors, and provide a beautiful, peaceful place to relax.

Reduced Use of Pesticides

Since native plants have adapted to local conditions, they are more resistant to pest problems. Sometimes individuals use non-persistent pesticides, which break down into harmless components, before sowing native plant seeds to minimize competition from the weeds. Once the native plants are established, pesticides are seldom needed.

Improved Air Quality

Native landscaping practices can help improve air quality on a local regional and global level. Locally, smog (ground level ozone) and air toxics can be drastically reduced by the virtual elimination of the need for lawn maintenance equipment (lawn mowers, weed edgers, leaf blowers, etc.) which is fueled by gasoline, electricity or batteries. All of these fuel types are associated with the emissions of the following air pollutants: carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and air toxics such as benzene. Gasoline lawn and garden equipment, on average, produces 5% of ozone-forming VOCs in areas with smog problems. This equipment also emits toxics and particulates.

Regionally, the NOx and SO2 released from lawn maintenance equipment react with water in the atmosphere to form acid rain.

Globally, native landscaping practices help to combat global warming in two ways. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major greenhouse gas and by reducing the use of lawn maintenance equipment, the associated CO2emissions are also reduced. Native plants help to reduce the amount of CO2in the atmosphere by taking in CO2and storing the carbon in the body of the plants, roots and soil. Native plants work much better than traditional mowed grass as a carbon sink due to their extensive root systems and increased ability to retain and store water.

Improved Water Quality

In conventional landscaping, pesticides are often wrongly applied at times when target insects are not vulnerable. Overuse and inappropriate use often kill beneficial insects and other wildlife. Less than 10% of all insects are harmful to plants. Pesticides have the potential to cause serious human health problems when not handled properly or applied according to the label directions. By eliminating or minimizing the use of pesticides and fertilizers, these pollutants will not run-off into streams, lake, and bays. This improves the quality of the water and the aquatic life in it. In healthy water systems. natural controls, such as fish, frogs, and snails will help keep insect populations under control and reduce algae buildup.

Conservation and Native Landscaping Awards

EPA and Chicago Wilderness developed the awards to recognize outstanding efforts by corporations, park districts and municipalities to use native plants in the landscape within the Chicago Wilderness region.

Landscaping with Native Plants: Exploring the Environmental, Social, and Economic Benefits
December 6 - 7, 2004

This conference explored the state of knowledge for quantifying the benefits of landscaping with native plants, with a focus on the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. We identified gaps in the current knowledge base, and definee future research priorities. Conference Summary and Identified Research Agenda

The Natural Landscaping Alternative: An Annotated Slide Collection

50 slides selected for their ability to define natural landscaping and explain its benefits, to illustrate applications of natural landscaping, and to demonstrate installation and management techniques.

North Branch Restoration Project Seed Book

The Seed Photo Project tracks a variety of native plants from first flower to seed. Information on each plant includes details on when to pick the seeds. This is intended to guide seed harvesting efforts for restoration, but can also be used in your own yard.

Sustainable Landscaping Slideshow

Learn about the environmental impacts of traditional landscaping and alternatives such as using native plants in the landscape. This presentation was developed as part of the Smithsonian Institution's Horticultural Services Division winter in-service training program.

Sustainable Landscaping, The Hidden Impacts of Gardens (PDF) (62pp, 8.1MB About PDF) March 2003

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