Out with the Ornamentals, In with the Natives!




Welcome June! The growing season has been set in motion, and it is a great time to evaluate what is growing on our landscapes-both public and privately owned. In many of these areas, we will find that plants from across the world have been used for aesthetics. Exotic ornamental plants are planted exclusively for added “beauty” to the landscape. What if we utilized plants that serve a higher, ecological purpose while also showcasing their intrinsic charm?


With native plants in mind, we can make (and encourage) changes that emphasize natural beauty and acknowledge our need to be team players in the ecosystems that surround us. Native plants that evolved with our local biomes provide the basis of our natural food webs, bring habitat and cover for all kinds of beneficial wildlife, and require less inputs- they are in harmony with the land we put our own roots on and in.


In this month’s article, we will be providing native plant substitutes for some of the most common ornamental plants we see on private land, public areas, and business landscapes. If you have already jumped on the native plant bandwagon, spread the word to your neighbors, friends, family, and local businesses! Being an advocate for native plants is just as important as getting them back on the landscape. By replacing these common ornamental plants with robust native flora, we start on the path of a biodiversity renaissance.




This Daylily cultivar is commonly used in business landscapes for its ongoing bloom time and compact growth habit. Lanceleaf Coreopsis is a great substitute- blooming throughout the summer, staying on the short side, and thriving in hellstrip conditions. If you watch for pollinators at the flowers and insects roaming the foliage, you will find that Lanceleaf Coreopsis attracts much more life.



Daylily “Stella D’Oro”

lanceleaf coreopsis

Lanceleaf Coreopsis












Hostas are very common garden foliage plants that prefer shade and well-drained soils. Many cultivars with all kinds of colors and leaf shapes have been developed. This foliage plant provides very little to the ecosystem-except for being slug food and providing some shade. Use Wild Geranium in its place for reliable basal leaves and to provide food for a variety of tiny biota.

Not to mention the lovely pink flowers!


Hosta plant


wild geranium

Wild Geranium












Salvia and Anise Hyssop look almost identical and prefer the same type of conditions-full sun and dry, well-drained soils. They both are aromatic and have showy purple flowers, as well as being relatively the same height. The only big difference is that Anise Hyssop originates on the land under our feet, while Salvia comes from Eurasia. Choose Anise Hyssop to support local ecosystems more effectively!


Salvia plant


Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop












Feather Reed Grass is used regularly in private and commercial landscapes. It is popular due to its tolerance of soil conditions and upright habit. A great substitute is Indian Grass with its similar form and texture, as well as being tolerant of different soil characteristics. These grasses grow between 3-6 feet tall with Indian Grass reaching a little higher.


Feather Reed Grass

Feather Reed Grass

indian grass

Indian Grass












Japanese Pachysandra is a shade-loving groundcover that is tolerant of drought, pollution, and various soil conditions. Although this plant is used for its resistance and its ability to form a carpet of lush green foliage, we find this plant pushes out other woodland species and forms a monoculture in the shade garden. Use Pennsylvania Sedge instead, a low-growing native that blooms very early in the year. Elegant flowering spikes appear as soft glowing candles on the soil. Penn sedge forms an open groundcover, allowing other plants to colonize and create diversity in the landscape. It is also very tolerant, and even thrives, in the adverse conditions listed above.


japanese pachysandra1

Japanese Pachysandra

Penn Sedge

Pennsylvania Sedge













Of course, these are just a couple of suggestions. Although it may be hard for some to depart with the familiarity and norm of common exotic plants, experiencing the ecology and beauty of native plants brings a fresh, entirely wholesome perspective. Challenge yourself and others to find native replacements for ornamental plants like the ones listed above, and welcome the indigenous flora back into our modern landscapes!