Landscaping with Native Plants

Landscaping with Native Plants . . . In the spring many of us think about cleaning out flower beds and planting native plants that brighten our landscape and provide for Tennessee wildlife.

by Joan Greene

In the spring many of us think about cleaning out flower beds and lawns to begin to prepare for planting new trees, shrubs, and perennials to brighten our days, and provide for Tennessee wildlife.  In this blog we are talking about incorporating native plants into your landscape.

For many of us the past year has taught us to get back to nature.  A walk in the woods, taking photos at local, state or national parks, or spending an afternoon in one of our nature reserves, has made up for the hours on Zoom, the days of isolation and the unknowns of a world pandemic.  We find sanctuary from our day to day in those wild places where trees provide shade from the sun, butterflies feed on milkweed and nature is free to grow. It is during these times in nature that one sees firsthand the balance, and wisdom of native plants and how they are part of the great biodiversity that all living creatures depend on — thrive on.

Native plants are indigenous species that evolve in a region.  Many Tennessee native plants are perfect for your own backyard.  Things to consider when choosing them over exotic plants:

Landscaping with Native Plants promotes biodiversity and celebrates the natural heritage of Tennessee.

Buy and plant nursery-propagated native plants — Do not dig plants from the wild!

Planting natives sustains native butterflies, moths, bees and other insects.

Birds depend on the fruits of trees and shrubs.  Also, native trees are the hosts for moths and caterpillars that are key to the well being of birds.

Natives that are adapted to regional conditions often require less maintenance and water when appropriately sited.

Here are some thoughts from Tennessee native plant experts:

Terri Barnes at GroWild Nursery

Favorite Native Tree:  Any oak (Quercus spp.) - “We are not planting enough oaks,” said Terri.  They are the number one host for the Lepidoptera order (Butterflies and Moths).  Birds feed their young on the butterflies and moth larva and caterpillars.  (According to Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware and author of several books on native plants, “a single pair of breeding chickadees must find 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young”.)  A clutch is the group of eggs produced per nest.

Favorite Native Shrub: Native Viburnum (Viburnum spp.) — very adaptable and great for pollinators. 

Photo courtesy: South Eastern Flora

Favorite perennial plant:  Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) — great nectar plant.  It is a myth that goldenrod causes hay fever.  

Photo: G. Johansen from Pixabay

GroWild, Inc. is a Tennessee plant nursery specializing in native North American plants. GroWild has over 950 species and cultivars of native perennials, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses.  They are growers and sell to the public by appointment.   To visit the nursery, please call and schedule a time. 615-799-1910 ---- 7190 Hill Hughes Road, Fairview, TN 37062

Kim Bradley - Master Gardener

Kim is a Davidson County Master Gardener and a Tennessee Naturalist. She has been an independent perennial gardener since 1996. “I specialize in Perennial care and grooming. Aka, I dig weeds for a living, mostly,“ said Bradley.  Actually, her work is much more creative and knowledge based than just pulling weeds.  Kim is a much sought after gardener and expert.  

Currently she can only take clients that are in need of a "gardening partner" in the Fairview area. She can be contacted via email and is happy to be a resource. You can reach Kim at:

Favorite Tree: Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) because of it's strong (tall) trunk and high canopy. And, of course it has beautiful blooms!

Photo: Wikimedialmages from Pixabay

Favorite Shrub: Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) because of it's berries but also it's so easy to grow. Doesn't require a lot of attention and can take sun. Great filler (back of the garden) plant until it goes in to late summer bloom!

Favorite Perennial: “Not a fair question for a gardener! My favorite is whichever I am looking toward. Yet, since you asked, I'm going to say our late summer blooming Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) because they go so well with Beautyberry when the rest of the garden is fading,” said Kim.

David Bates and Joy Boven at Bates Nursery Bates Nursery 3810 White’s Creek Pike, Nashville, TN 37207 --- 615-876-1014

David Bates’ recent blog on native plants:

Joy Boven from Bates Nursery has done two webinars on native plants.  You can find them here (scroll down on the following link for Native Species 101 and 201 :

Planting native plants makes your yard more biodiverse.

Creating a landscape that attracts more wildlife can be incredibly rewarding and I often see it as one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played. Seeing a new bird in the yard that I haven’t seen before brings me joy and I consider it a win! Finding a baby snapping turtle, a new butterfly, several different insect species dancing on my milkweed, a spicebush caterpillar curled up in a leaf, a Carolina Wren family taking up residence in my hanging basket that I stopped watering and let them have. Each new sighting is a piece to the puzzle and to the bigger picture,” said Joy Boven.

Recently, Bates Nursery, The At Home Show with Josh Cary and David Bates, featured a discussion on native plants with Pandy Upchurch - founding president of the Tennessee Naturalist Program and TWRA - Assistant Chief of Biodiversity, and Kim Bradley, Master Gardener and Tennessee Naturalist Program alumni.

Pandy and Kim on the Bates Nursery, The At Home Home with Josh Cary and David Bates, discussing native plants.

Link to that program:

As more and more people learn about the value of planting native plants, businesses are beginning to go native. For example: The Heritage at Brentwood, a senior living facility, has cultivated a blossoming community garden that captures Tennessee native plant landscaping. In a recent newsletter they listed some of their favorite Tennessee native plants:

ASTERS: (Symphyotrichum spp.) - While this perennial may soak up most of the attention you give to them, they’ll reciprocate with blue, white, or lavender flowers in summer and fall.

Photo: Capri23auto from Pixabay

BEE BALM: (Monarda didyma) - Plant this beautifully colorful flower to invite wildlife like butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds to your garden. In a sunny field or meadow, let plants spread and multiply to create a blanket of color.

NORTHERN SEA OATS: (Chasmanthium latifolium) - This ornamental grass will tolerate partial shade, and the oat-like heads provide winter interest, meaning that while the seed heads turn a shade of brown, they’ll last all winter long. Its name refers to the spikelets that hang from the plant and resemble oat seed heads. The seed heads arrive in summer and last for three seasons.

ST.JOHN’S WORT: (Hypericum frondosum) - The flowering plant in the St. John’s Wort family, the Sunburst is a small, upright deciduous shrub that is noted for its large showy golden yellow flowers and attractive blue-green foliage, bringing uniquely bright colors to any garden.

VIRGINIA BLUEBELL: (Mertensia virginica) - Virginia Bluebell is a gorgeous flower that adds a touch of beauty to any garden, and is especially beautiful when in full bloom. Each blossom on this unique flower has five petals, a bell shape, and is a lovely sky blue color. Bluebells can grow to be about a foot tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. They require very little care and are rather easy to grow.

WILD COLUMBINE: (Aquilegia canadensis) - This perennial flower likes shady woodlands. Its red and yellow flowers attract hummingbirds. It is an attractive, old-fashioned garden plant.

Photo: Mueche from Pixabay

WINTERBERRY: (Ilex verticillata) - This shrub produces red berries during the winter that birds love to eat.

WOODLAND PHLOX: (Phlox divaricata)- This delicate wildflower is more fragrant than you might expect. It’s hardy and disease-resistant, and is shade loving.

Clearly, there is lots to learn about native Tennessee plants.  Look to our natural environment for clues.  Some additional native plants that you might want to consider:

For wetter areas and creek banks to prevent erosion: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Black Willow (Salix nigra).

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

River Birch (Betula nigra)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Photo: Brian Martin from Pixabay

Start with a few indigenous plants in your garden and before long you may just decide to go native.

Margie Hunter, founding board member of TNP and author of Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee: The Spirit of Place said, “Through the Tennessee Naturalist Program, participants learn how nature functions — the interwoven relationships of our plants and animals forged amid the evolutionary influences of geological events and climate.  Ongoing human development strains and fractures these relationships, but we can counter and begin to heal this damage every time we bring a residential yard, urban park, or corporate campus back into nature’s balance.  This process begins with native plants as the backbone of any landscape, a simple but crucial step that sets ecological magic in motion.  Begin the journey!” 

VIRGINIA BLUEBELL: (Mertensia virginica)


Planting for Biodiversity - Bates Nursery, Joy Boven

List of Middle Tennessee Native Plants:

Organization that focuses on planting native plants:

Middle Tennessee Wild Ones Native Plants, Natural Landscapes

Find Middle Tennessee Wild Ones on Facebook at

Photo: Waros from Pixabay


Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee: The Spirit of Place by Margie Hunter

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy (Doug has written a number of books on native plants.)

Do not dig native plants from the wild - buy nursery-propagated plants!

The following is a partial list of nurseries that sell native plants.  Ask about Tennessee native plants. Call first to make sure that they are open:

Bates Nursery and Garden Center, 3810 White’s Creek Pike, Nashville, TN 37207 615-876-1014

Tennessee Naturescapes, Clinton, Tennessee --- 865-730-3122

Hills Creek Native Plants, McMinnville, TN --- 931-224-7719

Overhill Gardens, Vonore, TN --- 423-295-2288

JVI Secret Garden, Nashville, TN --- 615-871-7338

True Native Plants, McMinnville, TN --- 931-668-8783

Native Wildflowers & More, McMinnville, TN --- 931-668-7775

Creekside Garden Center & Landscape, Nashville, TN --- 615-356-2201

Reflection Riding Arboretum & Native Plant Nursery, Chattanooga, TN --- 423-497-6208

Riverbend Nurseries, Franklin, TN --- 615-468-2008

Hendersonville Garden Center, Hendersonville, TN --- 615-822-3089

Moore & Moore Garden Center, 8216 Hwy. 100, Nashville, TN  37221 --- 615-662-8849