Natives are Easier. Yeah, right!


said – come learn why we need native plants to survive and everything
you ever wanted to know about choosing them, designing with them,
conservation efforts and teaching about them at The Native Plants in
The Landscape Conference, held each June on the campus of Millersville
University near historic Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  We'll be celebrating
the conference's 20th anniversary this year.   

This is the conference everyone talks about! 

is a one of a kind conference.   The conference was started by my
wonderful friend FM Mooberry.  FM is a tireless advocate for
landscaping with natives.  She started the native plant program at the
Brandywine River Museum.  She has taught many the benefit of planting
with natives and her progeny, this conference, will teach 400 people a
year how to embrace native plants.   

the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference will recharge you and
have you dreaming of ways to incorporate natives into every space and
garden you see.  From composting to basic plant identification:
landscape design and ecological restoration, there’s something for

is my baby.  I have been involved with this conference in since 1992. 
I took over as director in 2003 and this will be my seventh year as
director.  I love it and I volunteer a lot of my time to make this
conference happen. 

Native Plants in the Landscape conference is orchestrated by volunteers
who donate a lot of love and time to make this one of the best
educational values offered.   We all do it for the love of educating. 
The three-day event held on the campus of Millersville University
blossoms into one massive native plant community full of networking and
learning opportunities year after year. 

come from near and far (as far away as OR and CA) to attend this
conference each year.  This is no local event.  The speakers are
amazing, the food and housing are really great considering it’s a
college campus and we have one heck of a great bluegrass band that
entertains us each year.  

this year is William (Bill) Cullina, Director of Horticulture at the
Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.  Bill's first lecture, called Raveling and Unraveling the Web of Life, will
open your eyes to the concept that land has a life span and how this
life span can bring some perspective to terms like "extinction" and

also have Neil Diboll from Prairie Nursery, Roy Diblik from Northwind
Perennials and Richard Bir, former NC State professor coming to speak
on all things native.  There are talks on stewartias, woodland
wildflowers, ferns and green roofs.  Designers will learn how to shake
up foundation plantings with natives and how to design with mosses. 
Beginners will love the plant ID classes and nursery professionals will
learn lots about the good and bad of invasive plants and insects. 

even a lecture on short native plants by our favorite vertically
challenged friend.  The first person (who is not this person) who
guesses the name of this speaker can have an Echinacea 'Marmalade' for their garden. 

truly is something for everyone at this conference! The native plant
and book sale that surpass any garden center I’ve ever visited.  Locals
come to shop even if they aren’t attending the conference.  You can too! 

consider attending this awesome event and pass this along to anyone you
think might be interested in learning about native plants. 
Professional designers, educators, nursery professionals and novices
will learn plenty. 

Come learn the real truth and beauty of using natives.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed! 

Download the 2010 Conference Brochure and Program here. You can also visit our website to get complete information and to register on-line:


  1. Fiannly someone else with common sense here. All the talk that native plants are a must in the landscape. These purists make one think that all the native plants are gone from the wild!
    The TROLL

  2. Angela, good post. I’m not a native plant purist and advise people that if they have a non-native plant that is working well in their landscapes, it is most sustainable to keep it as long as it’s not invasive. The reason native plants are highly recommended here in Florida is that they have adapted to little or no freezing weather and our wet and dry seasons. Plants from the Mid-Atlantic region, say, with its winters and even precipitation, often have a hard time surviving here. That being said, much of Florida no longer resembles the 1600s Florida when those native plants ruled. So homeowners need to work on restoring their soil/plant ecosystem where those natives will once again thrive and provide food and shelter for the butterflies and other bugs, which feed the birds, bats, and other bug predators. Once the ecosystem is working, native plants do indeed require much less care than imports that are expecting a different environment.

  3. With over wintering monarchs devastated by 50% or more (as in dead), I wholeheartedly say teach native in teh way Tallamy suggests–and his book changed my life. But if we can finda way to kill grasshoppers…. Some day we’ll all wake up and wonder, like I wonder where my car keys are right now, why we no longer see monarchs or orioles.

  4. Astroturf needs no care. 😉

    I am feeling a surge of respect for my local native plant society. I do think natives require less care (once established, and in the right spot) than many non-natives. However, the main talking point our native plant society sells is that they replenish habitat (and food) for wildlife. Plus they’re darned pretty.

    That said, I’ll still grow my organic roses and annual veggies, too.

  5. Troll,I’m not hearing anything but about natives in the rant. I’m no horticulturalist nor visit many conferences or hear really anyone pushing the drug we call native plants(except in blogtown). Yet I do have some sense, and am intelligent enough to know that a garden is work and play. That said, I essentially never water my garden with its native asters, milkweed, coneflower, phlox, ferns, solidago, eupatorium, etc. and roses, sedums, yarrows, lavender, sages, bulbs, etc etc. Natives or not, a garden is an environment. Choose well. And I accept my bugs. Gardeners get it. Homeowners with yards to fill perfectly, that’s something else and sales pitches are snake oil by definition. I like Bill Cullina and it does sound like a good conference.

  6. Great rant Angela. I think the reason native pushers focus on the “less work” angle is that is a much easier and more appealing argument than Doug Tallamy’s. I have to say, until I read his book I never focused on the need to feed bugs if we want butterflies, birds, etc. Too many people – and I used to be one of them – think of most bugs as “the enemy.”

    I signed up for the conference last week and am really looking forward to it!

  7. Great intro to native plants. One caution I think is of importance (other than no garden is maintenance free which you stated so well) is that even natives can be invasive. For example, milkweed does bring the monarchs but letting the flowers go to seed and spread without control leads to an attempted milkweed coup in taking over the garden.

  8. Desiring a plant that blooms continuously, requires no care and behaves perfectly is a fine ideal – but it’s NOT GARDENING! Over time I have become one of those more direct people that butts in and bluntly informs the person asking for such a plant just how lovely some of the newer plastic flowers and astroturf are. I don’t waste my time explaining it beyond that.

  9. Well, quite a rant there! Now, on the one hand, I really agree. It’s sad to see people stick a few natives in the ground, ignore them for 3-6 months, and complain that they die. Insects will nibble at natives, though for me, having a low water garden really cuts down on slugs. Natives need care, and need the right condition to thrive.

    On the other hand, I do believe that California natives and Mediterranean plants need much less water than most ornamentals. I spend less time working in my native garden than people with lawns. And who are those mythical native plant pushers anyway?

    BTW, I LOVE the Tallamy book and recommend it to everyone, but his plant list is sadly lacking for those on the west coast. If you live in California, go to, or have a look at my article on finding appropriate plants for where you live here

    Have fun at the conference!

  10. Thank you for promoting Tallamy’s book!

    “Why aren’t the native plant pushers teaching this? ”

    Well, I am a native plant pusher, and I *am* teaching this. I just wrote the first of a series of articles for my local newspaper on the benefits of native plants, and I did not harp on how much easier they are to grow. I used the article to promote Tallamy’s book and local sources of native plants.

  11. Minor point, but I think you got your non-native pests mixed up. Emerald Ash Borer is what is eliminating ash trees here in the Mid-West.
    Asian Longhorn Beetle is a newer, emerging plague — mostly a problem in the NY area right now, I believe, but may well be on its way to kill FAR more than just ash trees.

  12. I haven’t had the experience that native plants are more maintenance free than non-natives either.

    Honestly, it could be a native plant, but what zone in your state should it actually be growing in? Something else to consider.

  13. Thanks for this rant. Speaking as someone who has killed a number of native plants now, I think it’s time we started a Truther movement about natives. People should plant some natives, by all means, but a little reality check is a good thing.

  14. Town Mouse, one example of over-marketing of native plants from “pushers” is this info about organic gardening from the NWF:

    “Plant native plants which can hold their own against native pests.”

    No mention of all the nonnative pests that are the reality of gardening in the 21st century.

    Here’s the source – which stresses native plants for gardening organically.
    Better gardening advice would be to recommend well-adapted plants from wherever. Y’all in arid climates are so right about YOUR native plants (and those from S. Africa and the Mediterranean)- they ARE more drought-tolerant than the average import. Our native East Coast woodland plants? Not so much.

  15. “Ray, By definition a plant native to an area is not invasive. Agressive maybe, but not invasive.”

    Ginny, you must not be familiar with horsetail in the Pacific Northwest. It IS invasive in the artificial environment of a garden.

  16. Deirdra, an invasive species is one which moves in and takes over an ecosystem to the detriment of other species. Your garden does not constitute an ecosystem.

  17. . . .excure me, I meant to say that your “artificial environment” garden does notnot constitute an ecosystem. Some gardeners do, however, strive to recreate the local, native ecosystem with their gardens.

  18. Thank you for your wonderful, timely rant! Tomorrow I am going to pick up my order of native trees and shrubs from my local Soil & Water Conservation District–the great prices are what sold me on placing the order–and in my preparation for their planting and care I can see I will be spending just as much time and energy on care for these as on my soon-to-be-planted veggie garden!

  19. I’ve learned to think in terms of climate rather than native (indigenous, actually) vs. non-native. If you need to use a non-native to create the right climate for your other natives, do so. My garden is a mix of both native/non-native and much happier for it…

  20. My native-pusher pet peeve is all the ones who claim that you should plant them because they are “drought-tolerant” – um, NO, in general, they are not. Most all native plants to my ‘hood are bog dwellers and prefer wet feet. I have lots of dry shade and no natural creek running through it. Many natives have come to my garden and croaked or just “evaporated” after one year because I do not irrigate nor baby my plants. Survival of the fittest, honey, in my little garden kingdom. Native or not, it is all about right plant, right place.

  21. I’m happy (and surprised) to see someone say that native plants are not the 100% perfect solution 100% of the time. Very refreshing!

    A garden may no longer be a “native” environment. There are space limitations, often the native soil has been removed by the builder, drainage has been altered, the microclimate itself has been affected by concrete driveways, buildings, and so on.

    And what about the gardeners who grows their own food? Are they irresponsible for growing “non-native” fruits and vegetables?

  22. Generalizations are almost always wrong in some ways, even when it is denying low-maint. benefits of native plants. In my experience, it is largely control of invasive, exotic weed species and damage by non-native insects that are the prime maintenance needs in a native plant-based landscape; the plants themselves often do have a lower need for human intervention once they are established. The closer one can come to planting species native to a particular locale and sun/shade requirements, the less work they are to establish and the greater benefit to the ecosystem. I agree that more truth about how native plants work in inherently artificial gardens needs to be told.

  23. Like Peyton said, generalizations are what everyone is fighting here. Specifically, my garden has done quite well without hosing, or dripping, or much else than rain. Of course, that’s specific to NYC, my block, my lot, its orientation, my plant choices, the soil, the structures around the plant, etc. We all learned from politics that selling an idea requires a media sound bite, right? Generalizations are for sales, specifics for knowledge. Your garden is your space while you are on this earth -you should know it best. Choose well, take chances every now and then.

  24. I agree that when a lot of people think of natives they think: easy. I think it’s important to get people excited about why natives are important to local ecosystems. There will always be clients looking for a quick fix and a magic plant. (They’re called plastic!) We gardeners know the real truth…

  25. “I stopped practicing landscape design because I was so tired of people asking for plants that needed no care – I couldn’t take it anymore.” Wow: a kindred spirit. That the same reason I stopped doing garden design. Amen to your rant about native plant misinformation.

  26. Most native plants ARE gone from the wild in many places…maybe not where some of y’all are.

    Much of our landscape in my area is Europe, not North America. They best we can do is common Milkweed and Goldenrod… themselves once rare in the original landscape. Queen Annes Lace and Chickory have replaced lobelia, orchids, coneflowers and gentians.

    Natives DO grow without any real care…if they are planted in the right place! But if you want a tamer environment…then you do need to work at it a bit.

    Exotics are a problem! Wish we would stop bringing more in!

    Vegetable gardens are good…my peas, radishes, and lettuce are already up.

    Still beats mowing and mowing and mowing… I sit amongst my woodland and prairie flowers and watch (and hear!) my neighbor mow and mow…

  27. Sorry, I must rant, not for the principle of it but from experience: I don’t have an all natives garden, but the natives I do have are hardier and require much less care- perhaps it’s just our California natives. My fremontia is in full bloom covered with lemon yellow flowers and thriving in our typically clay rich soil, and it was just planted last year- if I over water I’ll kill it (no water in summer)! The matilija poppy in our front yard shoots stalks 8 feet high heavy with showy white blossoms, all with little summer water and no feeding- it’s spreading too. Ditto for the two manzinita bushes, as far as no care. And our two California buckeye trees are growing rapidly with no fuss, and about to do their spring bloom show.
    Sorry to spoil the party….

  28. I’m with Bob & Patricia on this one – Four criteria I live by when planting and maintaining gardens for clients and I do all kinds and have been for some 18 years. Some are all native prairie or woodland, some are mixed gardens with species that are native, cultivars and non-natives living all living happily together and others are stricly the traditional perennial borders composed of peonies, iris and roses and the like.

    Rule One – Natives (like traditional perennials/shrubs) need aftercare until well established – this includes watering, mulching and weeding. Once “established” – the water requirements are much lower.

    And the second rule: choosing the “right native for the right place.” Obviously if you have poorly drained wet soil in shade you wouldn’t plant a Little Bluestem Grass (which needs full sun and sharper drainage)and expect it to do well.

    The third rule is “diversity” – Native plants, especially the prairie plants have been designed live in tightly packed spaces – with sometimes up to a dozen species packed into a single square foot. For instance, if you have a full sun and drier site you would plant a collection of native plants (and even some non invasive non natives is okay too) that mimic that soil type and light conditions of the given area. Where we get into trouble is by trying to do large groupings of one species. We need to get away from that mentality. Plus, if the diversity high even in a small area, the species all tend to balance out each other and there is less aggressive tendencies within the group and less weeding.

    Rule four is “ongoing maintenance” if you are using mostly natives in a traditional garden setting and want a tidier, cleaner look you need to be aware that natives need more deadheading (for spent for flowers and potential future progeny by the thousands) and more hand pruning so that they don’t get so tall and weedy looking. You also need to be very aggressive about thinning out unwanted seedlings. I also keep a very clean edge between the lawn and the beds at all times to keep the gardens from looking unkempt. Nothing looks worse on a native garden and untidy edge. It works as a sort of foil.

  29. this post inspires me to write a rant, for two reasons.

    the complaints recently described about natives may be because related to the time spent learning about the plants that you are planting, or the environment that you live in. It is easy to grow what you already know, and the nursery business makes it easier.

    If you are willing to buy corporate, generic plants, fertilizers, lawnmowers and pesticides and water, then you don’t have to spend any energy thinking or learning your local ecology, soil and environment. Native and native like plants have not been bred by monsanto for failsafe gardening. They may not like fertilizers, irrigation, or pruning. I don’t really like some of those things either.

    The secret is to start them small, in the right habitat.

    Also, in places where climate appropriate plants are readily available and common, native plantings may not be as much of an issue. But in places with non temperate climates, or limited water, soil and other resources transitioning from something like a tropical to a Mediterranean plant can make a huge difference in care and maintenance.

  30. Any landscape will need maintenance regardless of what plants you are using. In fact any truly sustainable design should utilize a combination of plants that may be native but are also edible. You also have to consider the other types of materials like hardscape, lighting etc.

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