Native plants for pollinators

A beginners guide to native gardening in Virginia

One of the key advantages of planting native species is that it is one of the most effective methods for safeguarding native bees and other pollinators.

canva | Used by permission

Wildlife and the environment receive numerous benefits from native plants. These plants have evolved in specific regions under particular conditions, requiring less maintenance and naturally offering advantages such as reducing stormwater runoff, enduring local weather conditions, and providing habitats for wildlife.

One of the key advantages of planting native species is that it is one of the most effective methods for safeguarding native bees and other pollinators.

Unfortunately, native landscaping remains uncommon in the US and might seem like a daunting undertaking for many people. However, it doesn’t have to be. Learn more about native plants and begin integrating them into your environment.

Elly Boehmer Wilson | Used by permission


Native Plant Species

Plants that occur in the region in which they evolved. Plants evolve over geologic time in response to physical and biotic processes characteristic of a region: the climate, soils, timing of rainfall, drought, and frost; and interactions with the other species inhabiting the local community.

Alien or non native plants

Every plant is native to somewhere. When we talk about native plants, we typically refer to plants from pre-European colonization or that arrived in a region without human transport. There is debate regarding this distinction but most agree anything brought to Virginia after European settlement would not be considered native.  

Alien plants can include many beneficial plants important in farming, such as vegetables and grains. Today, approximately 25% of flowering plants in North America are non-natives or alien species, most of Eurasian origin.

Invasive species

Introduced alien species that cause health, economic or ecological damage in their new range. These plants are out of place and outcompete native plants. 

Noxious weeds

This term is used somewhat interchangeably with invasive species. In Virginia, state code defines noxious weeds more specifically as species “whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health”.

Native plants cannot be invasive and provide the most benefits to the environment, wildlife and native pollinators. Some native plants are more aggressive than others but they are never considered invasive.

Alien species, particularly annual plants, can be noninvasive but do not provide the same level of benefit to the environment.

Invasive species are alien and aggressive and should be avoided.

canva | Used by permission

Getting Started

Step One: Do your research

Start by conducting research on native plants in Virginia. Several excellent resources, such as the Virginia Native Plant Society, Virginia Department of Conservation, and the Virginia Flora Atlas, provide valuable information about suitable native plants for your area.

Step Two: Create a plan

Next, create a plan, which might seem overwhelming, especially if you’re transforming an already landscaped area. However, it doesn’t have to be daunting. Converting a space can be a gradual process, allowing you to assess your preferences and needs over time. Some people follow the 80-20 rule, planting 80% native plants and keeping a few non-native (and non-invasive) plants.

Be sure to consider your specific needs when selecting native plants. Location, sunlight, soil type, and water availability are crucial factors. Join local gardening groups to get suggestions from people in your area and to exchange plants with fellow enthusiasts.

Step Three: Remove aggressive, invasive non-native plants

Prioritize the removal of aggressive, invasive non-native plants like English ivy, privet, and monkey grass, which can outcompete native species. Eliminating these plants should be your initial focus, even though it takes years to completely eradicate them. Start by working on one garden bed or a section of your yard while incorporating native plants.

Step Four: Start planting!

When it comes to planting, fall is ideal as it allows plants to focus on root development before spring growth. Although spring is also suitable, planting in summer can be challenging, as most plants, native or not, may struggle and require extra watering. Ensure you remove invasive plants that can compete with natives, giving the native plants the best chance to thrive.

Be cautious when purchasing native plants, especially from large stores, as they may advertise plants native to the United States but not specific to Virginia. Native status varies by region, so consult the Flora Atlas for accurate information. Additionally, some big stores may treat plants with pesticides harmful to pollinators. Research thoroughly or shop at local native nurseries specializing in local natives.

Step Five: Stay engaged

Stay engaged by joining or following a local Virginia Native Plant Society chapter. These groups provide information about upcoming native plant sales, events, and swaps, allowing you to exchange plants, ideas and knowledge with fellow enthusiasts. Also, by keeping up to date on our work you can participate in the 2024 General Assembly to make your voice heard regarding legislation that promotes native plants in Virginia.


Elly Boehmer

State Director, Environment Virginia

A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.  

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