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Plant This, Not That!

When choosing plants for your home or community it is worth keeping in mind the maxim, ‘First, Do No Harm’. By choosing native plants you do just that – avoid invasive species1 that displace natural plant communities thereby reducing biodiversity or those that offer little or no benefit to local ecosystems.

Listed below are examples of native plants that are valuable alternatives to invasives and commonly sold exotic ornamental plants.

Creating a Screen or Green Wall

To create a screen or a green wall in your landscape, plant an evergreen tree like Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) or American Holly (Ilex opaca) or a fast-growing deciduous and dense tree, like those shown below. Using native trees as a screen will add seasonal interest, create shade, sequester carbon, help manage stormwater runoff and attract and support birds.

Red Maple and River Birch shown as screen alternatives to invasive Bamboo

For dry to moist areas a grouping of Sassafrass (Sassafrass albidum), Redbud (Cercis canadensis) or Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) can be very effective.

There are many native shrubs that can be planted in full sun or shade, in dry or wet areas; layering them creates a screen and a safe habitat for birds. Many of them are flowering, some of them have outstanding fall color.

Elderberry, Arrowwood Viburnum, and Spicebush shown as screen alternatives to invasive Bamboo

Coral/Trumpet Honeysuckle shown as a screen alternative to invasive Japanese Honeysuckle, Amur Honeysuckle, and Chinese Wisteria

Attracting and Sustaining Butterflies

To attract and sustain butterfly species in your garden you must provide them with a ‘host plant’ that will support their entire lifecycle by providing them with food and flowers from early spring into fall. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.) does not serve as a host plant to native butterflies but rather is an aggressive plant with seeds that spread by wind dispersal; the National Fish and Wildlife Service (NFWS) specifically recommends against planting Butterfly Bush. 2

Swamp Milkweed shown as an alternative to invasive Butterfly Bush for attracting butterflies

The life cycle of a Monarch Butterfly

Resist the urge to plant Butterfly Bush and instead choose any combination of the following native plants:

Smooth Blue Aster shown as a host plant to many species of butterflies

Host Plants for Moist-Wet Sites: Buttonbush and Sweet Pepperbush are host plants that attract butterflies and thrive in perpetually moist-wet landscapes. Buttonbush tolerates flooding, it can grow in shade but needs sun to bloom. Sweet Pepperbush is an excellent erosion-control plant with fragrant blooms – even in the shade.

Buttonbush and Sweet Pepperbush shown as butterfly host plants good for shady and wet areas

Many trees are host plants. Paw-Paw is a small tree that allows the Zebra Swallowtail to persist in a landscape.

Paw Paw tree shown as a host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

Offer a selection of native perennials to attract and sustain a butterfly population and other pollinators. For sun to part-sun, dry-avg areas:

Tickseed, Orange Coneflower, Wild Indigo, Mountain Mint, Gayfeather, Purple Coneflower, Goldenrod, and Giant Coneflower shown as options for a pollinator garden

For sun to part-sun, moist-wet areas:

Soft Rush, Great Blue Lobelia, Cardinal Flower, and Blueflag Iris shown as options for a pollinator garden

Planting for Fall Color

Fall is a magical time in the Mid-Atlantic states, a time when a landscape can come alive with color – especially if you choose the right native plants.

Virginia Sweetspire shown as an alternative to invasive Burning Bush for fall color

Highbush Blueberry shown as an alternative to invasive Barberry for fall color

Other full-sun to part-shade native options for excellent fall color:

Mapleleaf Viburnum, Oakleaf Hydrangea, and Silky Dogwood shown as options for fall color

Planting for Birds

Migrating and over-wintering birds look for nutritious berries in a landscape. In late winter they relish Red and Black Chokeberries (Aronia spp.), the berries are tart but also high in antioxidants (edible to humans). Winterberry and Beautyberry look lovely in a landscape and create important bird habitat.


Winterberry, Red Chokeberry, and Beautyberry shown as an alternative to invasive Heavenly Bamboo for showy berries

Native trees to beautify your landscape also benefit the watershed, improving air and water quality – most of them can fit the size and aesthetic of a conventional residential landscape.

A mix of native trees - White Oak, Black Gum, American Holly, Sycamore, Dogwood, River Birch, Fringe Tree, Red Maple, and Redbud - shown as an alternative to invasive Callery Pear lining a street

Imagine replacing invasive species with a diversity of native species – and then do it. Stay informed, ‘pull’ rather than ‘plant’ invasives and resist the urge to buy ornamental exotic plants that provide no ecological value to the Mid-Atlantic states. Check out the extensive list of beneficial natives that Direct Native Plants offers – there is something for every site and everyone!

Looking for the plants recommended here? Check out the comprehensive list below!


1 https://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Documents/Invasive-Plant-List-March-2020.pdf

2 https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/midatlantic.pdf

Alison Milligan

Maryland Mstr. Gardener/Mstr. Naturalist/Mstr. Watershed Steward

Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP)

Replant Anne Arundel Tree Trooper

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 13th, 2021 at 11:00 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.