Native Plants – Good or Bad?

Precious few opportunities for controversy arise in the gardening world but I seem to have struck a nerve with my answer to a question regarding a requirement for native plants in a community. The respondents raised such good points, I though you would like to read their views:

“I feel your recent response to the native plant requirement in subdivision covenants does a disservice to an issue that is worth a more thorough and objective discussion. While it is true that the covenants may need further clarification (it is difficult to tell since only one phrase was quoted), the intent of the covenants appears to reflect what is a growing trend towards a more ecological and sustainable approach to landscaping. This includes extensive use of native plant species. Such an approach does not necessarily preclude the use of exotic species (though it may in some cases) but it does call for an examination of where their use is or is not appropriate.

Prohibiting fescue and bermudagrass, while not a popular idea, is not totally without merit. There are subdivisions and communities in the Southeast that do not allow the planting of lawns based on, among other reasons, their typically large consumption of water and chemicals. For all of the exotic species you list there are numerous equally or more attractive native species. With native hollies such as American holly, yaupon holly, possumhaw, winterberry, and inkberry to choose from, why would you want to plant Burford holly?

There are other good reasons to use natives:

1. They are adapted to your locale and will generally need less watering, fertilizing and other maintenance in order to thrive.

2.As part of the local ecosystem they serve as food sources and shelter for wildlife.

3. They promote regional identity and can help us learn more about our natural systems. Southern red oaks, loblolly pines, and Eastern red cedar say “Georgia” a lot better than Bradford pears and Leyland cypress. If you want flowering trees there are dogwood, redbud, fringetree, serviceberry, chickasaw plums and others.” Chet Thomas, A.S.L.A., Senior Landscape Architect, Athens

“No one is forced to live in a community that strives to maintain the integrity of the natural plant communities. As for me, I would pay a premium for the privilege. I have hiked many miles in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains as well as other natural areas in Georgia and other states. I cannot conceive of a better landscape plan than that which nature provides.” George Burdell, e-mail

“The Georgia Native Plant Society is dedicated to educating the public about native plants and promoting their appropriate horticultural uses, but not necessarily to the exclusion of useful exotics. We would be glad to suggest an array of native plants that are useful in landscaping applications.” Jim Smith, President, Georgia Native Plant Society

Walter answers: My negative response regarding the reader’s neighborhood rules requiring native plants was partially in response to the notion of “covenants” and partially to the typical concept of “native”. The questioner quoted the covenants as requiring “plants native to the southeastern U.S.”. While there are developments that have successfully required natives (Big Canoe, near Jasper, is a good example) I don’t think any covenant in an Atlanta suburb goes so far as to forbid fescue, bermudagrass, zoysiagrass or centipedegrass – but that would be the effect if “plants native to the southeastern U.S.” is interpreted literally. Most folks think native means “something that grows good here”. The responses from Chet, George and Jim point out great reasons to use more native plants in our landscapes. We all need to keep in mind that our landscapes, like our country, are a blend of immigrants and natives working together for the common good.


Georgia Native Plant Society

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