Natural Landscaping and Native Plants

Before the first humans arrived, the North American landscape was made up of a variety of ecosystems, including tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, woodlands, and wetlands. These ecosystems were home to abundant birds, butterflies and other animals. After the arrival of European settlers, most of these areas have been transformed into the agricultural lands, urban centers, and industrial sites we see today. Few acres of the original landscapes remain. For example, approximately 65% of Illinois was originally tallgrass prairie. Today, less than 0.01% of the original prairie survives in small, scattered preserves. Other natural ecosystems have fared similarly. 

After European settlement, people planted gardens with plants brought from their home country. They were tiny, comfortable garden plots set in a huge wilderness. Today, however, the reverse is true. Agricultural and garden plants introduced from all over the world dominate the landscape, while native plants are managed in small preserves. In recent years, natural landscaping - using native plants and plant communities in landscaping - has become more common. 


Photo courtesy of the US EPA (

Natural Landscape

An alternative to Xeriscape is a “natural landscape” or “native garden” that uses only native plants that evolved naturally in a particular area and were growing there before humans introduced plants from distant places.  Once established a natural landscape can survive on the natural precipitation it receives so little or no supplemental watering is required. 

Supporters of the growing natural landscape movement explain that native plants have evolved and adapted to local conditions over thousands of years. They are vigorous and hardy, so can survive winter cold and summer heat. Once established, they require no irrigation or fertilization. They are resistant to most pests and diseases. Thus, native plants suit today's interest in "low-maintenance" gardening and landscaping.

According to the US EPA’s Native Plants Factsheet, native plants offer an attractive, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance landscape while benefiting the environment. Native plants, once established, save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment. 

Some of the key advantages of native plants include:

  • Native plants do not require fertilizers.
  • Native plants require fewer pesticides than lawns.
  • Native plants require less water than lawns.
  • Native plants help reduce air pollution be eliminating mowing.
  • Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife.
  • Native plants promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage.
  • Native plants save money.

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