Incorporating Native Plants into Your Landscape Design Successfully

Large botanical garden with purple flowers

The dominant landscaping trend at the moment is a significant push towards relying exclusively on “native” plants that are allowed to grow as they would in the wild.

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, native plants are visually and environmentally superior to the alternative. The ASLA adds that they offer increased hardiness and also rely less on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc.

So far, it sounds like a slam dunk, but a native plant landscape design can be a bit more complicated than the “hands-off” approach initially promises.

The truth is – as is the case with most landscaping trends – that we are often called to remove these landscapes within only a few years of their installation.

Why is this the case?

Ultimately it can take more work to maintain the “natural” look. The point is for it to grow “like wild,” and it most likely will. However, the instant gratification will quickly turn to panic as the plants continue to grow. Without proper precautions, your natural landscape design will quickly become overwhelming in terms of visual appeal and the effort required to maintain.

Eventually, you will be left with one option: a hard reset of the property. That is, if your HOA or borough ordinances don’t compel you to do it first.

There is, however, a middle path through your landscape design that gives you the ecological benefits of the native plants with the controlled discipline of traditional landscaping.

CVTS-L’s Landscape Design Professionals can help you find the middle ground in your, well, ground. The result will be a finished project that combines meticulous curation with wild native plants so you – and the insects that happen to pass through – are happy for the long haul.

Here are some things to keep in mind before going all-in on the native plants trend.

1.      Trends come and go, but good landscape design is forever.

The native plant movement might be a good trend, but it is still a trend. Eventually, the blogs, magazines, and freelance designers will move on to the next big thing. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, the pendulum will swing back the other way and everyone will want minimalist Zen spaces. For most homeowners, it simply isn’t financially feasible to go all-in on every trend. Fortunately, they don’t have to. A good landscape design professional will be able to incorporate the trending design elements with classic approaches so your property will always be in style. And if you do decide to “trend-hop,” elements of the hot new design can be incorporated into your existing landscape without needing to start from scratch.

2.      Native plant landscape designs can quickly lose their luster.

Part of the appeal of native-plant landscape designs is that they appear abundant and full. The problem is that it will quickly grow through the phase where it looks “healthily abundant” and continue growing until it appears overwhelming. Then it will continue growing even more until it is actually overwhelming. At that point, it might be best to start over entirely.

3.      Native planting outcomes often do not match expectations, and here’s why.

A common thought is that native plants are better adapted to our soils, more disease resistant, have prettier flowers, require less maintenance, and are better for insects such as pollinators.  The reality is that the concept doesn’t often align with outcomes.  The plants can be better for pollinators, but many of the other overstated benefits are inaccurate. Yes, some natives do well locally, but most do not perform as well as a hybridized or introduced species. As with all things in life, there are never absolutes. 

Many introduced species, such as hybrid dogwood as opposed to native dogwood, adapt to our local soils much easier and are better protected against insects and disease.  A misconception is that we actually have native soils in a residential setting. Most residential settings for a typical project are in sub-divisions. The soil properties in sub-divisions are a far cry from native soils.  The great topsoil gets stripped in the excavation process.  The soil is then compacted with the construction equipment with a “generous” 1-2” of soil spread over the top when they are done. This results in nothing that resembles the “native” forest floor of PA’s native soils.

4.      Native plant landscape designs will ultimately require more work to maintain.

It sounds counterintuitive, but going au naturale will likely require more upkeep over time than a more standard landscape design.  Natives tend to self-seed and colonize just like some invasive plants.  While having a native plant over an invasive species is better, this still requires a ton of maintenance.  Most of your time would be spent in the garden controlling the spread of the plants.

As we mentioned above, the biggest problem will be overcrowding, which brings additional problems. For example, it will be significantly more challenging to pull or spray for weeds without stepping on or otherwise harming the desired native plants. Additionally, many non-native plants are used because they are more likely to survive – and perform as expected – year after year.


The decision to incorporate native plants into your landscape design is a noble one and one that we commend. However, the reality is often less desirable than the industry trend machine lets on.

Our approach has been to incorporate the best of both worlds with the better performing natives mixed with introduced and hybridized plants.  

When designing and planning a landscape carefully, we keep spacing, growth habits, and future maintenance in mind. This is where Cumberland Valley Tree Service – Landscaping’s holistic expertise makes us a very valuable partner. We can draw upon our arboriculture, plant health care, and horticulture expertise.

Our Landscape Design Professionals can develop and install a landscape design that:

–        Incorporates native plants to support local insects and wildlife

–        Remains aesthetically pleasing for as much of the year as possible

–        Strikes a balance between natural and maintainable so everyone wins.

Beautiful and durable. Natural and predictable. Wild and manageable.

Contact our Landscape Design Professionals today to start developing a project that matches your unique needs and delivers the best of all worlds.