Native Plant FAQs

Why native plants?

Native plants are ideal for landscaping for many reasons. Because they have adapted to Indiana’s climate over thousands of years, they don’t need fertilizers to help them grow, can tolerate our cold winters and hot summers, have very deep roots that allow them to be more drought resistant, have developed defenses against harmful native insects, and can serve as habitats for native wildlife (consider planting for butterflies, hummingbirds, or songbirds). The deep roots of native plants also make them ideal for rain gardens because they create channels in the soil which allows water to soak in quickly and for shorelines because they stabilize the soil and help prevent erosion.

Do I have to use native plants?

You don’t have to use plants native to Indiana, but there are many advantages to doing so. Natives have adapted to our climate and are much better at handling the periodic inundation of water that goes along with a rain garden. They’ll also save you the time and money of replanting every year, and will offer much greater wildlife value. If you must use non-native plants, be careful to avoid known invasive species. Invasive species can crowd out and out-compete native species, creating a monoculture of one type of plant and potentially spreading into nearby native plant areas which then creates a habitat problem for local wildlife. Before planting exotic species, always check the list of common noxious/invasive plants for Indiana. The Indiana Native Plant SocietyIndiana Department of Natural Resources, Purdue University and Indiana Invasive Species Council all maintain lists of Indiana’s noxious and invasive plants you need to avoid.

Aren't native plants wild and messy?

Any planting with native plants does tend to have a more natural look rather than a manicured appearance, but they do not need to look messy. You can keep a rain garden or shoreline looking neat and attractive by keeping the edges well defined. Taller plants often have a more unkempt appearance, so use shorter plants if you want your garden to have a cleaner look. As an owner, you will need to stay on top of weeding, especially in the first few years. Plants with shorter heights can also be selected to produce a more manicured look. Likewise using fewer species may also result in a more manicured look. Be sure to check out our sample planting plans below for example rain garden and shoreline designs.

Can I just use flowers and not grasses?

Yes, but this will decrease the efficacy and depth of roots for infiltration and soil stabilization. Many beautiful flowers depend on shorter grasses for support and nutrient uptake as well. We call these companion grasses. Some are short and provide a lot of visual interest by turning autumn colors and moving softly in a breeze.

What will my planting look like in the wintertime?

That depends on how you maintain them.  To provide wildlife food and shelter throughout the year, you should leave dead stalks and seed heads standing until early spring and then cut them down before new growth starts.  If you do this, your planting will look like a stand of tan vegetation with some seed heads here and there.  While some people do not appreciate this look, it can be quite stunning and interested after a fresh snow.  Additionally, when an American Goldfinch is perched on an old seed head, you can’t help but be happy you left it standing.

If you choose, you may cut the stalks down in late fall or early winter, and your planting will look like a wildflower area that’s been trimmed down.

Will native plants take over my yard (or my neighbors' yards) like weeds?

No, many natives are not aggressive. In fact, many are struggling to compete with non native plants in the wild, so providing a habitat for them is good stewardship. Ironically, one challenge will be to keep turf grass species out of the rain garden. Choose rain garden plant varieties that are not aggressive and mow the area around the garden. NOTE: many native plants are highly sensitive to tiny traces of weed killers. You may see curling and damage to your new plants if you or a nearby neighbor sprays weed killer.

My plants don't stay where I put them. What can I do?

Gardening with native plants is not the same as traditional gardening. Remember the goal is to provide a dense vegetative cover that looks beautiful and treats storm water runoff. You can choose plant varieties that stay put, or you can let the plants choose where they flourish. If you feel you need to remove seeds of varieties that replant via seeds, simply cut off the seed heads once flowering is complete.