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Native Plant Gardens: At What Cost?

Many options; many price points!

monarch on native blooming ageratum blue mist flower

In August of 2022, a new report came out noting the decline of the monarch butterfly and Dr. Doug Tallamy implored us all to add milkweed to our gardens to help support monarch migrations. I quickly posted about adding milkweed the coming weekend. I then followed up in our garden.

I decided to plant in an area converted from lawn to garden bed the year before. It is about 5’ wide and 20’ long but had been both sparsely planted and converted from lawn by mulching without a cardboard layer underneath (an unsuccessful experiment!). It was weedy. I had plans for the weekend and not much time to devote to gardening. So I went to the nearest garden center and purchased the native plants they had. I was able to get a mix of straight species and cultivars and it was not an inexpensive endeavor.

It got me to thinking about how quickly I encouraged everyone to plant a bunch of plants that weekend with little consideration as to cost. There are many options and many price points: food for thought!

My Plant and Materials List


Aster ‘October Skies’ (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) (5 quart sized)

Added for fall color and foliage to fill in between milkweeds in spring and summer. The garden center did not have a straight species aster so I went with this cultivar which has a long fall bloom period.

Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) (3 quart sized)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) (3 quart sized)

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) (3 quart sized)

Yarrow (Achillea milllefolium) (5 quart sized)

Added color for more of the growing season. The plants I bought are most likely a non-native cultivar.

Total: 19 quart sized perennials.


Flat of ornamental marigolds

This planting is curbside between an area used for street parking and the sidewalk. I added marigolds, the least expensive annual in flower I saw that day, to the outer edge of the bed where there is no parking to help passersby realize the area is a garden bed and not meant for walking. I mulched a 2 foot strip along the outer edge where there is parking to allow room for people to exit a car without having to step on plants.

2 bags soil amendment

Used as a mulch to deter weeds between plants until they fill in.

1 bag mulch

Used to cover area where passengers exit cars.

Here were the options as I saw it. If you have others, please do share!

Heading Out to the Nearest Garden Center

More Expensive. Fastest. Ecologically hit or miss.

The total cost for the 19 perennials was $322 and the other materials totaled $39. Three of the perennials were gallon size containers. The rest were quart sized. I was able to get straight species milkweeds and cultivars of aster and yarrow.

One definite downside to this approach is there is no assurance these plants were neonicitinoid free, very important if your intention is to benefit pollinators. While the buyers at this garden center say they do their best to source native plants from reputable growers who do not use these pesticides, it is not guaranteed. To read more about neonicitinoids and insects, please see this post.

It is also helpful to either know what you are looking for or have the time to use your phone to look up latin names of plants to make sure you are getting the natives you want. Plants and signs get moved and it can make it challenging to find the native plants among the vast majority of ornamental plants sold at garden centers.

Hiring an Expert to Do It For You

Most Expensive. More time. Ecologically superb if you hire a native plant expert!

native plant design firm in Maryland

I asked Drew Asbury of Drew Asbury Garden Design, one of our area's prominent native plant designers, an avid proponent of natives and the horticulturist at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens about a project like this. Like many designers, he charges an initial $250 consultation fee. During the 2 hour consult, Drew visits your garden and talks through ideas with you. After, he provides a summary of your conversation. For a simple project like this, Drew says he would also include a quick sketch. He would want to provide one plant, quart or gallon, for each square foot of garden. For this 100 square foot project, he would deliver and place the 100 plants and chat with you again about planting if you would like. The total cost would be about $1025. He was quick to add there are ways to reduce costs as well as ways it can become more expensive.

Drew says he is pretty much at capacity at the moment. Working with someone like this might be worth the wait. The depth of knowledge, quality of the design and number of plants as well as the opportunity to learn provides many long lasting benefits. Drew though quickly acknowledges not everyone can take this route and readily recommends some of the options below.

If you are looking for someone like Drew, you can check out this list as a start. There are many others. It would be important to ask for examples of their native plant gardens, where they get their plants and whether plants are guaranteed to be neonicitinoid free.

Purchasing Plants from your Favorite Native Plant Nursery

Less Expensive. Fast. Ecologically superb!

At Bona Terra, these perennials (with one close substitute) are available as straight species in a mix of plugs, quarts and gallons for a total of $142. In addition to price, the very big benefit here is ecological. Not only are these plants guaranteed to be neonicitinoid free, they are local ecotypes, the very best of ecologically superb!

At Herring Run Nursery, 19 quart sized perennials would total $162. Herring Run also operates a neonicitinoid free nursery.

These prices are fairly typical for native plant nurseries in the central Chesapeake Watershed. A list of nurseries is here.

Ordering Plugs by Mail

Less Expensive. Three years for plants to mature. Ecologically superb!

Ordering these plants in plug sizes averaged out to $125. Some online retailers offer plug kits which can save $10 to $15 though the plant list will be a bit different but still geared toward pollinators. These native plant sellers are also neonicitinoid free.

If you have patience, plugs are pragmatically awesome. The plants tend to establish quickly and with very strong root systems. They are also easy to plant.

Ordering Plants by Mail

Moderate Expense. Can be fast. Ecologically superb!

Full size plants can also be ordered by mail. Plant More Natives has these plants in robust quart sizes and they would total $354 with shipping.

Starting from Seed

Least Expensive. Longest timeframe. Ecologically superb!

These nineteen perennials and many, many more can be grown for $20 in seeds! Hard to beat that price. Patience required.

butterfly weed for sale to help monarch butterflies

There are no right or wrong approaches here. Everyone has to do the best they can for their situation and that may vary from week to week or year to year! As for me, I am doubling down on my commitment to our native plant nurseries. For an extra two hours of time, I could have purchased guaranteed neonicitinoid free straight species plants from several of our wonderful native plant nurseries. There is always tomorrow - continuous improvement.

Let's bring back those butterflies!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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