How to Increase Native Plants around our Homes

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  • Why Native Plants?
  • Six Steps to Successful Native Plants in your Garden
  • Lists of Best Native Plants for Lathrop Gardens
  • How to Look Up Individual Plants
  • Where to Buy Native Plants
  • Help for Designing your Garden


Native plants support far more pollinators and birds than alien plants do.  A native plant is one that co-evolved with our native insects and wildlife, and that serves a robust function in a local ecosystem.  At Lathrop, we are trying to increase the number of native plants on our land.  One part of that effort is cottage gardens.  Research shows that what we plant in our yards and home gardens can make a difference.  More in a wonderful DVD narrated by renowned entomologist Douglas Tallamy.  More than 100 Lathrop residents have viewed this video.  If you missed it, borrow a copy from


Step 1: Connect with Others; Get Advice.  Land conservation committee members can talk with you about your cottage garden and recommend resources such as native garden designers and native plant suppliers.  Also, there is a group e-mail discussion of residents helping each other with native plants.  Contact

Step 2: Set a Goal. (Here are some examples)

  • “I want to help butterflies and birds, but I have no idea how to begin.  I want to speak with someone about what is growing here and what could be.”


  • In my cottage garden, I want to slip in a few native plants.”


  • “I want to substantially redo my garden, using native plants.”


  • “The area near my cottage is a tangle of invasives.  I would like to talk with someone about what is growing there, and how I could help that area support more pollinators and birds.”

Step 3: Get Help if you Need It.

  • The Land Conservation Committee can recommend people to help you assess what you have, design and plan your garden, purchase the plants, and install/maintain your garden.  Contact 
  • Consult “Resources” listed below.
  • If you plan to remove shrubs or trees that are already in your garden, you may need to check with Lathrop facilities (see residents’ handbook).
  • If you are on the North campus, and your land is undergoing re-landscaping this year, coordinate your plans with that effort.

Step 4: Do It!  

Step 5:  Label It.  Contact the Land Conservation Committee to get a sign indicating your garden is sustainably managed with native plants for wildlife.

Step 6: Manage It Sustainably. Best practices include no pesticides or herbicides, organic fertilizer, and keeping the ground covered year-round with a mulch of leaves or bark, or a non-invasive groundcover.


The best native plants for your garden are

  • “Straight” natives (also called “species” natives), rather than cultivars of natives (sometimes called “nativars”)
    • WHY?  “Straight” or “species” natives serve as the base of the plant and animal food webs in which they evolved. They may not be as showy as “nativars,” which have been bred by nurseries for qualities attractive to humans, but they will offer more sustenance. Pollinators can be stymied by nativars that have altered blossom shape, color,  or plant sex organs. Nativars have English words like “Flame” after their Latin names. Even our favorite local nurseries will rarely have “straight” natives. And worse, big box stores may sell plants with dangerous systemic pesticides (neonicotinoids)–capable of killing insects that encounter any part of the plant–in their soil or plant tissues. (Lowe’s and Home Depot are phasing out neonics in 2018-19).
  • Native to our local area (the Valley, or more broadly, other areas of MA, NY, CT, or VT)
    • WHY?  Plants, over generations, develop local “genotypes”–that is characteristics suited to their local environments.  Thus a plant from Maine or Minnesota may not do as well in our Valley as a plant with the same name that has grown here.  
  • Suited to your garden’s conditions of sun, moisture, and soil type.
    • WHY? No matter how lovely the plant looks at the nursery, it can’t do well if your garden doesn’t have the conditions it needs.

Best Native Plants for Lathrop Gardens, from the Land Conservation Committee


First four are especially good for supporting all life stages of butterflies and moths [Lepidoptera].

·         Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

·         Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

·         Virginia rose or Carolina rose (Rosa virginiana, Rosa Carolina)

·         Steeplebush (Spirea tomentosa)

·         Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

·         Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)

·         Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra)

·         Pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides)

·         Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)

·         Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

FIFTEEN GREAT NATIVE WILD FLOWERS FOR LATHROP GARDENS This list focuses on wild flowers that grow under four feet tall and that best support butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), other pollinators, and birds.

·         Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)

·         Calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)

·         Woodland sunflower (Helianthus diveracutus)

·         Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

·         Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)

·         Wild bergamot/Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa)

·         Orange butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

·         Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

·         Lupine

·         Black-eyed susan

·         Blue flag Iris

·         Blue vervain (Vervena hastate)

·         Phlox

·         Mountain mint

·         Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)



SEVEN GREAT GROUND COVERS FOR LATHROP GARDENS.  First two are especially good for supporting all life stages of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera)

·         Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)

·         Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum)

·         Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)

·         Foamflower ((Tiarella cordifolia)

·         Barren strawberry (Waldstenia fragarioides)

·         Hay-scented fern (Denstaedtia punctilobula)

·         Three-leaved cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentada)

Other Lists of Native Plants for Pollinators and Birds

  • Henry Lappen, in the Hampshire Gazette, recommends these native shrubs to bring birds to your yard: arrowwood vibernum (Vibernum dentatum), American cranberrybush (Vibernum opulus), American spicebush (Lindera benzoin), red mulberry (Morus rubra), and highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).“planting”)%20and%20(“birds”)%20and%20(“yard”)&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no
  • “Best Bets: What to Plant” Top plants for Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths): research-based list by Douglas Tallamy: Applies to Mid-Atlantic but many of the same plants are also native to us.
  • “Pollinator Plants Northeast Region.” Xerxes Society (society to protect bees and other pollinators).  List is arranged by time of bloom, so very useful in planning a garden for continuous bloom across season.  Also gives maximum height, flower color, and water needs.
  • Site maintained by Audubon: you type in your zip code, and it gives you a list of native plants for your area, with special emphasis on plants good for birds.
  • “Support Butterflies, Moths, and Skippers.” And other plant lists by Heather Holm, award-winning author and naturalist:–posters.html
  • Native Plants for New England Gardens, Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe. New England Wild Flower Society, 2018. Index contains lists of native plants for various conditions and purposes (e.g. plants for pollinators, plants for dry sites, sunny sites, showy fall color, etc.)  Most of the book is comprised of  1-2-page descriptions of each plant with hints about using them in gardens.  VERY useful. Copies are in Lathrop libraries and for about $17 on Amazon.“ You may also borrow a copy from Barbara Walvoord at
  • “Top Native Plants for Ecological Gardening.” Dan Jaffe.  New England Wild Flower Society. Copy available from
  • “Low Maintenance Native Perennials” handout by Owen Wormser of Abound Design in Leverett. Lists ground covers and short perennials.  Distributed at workshop 4/30/16.  Owen designed our native plant landscaping by the Inn.  Copy of the list available from Barbara Walvoord:
  • “Native alternatives” to invasive plants. New England Wildflower society. If you have  removed an invasive plant, or know that an invasive would do well in your spot, this resource suggests natives that will resemble the invasive in size, growing habit, and sun/soil preferences.
  • Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Special Double Volume.  2006.  Buy from Amazon, $2.  As above.
  • Ellen Sousa. The Green Garden: A New England Guide to Planning, Planting, and Maintaining the Eco-Friendly Habitat Garden. Piermont NH, Bunker HIll Publishing, 2011. Lots of great advice and photos.  Sousa does not confine herself only to “straight” natives.
  • A list of native Mass. Plants for wildlife, by soil type and sun/shade.



Buy from local sources that will have the local genotypes.  This is important because, for example, a plant with the same name from Minnesota or Maine will not necessarily do well in our Valley climate.  Box stores like Lowe’s, and nurseries like Hadley Garden Center will have few if any natives, and what they do have will usually be nativars, not “straight” natives.  So use these sources instead:

  • Individual plants in a showroom: Nasami nursery in Whately, operated by the New England Wildflower Society ( to serve gardeners.  There, you can see the plants in a demonstration garden or showroom. Nasami prices are higher because they are a gardener’s store not a wholesale supplier.  The New England Wild Flower Society main headquarters in Framingham has a marvelous “Garden In the Woods,” where you can walk around on paths to see many, many native plants in natural settings.   Their offerings include some nativars and some not native to our area, so ask for “straight” or “species” natives.
  • Bulk orders of at least $150, very cheap, pick them up yourself in Amherst: New England Wetland Plants in Amherst (  NEWP supplies both wetland and dry land native plants to landscapers. Prices for all shrubs listed here run between $8 for a plant 18-24″ tall, up to $12 for a plant 3-4′ tall.  The shrubs are very inexpensive because they are grown close together in the nursery and used for native habitat restoration. That means they are not as full as plants grown farther apart for the garden trade.  However, if you buy the 2-4-foot size from NEWP, the plants will fill out as they grow, and in many cases their growth will catch up to larger transplanted plants.  Because NEWP serves landscapers, there is no salesroom display, and your order has to total at least $150.   Use their online catalog, and then go pick up your plants at their headquarters in Amherst.
  • Native Wildflowers:  Wing and a Prayer Nursery.  A small nursery in Cummington, connected to Alice’s Kitchen.  Has native wild flowers, but also grows and serves food and much more.  Alice invites you to call or visit.
  • Tripple Brook Farm in Southampton has some “straight” natives. tripple brook


  • Ellen Sousa. The Green Garden: A New England Guide to Planning, Planting, and Maintaining the Eco-Friendly Habitat Garden (2011) has lots of photos and great ideas. Dale LaBonte has a copy to lend (
  • Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy. The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden. Timber Press, 2014.
  • Http:// is a great website with lots of ideas.

Nurturing Lathrop’s native plants and wildlife.

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