Have you ever gazed at your garden and thought, "How can I make this space more lively, sustainable, and local?" Enter the world of Virginia native plants—a colorful array of flora that doesn't just beautify your backyard but also benefits our environment in big ways.
In this article, we'll dig into the perks of planting locally, how it helps our planet, and even some tips for a garden that shines year-round. Dive in with us as we unearth the magic of going native and how it can spruce up your garden while lending Mother Earth a helping hand.
Ready to dig deep? Keep reading!
Why Go Native?
Benefits to the Local Ecosystem
Imagine your garden as a small-scale, open-air hotel for local wildlife. Native plants have evolved in harmony with the local environment and its critters. When you plant native, you're setting up a welcoming habitat for local birds, bees, and butterflies. You're not just growing plants; you're sustaining an ecosystem.
Who doesn't like to save money? Native plants are generally low-maintenance. They've grown up in your area and are more comfortable with your soil, rainfall, and temperatures. This means less watering, fewer fertilizers, and minimal need for pesticides. In the long run, your wallet will feel heavier and your workload lighter.
So, whether it's helping Mother Nature or making your life a bit easier, going native is a wise choice. It's a true win-win scenario!
Climate Change Mitigation
By absorbing CO2, native plants help to combat climate change directly. Think of your garden as a miniature forest, locking away carbon and producing fresh oxygen.
Soil Health and Erosion Control
Native plants have root systems that improve soil structure and reduce erosion. So not only will you be fighting climate change, you'll be giving Mother Earth a spa day!
Native Plants for Year-Round Interest in Virginia
Virginia's diverse climate makes it an ideal home for many native plants. If you’re aiming to keep your garden lively throughout the four seasons, here's a curated list for you
Virginian Native Plants for Spring:
Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica)
The Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) is a perennial plant native to eastern North America, known for its blue, bell-shaped flowers that bloom in the spring. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall in moist, well-drained soils and prefers partial shade. After blooming, it goes dormant in the summer. It's a valuable nectar source for early spring pollinators and is often used in garden settings and restoration projects. It is not toxic but should not be consumed.
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a small deciduous tree native to eastern North America, known for its stunning pink to purple flowers that bloom in early spring. It grows to a height of 20-30 feet and prefers well-drained, slightly acidic to neutral soil. The tree is fairly low-maintenance, drought-tolerant once established, and generally pest-resistant. It's commonly used as an ornamental tree in residential landscapes and parks.
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
The Cornus florida, also known as the flowering dogwood, is a deciduous tree native to the eastern United States. It's popular for its showy spring "flowers," which are actually white or pink bracts surrounding small yellowish flowers. The prefers well-drained, acidic soil and full to partial sun. It produces red berries that attract wildlife and has leaves that turn red or purple in the fall. The tree is often used for ornamental purposes but is also valued for its wood and traditional medicinal uses.
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
The Wild Columbine is a beautiful native perennial found in Virginia's forests and rocky outcrops. It has beautiful, hanging flowers with red and yellow tones. This plant stands out against the green greenery that surrounds it. Its distinctive bell-like shape attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, both essential pollinators. This plant is also hardy, thriving in various soil types and light conditions, making it a popular choice for native plant gardens. This hardy shrub nourishes local ecosystems and lends a delicate refinement to the places it inhabits.
Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
White trillium, a native wildflower of Virginia and the east, is Trillium grandiflorum. This wild plant with a solitary white bloom and three broad, green leaves is a springtime delight. The blossom turns pink as it ages, contrasting nicely with its lush background. Nature lovers and gardeners adore white trillium because it signals the end of winter. This beautiful perennial feeds and shelters insects and animals in the surrounding ecology.
Virginia Native Plants for Summer:
The bright, native Virginia perennial Butterfly Weed is a garden favorite for good reason. Its bright orange or yellow blossoms offer beauty to any landscape and attract pollinators like the monarch butterfly. This hardy plant thrives in full sun on dry, sandy, well-drained soils. Its deep taproot makes it drought-resistant and low-maintenance for gardeners.
Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata), a Virginia native perennial, brightens gardens and meadows in mid-to-late summer. This plant attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators with its fragrant, bright clusters of pink, purple, and white blooms. Summer Phlox grows to four feet and tolerates various soil types but prefers well-drained, fertile land.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
The vivid, native Virginia Black-eyed Susan illuminates gardens and meadows from early summer to fall. This sun-loving plant is popular with gardeners because of its golden-yellow petals and dark chocolate or black heart. It is also hardy and easy to care for. Stems can reach three feet tall and have coarse, hairy leaves. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, making them eco-friendly landscape additions. The Black-eyed Susan is versatile and elegant, surviving most pests and diseases in a variety of soil types.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
The perennial Purple Coneflower is endemic to Virginia and Eastern North America. This is a resilient flower in wild and cultivated gardens. It has brilliant purple-pink petals and a spiky crown-shaped central cone. The Purple Coneflower attracts bees and butterflies, making it an ecological value. Its therapeutic characteristics make it popular in herbal immune-boosting therapies.
Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is a native perennial found in Virginia's meadows, wetlands, and woodland borders. This plant grows to 7 feet and has stunning mauve-pink flower clusters and tall, strong stems. It attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds from late summer to early fall. Joe Pye Weed is popular among gardeners for its therapeutic properties and height, and color. It grows quickly in full sun to light shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil, making it suitable for formal and naturalistic gardens.
Virginia Native Plants for Fall:
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Virginia and eastern US natives include the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). This vine's luscious, green leaves turn scarlet in the fall, beautifying gardens and landscapes. It grows swiftly and sticks to fences and tree trunks with its adhesive tendrils. Its five-fingered leaves are recognizable. While it's popular for covering walls and trellises, its berries are deadly if eaten.
Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), a Virginia native, is loved for its bright red fruit clusters and fern-like foliage. This resilient shrub grows 15–25 feet tall and thrives in dry and poor soils. Sumac leaves turn bright orange or crimson in autumn, brightening the scene. The crimson fruit clusters, formed like a stag's horn, feed birds and other animals. Staghorn sumac is easy to grow and manage and is used in landscaping to minimize soil erosion and add beauty.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Goldenrod, belonging to the Solidago genus, is a native perennial plant commonly found in various parts of Virginia. Known for its vibrant yellow flower clusters, it blooms from late summer into fall, adding color to meadows, fields, and roadside areas. Not only is goldenrod aesthetically pleasing. It is also an important nectar source for pollinators like bees and butterflies. Contrary to the popular misconception that it causes allergies. This is low in pollen and is often unfairly blamed for the symptoms usually caused by other plants like ragweed. Easy to grow and highly adaptable, goldenrod symbolizes resilience and is a staple in Virginia's natural landscape.
New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), a native Virginia perennial, makes meadows, swamps, and roadsides purple in late summer and early fall. Long, slender leaves and clusters of fuzzy, deep-purple blooms distinguish this hardy plant, which can grow up to 6 feet tall. Ironweed is both beautiful and vital to the ecosystem. Bees and butterflies love the blossoms, making it a great choice for a wildlife-friendly garden. New York Ironweed is a flexible addition to any native plant garden since it thrives in full sun to partial shade and tolerates poor, moist soils.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a versatile Virginia forest shrub. This deciduous shrub blooms spidery yellow flowers in late October, adding brightness when other plants are dormant. Witch Hazel leaves, and bark is used to make a topical astringent that soothes inflamed skin and has decorative value. Wildlife, like birds and insects, use the plant for food and shelter. Witch Hazel is an excellent addition to native gardens and natural landscapes because it grows quickly in many soil types.
Virginia Native Plants for Winter:
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Virginia's native shrub winterberry (Ilex verticillata) brightens winter vistas. This deciduous holly loses its leaves in the fall, revealing beautiful red berries that endure throughout winter. Winterberry is a popular choice for wildlife-friendly gardens because birds and other wildlife rely on these berries. It grows well in damp and dry soils and is great in native planting and erosion prevention.
Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Juniperus virginiana, the Eastern Red Cedar, is native to Virginia and the eastern US. This resistant tree's evergreen needles and aromatic wood make it adaptable to many soil types and weather conditions. Its blueish "berries" are little cones that feed wildlife, and its strong wood is utilized for fence posts and cedar chests.
American Holly (Ilex opaca)
The Virginia native American Holly (Ilex opaca) symbolizes winter festivities. This evergreen tree may grow up to 50 feet tall and has lustrous, dark green leaves with pointed edges and vivid red berries. The American Holly grows in various soil types and provides shelter and food for birds and other species in wooded regions. The tree's remarkable beauty, berries, and foliage make it ideal for landscaping and holiday decorations.
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Virginia and the eastern US are home to the perennial, evergreen Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). This fern is popular in woodland gardens and shaded environments because it stays green over the holidays. It grows in well-drained, damp, acidic soil with dark green, leathery fronds up to two feet long. The Christmas Fern is beautiful and a home for little creatures and insects. It is resilient and easy to care for, making it a great choice for adding natural beauty to outdoor spaces.
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a lovely, evergreen ground cover from Virginia and the East. It has small, dark green leaves, exquisite white flowers, and vivid red berries. The berries provide nourishment and color to wildlife during the winter. The plant's modest growth and shade tolerance are ideal for forest gardens and shaded places. Its evergreen nature means it retains its leaves in winter, making it an excellent decorative element and erosion control.
Let's wrap this up! If you've made it this far, you're probably just as excited as we are about the benefits of planting native species in your Virginia garden. Not only are these plants a feast for the eyes, but they're also a gift to our planet. From fighting climate change to saving you money, the perks are endless. So why not make your next garden project a native one? Your local wildlife and Mother Earth herself will thank you!
Feeling inspired? Get your hands dirty! Head to your local nursery or check out online resources to plan your dream native garden today.