Landscape Legacy: Utilizing Native Plants in WNC

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By Steve Pettis, NC State Extension Horticulture Agent

The traditional lawn has drawbacks. Inputs such as herbicides, fertilizers, water, and mowing are expensive and environmentally costly. More and more people are allowing swaths of property to revert to a more natural state. These more nuanced property managers are seeking out and planting native plants to accomplish this. There are many reasons for this change.

reducing turf areas can lower inputs

Reducing turf areas can create habitat for native wildlife.

Costs: Monetary and Environmental
Natural areas are cheaper to manage and more environmentally friendly. Regular mowing is not required. Herbicides are not needed to manage turf weeds. Fertilizers are unnecessary in natural areas where leaves are allowed to remain and decompose into valuable nutrients and organic matter.

Natural areas are beneficial to wildlife. Flowering plants including grasses produce nectar and pollen which benefits pollen and nectar-feeding insects. Areas that are not mowed or cut back in late summer provide an overwintering place for beneficial insects, amphibians, and reptiles. Birds are attracted by the abundance of insects and seeds on which they feed.

Lower Emissions
Natural landscapes are better for the environment than highly managed ones. Greenhouse emissions are reduced by lowering the use of environmentally unfriendly machinery. Chemical inputs such as herbicides and fertilizers are unnecessary. Soil health improves when chemical use goes down and compaction from heavy machinery ceases.

Natural areas leave behind a positive environmental legacy in the landscape. Native trees and shrubs can live for decades or even centuries. The natural landscapes we plant today become the woodlands and parks of the future. An oak may take 25 years before it starts casting any real shade but it can go on cooling our environment, stabilizing soil, and capturing pollutants long after we are all gone.

Where to begin
Recently I worked with a landowner who has a five-acre property. He was killing himself and his wallet maintaining four acres of grass. We identified areas where he could stop mowing. These areas were the bottoms between small hills where water collected and soil was often saturated. Others were hilltops where the soil would often be dry. We expanded the footprint of wooded areas where he could let the current year’s leaves and small twigs fall and remain in place after summer. That was it. These small changes reduced the area he was mowing by half. In my opinion, his estate went from looking very bland to looking more like an arboretum; like a European garden such as you would find at many fine estates.

Planting Natives
The best source for information on native plants in North Carolina is the NC Native Plant Society website. The website has a very useful list of native plants for the state. Their well-organized chart divides plants by their use and size in the landscape.

Native Plant List for Henderson County

Small trees up to 25′ –
(deciduous) service berry, hornbeam, redbud, dogwood, fringe tree, Carolina silverbell, hornbeam
(evergreen) red cedar, arborvitae, American holly, Savannah holly

Large Trees over 25′ –
(deciduous) red maple, sugar maple, river birch, yellowwood, beech, birch, cucumber tree, oaks
(evergreen) spruce, hemlock, fir, pines, Atlantic white cedar, arborvitae, deodar cedar, southern magnolia

Shrubs under 4′ –
(deciduous) St. John’s Wort, lowbush blueberry, cranberry, maple leaf viburnum, hydrangea, American Beautyberry
(evergreen) leucothoe, dwarf yaupon holly, american boxwood, quince

Mid-sized Shrubs over 4′ under 10′-
(deciduous) sweetshrub, red-twig dogwood, hearts-a-bustin’, fothergilla, hypericum, winterberry, Virginia sweetspire, spicebush, native azaleas, elderberry, highbush blueberry, deciduous viburnum, leatherleaf viburnum, spirea
(evergreen) mountain laurel, rhododendron, inkberry

Large shrubs over 10′ –
(deciduous) smooth sumac, arrowwood viburnum, bottlebrush buckeye, witch hazel

Vines –
(deciduous) crossvine, trumpet creeper, climbing hydrangea, coral honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, fox grape

Grasses –
bluestem, broomsedge, river oats, switch grass, pink muhly grass, lovegrass

Groundcovers –
(deciduous) pussy’s toes, wild ginger, partridge berry, pachysandra, phlox, golden aster, Christmas fern, Oconee bells, yellow root
(evergreen) shore juniper, blue rug juniper

Wildflowers –
annual wildflower seed mixes from Eden Brothers wildflower mix for the south (on Hwy 191 north of Mills River about 5 miles)
perennials – black-eyed Susan, coneflower, milkweed, asters, false indigo, coreopsis, Joe Pye weed, Carolina Geranium, swamp sunflower, bee balm, Carolina phlox, Cardinal Flower

Exotic Invasive plants to avoid – English ivy, vinca, Asiatic jasmine, leriope, Japanese stiltgrass, miscanthus grass, Chinese wisteria, oriental bittersweet, euonymous

Questions? Contact:

Steve D. Pettis
Commercial and Consumer Horticulture Agent
NC State Cooperative Extension
100 Jackson Park Rd.
Hendersonville, NC 28792
email –
office – (828) 697-4891
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***N.C. Cooperative Extension partnership (NCCE) is committed to the value of diversity within our respective universities, to the provision of equal opportunity and non-discrimination in all employment for our staff, and to all N.C. residents seeking to participate in our programs.