As I travel around the country speaking at conferences about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife, the question I get asked most frequently is “What should I plant?”

The easy answer is that you should add lots of locally native plants to your wildlife garden because over thousands of years wildlife has developed interdependent relationships with these plants. Native plants form the base of any food web.

What is a Native Plant?

But this answer isn’t as easy as it may appear at first glance. What is a native plant?

Native plants are part of an ecosystem or community of other plants that support birds, butterflies, native bees, and other wildlife. Native plants exist naturally in an area. They were not brought in by human action, either accidentally or as the latest “must-have” cultivar of some plant from China.

However you define “native plant” if you want to create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden, planting more native plants is the key.

The answer to this question also depends on where you live. Each region of the country has different plant communities. What will work in my Pennsylvania wildlife garden will not work in a Florida garden, or an Arizona garden, or a Seattle garden.

What works in the valley of a mountain range will not be appropriate at higher elevations of the same mountain. What works on a north-facing slope probably won’t work on a south-facing slope.

So in order to make sure you’re putting the right plant in the right place for the conditions in your wildlife garden, you need to do a bit of homework.

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