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Top 5 Easy Chesapeake Natives to Start Layering In

Should you aim to have only native plants in your Chesapeake garden? The experts say no! Many of us have gardens planted in styles popular years ago or that are tried and true for landscapers. It’s quite common for a garden in our region to have one or two native trees or shrubs and a whole host of ornamental plants like Asian azaleas (rhododendron), yews (taxus), cherry laurel (prunus laurocerasus) hollies (ilex crenata) and boxwoods (buxus sempervirens). Since these plants typically don’t provide beneficial habitat beyond a safe place for a bird to build a nest, it’s really helpful for our gardens and ecosystem to add natives.

After you remove invasives like ivy and burning bush, experts say the most effective way to start is to begin “layering in” native plants. For an incredibly beautifully photographed and readily accessible explanation of this, please check out “The Living Landscape” by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy. A garden becomes more ecologically functional and alive, the more layers it has; meaning we need native low growing ground covers, perennials, shrubs, understory trees and canopy trees. Here are five plants to get layering underway!

First, add short perennial sedges to any bare spots in sun, part shade or shade. Numerous native sedges are available and make great ground covers.

Second, add mountain mint, a 3 to 4' high perennial to a sunny spot. You can sit back and watch the pollinators swoop in. You can leave the seedbeds standing through winter to provide winter interest.

Third, a shrub I don’t think anyone would regret planting is winterberry (ilex verticillata). Winterberry greens up in April, blooms with small white flowers in June and really shines in fall after it drops it’s leaves and bright red berries cluster along branches.

Fourth, add an understory tree — dogwoods and redbuds have three seasons of interest.

Fifth, if you have the space, the number one tree we can plant to add habitat and ecological function, per Doug Tallamy, is a native oak like the white oak (Quercis alba). No room for an oak, or prefer an evergreen? How about an Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginania)?

Add sedge, mountain mint, winterberries, redbud, and a canopy tree and native layering will be well underway in your garden!

For more information:

Horticultural magazine. Another tip – the best

time to do this is immediately after a soaking rain.

About mountain mint from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

About redbud from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

About native white oak from the Virginia Master Gardeners.


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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