Skip to content

Exploring Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic: A Gardener’s Ultimate Resource

  • by
native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden - zinnia

Are you looking for information on native plants in your area of the Mid-Atlantic? Or perhaps you are already convinced of the importance of native plants are are looking for specific native plant species for your region. Or, possibly you are ready to go, but aren’t sure where to buy native plants. You are in the right place! We’re here to help you wherever you are on your journey to include native plants in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Back to Top

But before we get to the resources, lets recap the benefits of native plants in the Mid-Atlantic garden and yard. Why are native plants important and how can we incorporate them? This article contains affiliate links, which means we make a small commission if you make a purchase at no cost to you.

Understanding Native Plants

There’s a secret to thriving gardens and vibrant local ecosystems: native plants. These botanical wonders, which have evolved alongside the local environment, hold the key to creating stunning, low-maintenance landscapes while nurturing the delicate balance of our local ecosystems.

What are Native Plants

When we talk about native plants, we’re referring to those that have evolved in a particular region over countless generations. These plants are not newcomers; they are the true inhabitants of the Mid-Atlantic. They’ve adapted to our climate, soil, and ecosystems, which makes them uniquely suited for our local conditions.

Why Choose Native Plants in Your Garden?

Native plants are not just a trend; they’re a wise choice for gardeners in Central Maryland and the surrounding areas. When you choose native species for your garden, you’re making a conscious decision to:

  • Support Local Ecosystems: By planting native species, you provide essential resources for native wildlife, including pollinators and birds.
  • Conserve Water: Many native plants are drought-resistant, reducing your garden’s water requirements.
  • Preserve Local Heritage: You become a steward of the unique biodiversity of the Mid-Atlantic, ensuring these plants continue to thrive.
  • Bay-wise Gardening: Most of the waterways in the Mid-Atlantic region eventually drain into the Chesapeake Bay. The way we all garden has an effect on the health of the bay. Gardening with native plants helps diminish the use of fertilizers and chemicals that make their way to the bay.

The Role of Native Plants in Conservation

Native plants are not only beneficial for your garden but also integral to conservation efforts. They play a pivotal role in preserving our natural heritage and combating habitat loss. When you cultivate native plants, you’re contributing to:

  • Biodiversity Conservation: Native plants provide essential food and habitat for local wildlife, helping protect endangered and vulnerable species.
  • Erosion Control: Their deep-rooted systems prevent soil erosion, which can be particularly crucial in areas with heavy rainfall, like Central Maryland.
  • Restoring Damaged Ecosystems: Native plants are often used in ecological restoration projects to repair habitats that have been damaged by human activities.

Native Plant Success Story

Janet and Jeff Crouch are a couple living in Columbia, Maryland, who have dedicated over a decade to transforming their yard into an eco-friendly oasis. Their commitment to creating a sustainable and vibrant outdoor space led them to incorporate native plants and eco-conscious landscaping practices.

However, their efforts faced a challenge when they received a letter from their Homeowners Association (HOA) that threatened to disrupt their carefully nurtured garden. Despite this obstacle, the Crouches chose to stand their ground and fight for the preservation of their eco-friendly landscaping.

After a three-year legal battle with the HOA, they finally settled (a new HOA president had a lot to do with that!) With some minor changes along the sidewalk, they could keep the natural landscaping as is.

It was a win for homeowners in Maryland, as the fight changed Maryland law. In 2021, House Bill 322 was passed, ensuring that homeowner’s associations across the state can’t enact rules prohibiting “low impact” landscaping.

Identifying Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Region

One of the characteristics of the Mid-Atlantic region is a diversity of ecosystems, each with its unique set of native plants. To truly understand and appreciate these botanical treasures, it’s essential to consider the region’s geographic diversity. We have lowlands and beaches on the the east coast, mountains on the west, and plateaus and hills in-between.

Whether you’re in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, or any other part of the Mid-Atlantic, you’ll encounter a range of native species accustomed to your specific local environment.

Native plants in the Mid-Atlantic garden
Spicebush Swallowtail on Marigold

Native Plants By Region

  • Coastal Natives: Along the coast, you’ll find a rich array of salt-tolerant plants, such as seaside goldenrod and beach plum, that thrive in sandy soils and salty air.
  • Woodland Natives: As you venture into the forests, keep an eye out for native understory species like bloodroot, mayapple, and trillium, which blanket the forest floor.
  • Meadow Natives: Open meadows and fields boast their own charm with plants like milkweed, black-eyed Susan, Virginia bluebell, and Joe-Pye weed, providing a haven for pollinators.
  • Mountain Natives: The foothills of the Appalachian chain are home to natives like mountain laurel, eastern hemlock, rhododendron, and blue cohosh.
Back to Top

Best native Plants for West Virginia Gardens

West Virginia reaches into the foothills of the Allegany Mountains. These native plants are well-adapted to the region’s climate and soil conditions:

  • Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum): The state flower of West Virginia, Rhododendron, is known for its stunning clusters of pink or white flowers. It’s a popular choice for gardens, especially in shaded or woodland areas.
  • Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia): Mountain Laurel is another native evergreen shrub with attractive pink or white blossoms. It’s well-suited to the mountainous regions of West Virginia and can add beauty to landscapes.
  • Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): This native perennial features unique red and yellow flowers. It’s a lovely addition to gardens and is known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica): Blue Lobelia is a striking native wildflower with tall spikes of deep blue or violet flowers. It thrives in moist conditions and can be a standout in rain gardens.
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis): Serviceberry is a native deciduous tree or shrub that produces delicate white flowers and small, edible fruits. It’s a versatile and attractive choice for West Virginia gardens.

Best Native Plants for Virginia Gardens

  • American Holly (Ilex opaca): American Holly is an evergreen tree with glossy, spiky leaves and bright red berries. It’s a valuable addition to landscapes, especially during the winter months.
  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): Virginia’s native Columbine features delicate red and yellow flowers, making it an attractive choice for gardens. It’s well-suited to woodland and shade gardens.
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia): This deciduous shrub is known for its large oak-shaped leaves and cone-shaped white flowers. It thrives in Virginia’s climate and adds a touch of elegance to gardens.
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): As mentioned earlier for Washington D.C., Cardinal Flower is a vibrant addition to Virginia gardens, attracting hummingbirds with its striking red blooms.
  • Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis): Ironweed is a native perennial with tall, purple flower spikes. It’s an excellent choice for pollinator gardens and adds a burst of color to late summer landscapes

Best Native Plants for Maryland Gardens

Here are just a few common species that you often see in Maryland’s landscapes:

  • Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis): This small tree is known for its stunning pink or lavender flowers that bloom in early spring, adding a burst of color to the landscape.
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): Maryland’s state flower, this cheerful wildflower showcases golden-yellow petals with a dark central cone.
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): A striking perennial with vibrant red blooms, it’s a favorite of hummingbirds.
  • Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor): This elegant iris species boasts delicate, violet-blue petals and thrives in wetland areas.

Best Native Plants for Delaware Gardens

The University of Delaware has a helpful website to identify and learn about planting native plants in your yard and garden. They also do soil testing.

  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Swamp milkweed is a great choice for Delaware gardens. It’s not only beautiful but also attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees.
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): Black-eyed Susans are well-loved for their golden blooms. They thrive in Delaware’s climate and add a pop of color to gardens.
  • Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): These delicate, red and yellow flowers are a favorite in Delaware. They’re well-suited to woodland gardens and rock gardens.
  • Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica): Virginia bluebells are known for their charming, bell-shaped, blue flowers. They do well in woodland settings and near water features.
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): Another great choice to attract butterflies, this native plant has bright orange flowers and is well-suited for sunny spots.

Best Native Plants for D.C. Gardens

Washington D.C. has the same growing climate of Northern Virginia and most of Maryland. Any of the native plants that work well in those areas will thrive in D.C. Here are some other plants not mentioned yet:

  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): Purple Coneflower is a hardy perennial with beautiful pinkish-purple petals and a prominent central cone. It’s both attractive and beneficial for pollinators.
  • American Beebalm (Monarda didyma): Also known as Wild Bergamot, American Beebalm features striking red or pink tubular flowers. It attracts pollinators and adds a pop of color to gardens.
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): This native grass is both ornamental and functional. It’s known for its fine, airy seed heads and can be used in landscaping for texture and as a habitat for birds.
  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis): Buttonbush is a deciduous shrub with unique spherical flowers. It’s an excellent choice for gardens near water features and wetland areas.
  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): With its clusters of pinkish-purple flowers, Joe-Pye Weed is a tall, elegant perennial that thrives in moist soils. It’s a favorite of butterflies.
Back to Top

Native Plant Databases and Field Guides

As well as finding native plants that are suited to your garden, identifying native plants can be an enjoyable and educational pursuit. To aid in your discovery, various resources are at your fingertips:

Native Plant Databases

Numerous websites and online databases provide extensive information on native plants, helping you identify and learn about local species. These databases often include images, descriptions, and habitat information to assist with your identification efforts.

Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Garden

  • Maryland Native Plant Society is a wonderfully rich resource of information about native plants, with events, publications and workshops and more. The website has a handy plant ID feature and multiple county lists of field trips and native plant lists.
  • Chesapeake Native Plant Center is physically located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The website has lots of general information, tutorials, and a very good native plant archive for the entire Mid-Atlantic region. You can look up plants with several filters: plant type, region (Mountain, Piedmont, coastal Plain), amount of sun, type of soil, fall color, and much more…it’s very handy for a gardener in our region.

National Databases

native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden

There are several useful databases that span the entire country.

Native Plant Field Guides

Field guides are invaluable tools for plant enthusiasts. Consider acquiring a field guide specific to the Mid-Atlantic region or your local area. These books are often richly illustrated and provide detailed information on plant characteristics, habitat, and range. You can often find them at your local library.

  • Peterson Guides: There are several guides, including medicinal plants, wildflowers, mushrooms, birds, insects, trees…they are a great resource, and often available in your library.
  • National Audubon Field Guides are also highly rated. The comprehensive Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic covers wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, mosses, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, butterflies, mammals, and much more.
  • Mid-Atlantic Gardener’s Handbook, by Katie Elzer-Peters, covers Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, new York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.

Native plant Identification Apps

  • iNaturalist is a free plant ID app that is a joint initiative with National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences.
  • Google Lens is free and is used within Google. I use it a lot and find it works very well.
  • The overall top ranked paid app is PlantID, with 4.8 stars. Next with 4.6 stars are Blossm, PictureThis, and Blossom.

Important to Keep in Mind

As you embark on your journey to identify and plant native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden, keep in mind that not all “native plants” you find in stores and seed packets are actual natives. Some may be natives to a different area of the country than your area. Seed packets labeled “wildflowers” often contain a mixture of natives and non-natives.

While most non-native plants are not harmful, it is important to identify and avoid invasive species. Most of the resources in this article will include information on non-native, invasive species.

Sourcing Native Plants

Sourcing native plants can be tricky today. As mentioned above, not all plants and seeds labeled “native” are local Mid-Atlantic natives. Asking questions will be the key to actually succeeding at finding truly native plants.

That said, the Maryland Native Plant Society has a list of nurseries that sell native plants. You may find something near your location. Even so, it is important to ask questions before you purchase.

Local Nurseries and Garden Centers

One of the most accessible ways to find native plants is by visiting your local nurseries and garden centers. Many of these establishments in the Mid-Atlantic region stock a variety of native species. Here’s why they’re a great option:

  • Expert Advice: Nursery staff often possess extensive knowledge about native plants and can provide guidance on the best choices for your specific garden conditions.
  • Local Adaptation: Native plants sourced from nearby nurseries are acclimated to the local climate, making them more likely to thrive.
  • Supporting Local Businesses: By purchasing from local nurseries, you’re supporting businesses in your community while also contributing to the preservation of native flora.

Online Plant Retailers

The internet offers a convenient platform for sourcing native plants, especially if you’re looking for specific species or varieties not readily available locally. Consider these points when shopping online:

  • Variety: Online retailers often have a broader selection, including rarer native plants and cultivars.
  • Reviews and Ratings: Read customer reviews and ratings to gauge the quality and reliability of online plant retailers.
  • Shipping Considerations: Check the shipping policies and ensure the plants will arrive in good condition for planting.
  • Source Locally Online: Some online retailers that specialize in native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden may even source them from nurseries in your region. Nurseries in your region may also ship. Sometimes it is more economical to have plants shipped than to drive an hour or more.

Wildflower Sales and Plant Sales Events

Keep an eye out for local wildflower sales and plant sales events. These gatherings are not only excellent opportunities to purchase native plants but also to connect with fellow enthusiasts. Your local Master Gardener’s will often have plant sales. Ours is in April and there are always native plants for sale. Here’s what to expect:

  • Community Engagement: These events often foster a sense of community and provide a chance to learn from experienced gardeners and horticulturists.
  • Wide Selection: You may find a diverse array of native species, including those well-suited to the Mid-Atlantic.
  • Seasonal Availability: Be aware that these events may be seasonal, so plan your garden purchases accordingly.
Back to Top

Choosing Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Garden

Selecting healthy native plants is essential for their successful integration into your garden. Consider these tips:

  • Inspect the Plant: Examine the plant for signs of disease, pests, or damage. Healthy native plants should have vigorous growth and vibrant foliage.
  • Root Health: Check the root system; healthy roots should be firm and well-developed.
  • Local Adaptation: Whenever possible, choose native plants that originate from your region or a similar climate to ensure they’re well-suited to your garden.
  • Planting Season: Plant native species during the recommended seasons for your region, typically in the spring or fall.

By following these sourcing tips and exploring various options, you’ll be well on your way to introducing the beauty and benefits of native plants into your garden.

Brookside Gardens

Visiting Native Plant Gardens and Displays

One of the most delightful ways to immerse yourself in the world of native plants is by visiting gardens and displays specifically designed to showcase their beauty and ecological importance.

Finding Local Gardens

Exploring local gardens that highlight native plants is a wonderful way to gain inspiration for your own landscaping endeavors. You may find garden tours through your city or county recreation department, or through local garden groups.

Arboretums with Native Plant Collections

Arboretums are ideal places to discover extensive collections of native plants in well-manicured and educational settings. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Diverse Selection: Arboretums house a wide range of native species, making them excellent places to familiarize yourself with the diversity of Mid-Atlantic flora.
  • Educational Programs: Many arboretums offer workshops, lectures, and events to deepen your knowledge of native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden and their important role in conservation.
  • Year-Round Beauty: Arboretums often feature native plants that shine in different seasons, providing year-round inspiration for your garden.
  • If you are in the Metropolitan D.C. area it’s fun to explore the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., or the National Arboretum. Maryland Botanical Society Garden in Ellicott City, Maryland focuses on native plants.
  • Other possibilities include: Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington, Norfolk Botanical Garden in Virginia, Longwood Gardens, or Morris Arboretum in Pennsylvania. These botanical gardens offer opportunities to explore and learn about plants, gardening, and horticulture. They often host educational programs, workshops, and events, making them valuable resources for gardening enthusiasts in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Exhibitions and Tours

The Maryland Native Plant Society has a list of events that take place regularly throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

To find the most up-to-date information on specific events and their schedules, I recommend the following:

  1. Native Plant Societies: Check with local native plant societies or conservation organizations in your area. They often host or participate in these events and can provide details on upcoming exhibitions and tours.
  2. Botanical Gardens and Arboretums: Contact nearby botanical gardens, arboretums, and nature centers. They often organize or host native plant events and tours, and their websites or newsletters can provide event listings.
  3. Online Event Calendars: Search for online event calendars or websites dedicated to gardening, nature, or local events in the Mid-Atlantic region. These resources often list native plant exhibitions and tours.
  4. Local Garden Clubs: Connect with local garden clubs and horticultural societies. They may organize or promote tours and exhibitions related to native plants.
  5. Social Media: Follow relevant social media groups and pages that focus on gardening, conservation, or local events. These platforms often share information about upcoming native plant-related events.
  6. University and College Extensions: University and college agricultural extensions may organize educational events related to native plants. Contact them or visit their websites for event information.
  7. Wildlife and Nature Preserves: Wildlife sanctuaries, nature preserves, and state parks may host native plant events, especially those related to conservation and habitat restoration.

Planting and Caring for Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Garden

Now that you’ve sourced and planted native plants in your garden, it’s crucial to understand how to care for them to ensure their long-term health and vibrancy. Let’s cover essential planting and maintenance tips, pest and disease management, and sustainable landscaping practices.

Back to Top

Planting and Maintenance Tips

Planting native species is just the beginning. Proper care and maintenance are key to their success in your garden. Here are some tips to ensure your native plants thrive:

  • Site Selection: Choose appropriate planting locations based on each plant’s specific requirements for sunlight, soil type, and moisture levels.
  • Soil Preparation: Native plants generally prefer well-drained soil. Amend the soil as needed, but avoid over-fertilization, as most natives don’t require excessive nutrients.
  • Planting Depth: Follow recommended planting depths for each species, as it varies. Ensure the root ball is level with the soil surface.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around your plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Watering: Native plants often require less water once established, but thorough watering is crucial during their first growing season. Afterward, water sparingly based on weather conditions.
  • Pruning: Prune as needed, mainly to remove dead or diseased branches or spent flowers. Native plants often require less pruning than non-native species.

Dealing with Pests and Diseases

Even native plants can encounter pests and diseases, but the use of chemicals should be a last resort. Here’s how to manage these challenges more naturally:

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Use IPM strategies to reduce pests by promoting beneficial insects, practicing good garden hygiene, and, if necessary, using selective controls like neem oil or insecticidal soap.
  • Disease Prevention: Maintain good air circulation, proper plant spacing, and avoid overhead watering to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
  • Companion Planting: Consider planting species that repel common garden pests or attract beneficial insects.
  • Regular Inspection: Regularly inspect your plants for signs of pests or diseases. Early detection allows for less invasive intervention.

Sustainable Landscaping Practices

Incorporating native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden aligns perfectly with sustainable landscaping. Here’s how you can further enhance your eco-friendly efforts:

  • Rain Gardens: Create rain gardens that utilize native plants to capture and filter rainwater, reducing runoff and erosion.
  • Natural Pest Control: Attract beneficial insects by planting native species that provide nectar and habitat for predators like ladybugs and parasitic wasps.
  • Habitat for Wildlife: Design your garden to include native plant species that provide food and shelter for local wildlife, supporting biodiversity.
  • Reduced Lawn Area: Minimize traditional lawn space and replace it with native gardens to reduce the need for frequent mowing and synthetic fertilizers.
  • Composting: Implement composting practices to enrich your soil naturally, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

Caring for native plants in the mid-Atlantic garden not only enhances their beauty but also contributes to the sustainability of your garden and local ecosystem. By taking special care of your plants at the beginning of their life, you’ll enjoy a flourishing garden that requires less maintenance over time.

Conclusion

Our journey into the world of native plants has unveiled a realm of beauty, ecological significance, and sustainable gardening practices. By incorporating native species into your garden and supporting initiatives that promote their use, you become a steward of the Mid-Atlantic’s natural heritage. Together, we can create landscapes that not only thrive but also contribute to the well-being of our local environment. Thank you for joining us on this green adventure, and may your garden flourish with the essence of the Mid-Atlantic.

Resources for native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Garden

Books by Doug Tallamy, Professor of Agriculture at the University of Delaware. He is a leading voice in the movement to increase native plants and decrease lawns.

Homegrown National Park dot org is a non-profit organization that promotes planting native plants. Homegrown National Park® is a term coined by Doug Tallamy and is the key to our call-to-action:
“Our National Parks, no matter how grand in scale are too small and separated from one another to preserve species to the levels needed.  Thus, the concept for Homegrown National Park, a bottom-up call-to-action to restore habitat where we live and work, and to a lesser extent where we farm and graze, extending national parks to our yards and communities.”

Your state extension and Master Gardener’s programs are always a great resource:

Back to Top

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *