Landscaping with native plants is rewarding on so many levels. You'll enjoy providing benefits to wildlife, insects, soil, and water. Not to mention the stunning beauty and hardiness of these plants that are well adapted to central and southern Indiana!
Read on for inspiration, tips, and links to lots of helpful resources.
About landscaping with native plants
According to the Indiana Native Plant Society (INPS), native plants are species that have occurred naturally in an area for a very long time. Why are we so fond of them? It’s not just that they display a virtuosic diversity of colors, shapes, sizes, and species. They also provide unparalleled resources for all sorts of life forms — mammals, birds, insects, fungi, and other plants. By landscaping with native plants, you can create habitat and be a part of conserving land right in your yard.
In fact, many exotic and invasive species not only crowd out native plants, but they are inedible to wildlife and insects. As food sources for these creatures declines, so do their populations, including a massive decline of bird populations in the past 30 years. This also causes problems for agriculture, biodiversity, and more — affecting humans as much as every other species.
The instructions on this page are specific to Indiana, but you can grow native plants in your yard wherever you live! For more resources beyond Indiana, see the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the National Audubon Society.
photo: swallowtail in the garden of Susan Haislip Daleke, Sycamore’s Administrative Director
It’s easy to think you need exotic plants to make your yard stunning. But there are some truly breathtaking native plants right here in Indiana, like wild bergamot, ostrich fern, and swamp rose mallow. And they have some of the most creative plant names you’ll come across, like autumn sneezeweed, hairy foxglove, wild sweet william, and dense blazing star.
Photos from left to right: a gulf fritillary butterfly on native thistle at the home of Sycamore member Steve Gifford near Evansville; butterfly weed at Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve in Ellettsville; echinacea at the home of Shane Gibson, Sycamore’s former Environmental Education Director
For more photo inspiration of native plants you can grow in your yard, check out this photo page from INPS.
Landscaping with natives
Just like there are a million genres of music, and everyone’s tastes are different, there are also plenty of ways to landscape your yard. Some like a neat, tidy look. Others prefer a bountiful, busier garden. Whatever your preference, you can accomplish that with native plants.
Photos from left to right: wildflowers and butterflies in Sycamore member Steve Gifford’s yard in Evansville; the Native Plant Project garden at Helmsburg Elementary, grown and tended with help from Sycamore’s Environmental Education program; black-eyed susans at the home of Sycamore members Dan and Beth Henkel in Indianapolis
For details on planning your landscaping with native Indiana plants, INPS has some great resources:
- Getting started with landscaping
- Plants sorted by landscape use (butterfly food, bird habitat, autumn colors, etc)
- Plants sorted by habitat and plant type
More than flowers
No doubt about it, native Indiana flowers are stunning. But there’s a world of beautiful native grasses, sedges, shrubs, and trees that will bring even more vibrance to your natural landscape. Consider converting some of your mowed grass lawn into a native grassland. No matter the size of your plot, you can make some incredible views with native grasses and sedges. And you never know what kind of wildlife you’ll attract with this habitat that is increasingly hard to find in Indiana. These Sycamore volunteers were helping to briefly catch and tag monarch butterflies in the prairie at our Powell Preserve, to help scientists track the butterflies on their annual migration to Mexico.
Trees support life
If you have a little more space in your yard, consider planting a native tree. Trees amplify the benefits of smaller native plants. For example, an oak tree can support between 300 and 500 species of insects, birds, mammals, and other critters. They produce hundreds of acorns each year, which are a critical food source for many types of animals. Birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches hunt for insects in their bark.
If you live near Bloomington, come pick up a free native tree seedling at our annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway. Here’s info on our April 24, 2020 event at Bloomingfoods East.
Oaks and maples at Scarlet Oak Woods, by Robert Stoffer
If it’s the middle of winter or you’re stuck inside for any reason, there’s still a lot you can do to prepare and get inspired. Here are some of our favorite books on gardening with native plants at home. We recommend buying from a local bookstore if you can; it saves resources (packaging, fuel for shipping) and supports a local business.
And don’t forget that there are seeds you can sow in winter — remember, native Indiana plants evolved to go through all of Indiana’s seasons.