What are Native Plants and Why are They Better for the Environment?

Woman mows grass with walk behind mower . Behind her is a bed of tall, native grasses and plants.

Native plants are having a moment, but that doesn’t mean incorporating them into your yard will be a passing fad. As they have evolved to their specific location, climate, soil, and water levels, there are many benefits to using them, including attracting local pollinators and making your yard stand out.

What Does “Native” Mean in Regard to Plants?

Native plants are those species of flora that are indigenous to the area. They have evolved to the specific demographics of the location and differ from region to region. For places like the Southwest, these native plants are likely to be drought-tolerant — like succulents and cacti — while the Midwest has more prairie flora — such as tall grasses and wildflowers. Since states can have a wide variety of climates and landscapes, native plants are not necessarily the same in all regions of a state. Instead, they are determined by region, not state lines.

Why are Native Plants Better for the Environment?

Because native plants evolved to their environments, they not only thrive, they benefit the local ecosystem. This includes providing nutrients such as pollen and nectar for native bees, butterflies and birds, and shelter for other local critters. That’s why they have become so popular among homeowners and landscapers; with concerns around dwindling butterfly and bee populations, an increase in these pollinator-friendly plants will help provide them with the food and shelter they need to succeed.

How Do You Determine if Something is a Native Plant?

When getting started, the first thing you should do is determine what zone you live in. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map helps growers determine which plants are likely to thrive in the average temperatures and climates for each region. A plant that evolved in a hot, humid climate will likely struggle to survive in a location where it dips below-freezing temperatures and vice versa. Knowing what zone you live in can help you better understand what plants may be more capable and native to your location.

From there, it depends on what your goals are:

If you’re looking for plants that will look great in your garden, start with the Hardiness Zone, and then determine where in your yard will get full-, partial- or no-sun and what your watering habits will be. If you live in a location where drought keeps you from being able to water your plants daily, you will want to look for more drought-tolerant species. For yards that gets direct sunlight all day, look for full-sun plants. It’s most likely that different areas of your yard will vary in terms of sunlight, so make sure you’re fully aware of what each zone will receive and choose plants accordingly.

If you specifically want plants that will help native pollinators the best, your local home improvement store or garden center should be able to point you in the right direction. Some plants are better for pollinators, like milkweed in the Midwest that have pollen-heavy flowers, versus others, like ornamental grasses which don’t flower.

How Do You Garden with Native Plants?

Again, how to garden with native plants is determined by what your goals are. Native grasses and low-lying plants can be a great replacement for your standard grass if you want to break away from green turf. They will also make great perimeter plants if you’re looking to add some color around your property.

If you don’t have a yard or can’t make major changes to your landscape but you want to help local pollinators, many types of native plants can thrive in planter boxes.

No matter your goals or yard situation, native plants are a great option to improve the aesthetics of your landscape while helping the environment. If you would like to mix native options with turf, check out our article on warm- and cold-weather grasses to find the best seed combo.

Toro logo


The tools you need to create and maintain a gorgeous yard, all in one place.