Your Backyard

Native Plants and Wetland-Friendly Landscapes

Native plants are indigenous to an area. They have evolved and naturally adapted to the characteristics, like climate, soils and pests, of a certain region. Therefore, native plants are easier to grow and require minimal maintenance, reducing the need for watering and application of fertilizers and pesticides. The result is less pollutants that might be carried by runoff into our wetlands and rivers. A border of native plants can also act as a buffer to slow the flow of water from your yard (which reduces erosion) and provide a natural filter that can remove pollutants from runoff, Learn more about creating buffers.

Using native plants in landscapes and buffer areas has an additional benefit. They provide wildlife with familiar sources of food, shelter and places to raise their young. This is important, as natural habitats are replaced by development. The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences has a valuable resource page on native plants.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has compiled a citizen's guide to backyard conservation, with resources.    The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation offers a comprehensive description of buying, growing and the benefits of native plants. Additional resources include the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Bay Scapes program  and the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council.

As more people understand the benefits of using native plants, they have become more readily available in local nurseries and home stores. It’s important to purchase nursery-propagated plants, instead of those collected in the wild, to avoid depleting natural populations.

Other Landscaping Tips

  • Allow native marsh grasses and wetland plants to grow between your lawn and the waterway. Do not mow marsh grass or cut down wetland shrubs, like salt bush.
  • Minimize the amount of paved surfaces in your yard to decrease runoff. Consider using mulch, stepping stones or bricks on sand for walkways or patios.

  • Enjoy a low-maintenance, low-cost yard by keeping grass lawns small and using no-maintenance ground covers where possible.

  • Use a mulching lawn mower that recycles lawn clippings, restores nutrients to the soil and reduces landfill waste.

  • Mow higher, no less than 3 inches, and less frequently.

  • Insist on a lawn care company that uses only organic fertilizers and natural pest management techniques.

  • Aerate lawn to decrease compaction and remove thatch.

  • When planning protection for your shoreline against erosion, consider natural methods like planting a fringe marsh, rather than “hardening” the shoreline, which may not be necessary. For more, check the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Living Shorelines resource page.

  • Consider a rain garden to slow and pool water so it soaks into the ground and filters runoff, instead of rushing into the wetland area in the back yard. Learn more from the Va. Department of Forestry rain gardens guide.

  • Install a rain barrel to capture roof runoff for reuse. See Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's rain barrel planning and installation guide.

  • Avoid planting invasive plants. Learn which plants are invasive and how they impact your environment.