So, you have heard about how native plants are tough, beautiful, and help support birds and pollinators. Maybe you have spent the last year (or years) eradicating those pretty, monstrous, invasive plants that crept into your yard. You are ready to plant native plants in your yard! But… where do you get them?
If you have looked for plants that are native to northern Alabama at box stores, you will rarely find much – maybe some coneflower, Heuchera, or Liatris cultivars. One of the biggest challenges to producing native plants in commercial settings is that exotic species often mature to a “sellable” size faster than native plants, so growing natives involves longer holding times in the nursery and higher costs to produce. Demand drives supply, so make a point of asking local growers for native plants regularly, then buy them when they become available –this is how other regions are making it easier to get native plants. Likewise, if you hire a landscaper or designer, tell them that you want to prioritize using native plants in your garden. In the meantime, here are some strategies to get a better variety of native plants to support a healthy ecosystem in your yard:
Many garden clubs and plant societies have informal plant swaps and “pass-alongs”. This can get you started with native plants that are easy to grow and either produce a lot of seed or spread vigorously, but often choices are limited for slower growing plants. There are numerous seed exchange groups on social media, but caveat emptor – misidentifications can be a common occurrence. You can always visit the various plant sales hosted by botanic gardens (like the Fall Plant Sale at Huntsville Botanical Garden!), arboreta, conservation groups, and native plant societies in your region and know that you are not only getting quality, accurately identified plants, but also supporting great organizations. This is currently the best source of locally sourced and grown plant material that will be ideally adapted to conditions in your yard. It may not always be possible to know in advance what is available, however, and plant sales may only come around once or twice a year and may conflict with your schedule. I would strongly encourage you not to collect seed from plants you find in parks and on roadsides because without landowner or land manager permission, that is poaching and subject to serious penalties. Finally, there are a number of reputable mail-order nurseries that have a good selection and will ship straight to your address.
The following are a few nurseries that Huntsville Botanical Garden has used to source plants with good results. Keep in mind that some are wholesale or otherwise have minimum order requirements and most do not have a retail location where you can shop in person – the plants are typically shipped to you.
North Creek Nurseries northcreeknurseries.com
Hoffman Nursery hoffmannursery.com
American Beauties abnativeplants.com
Carolina Native Nursery carolinanativenursery.com
American Native Plants americannativeplants.com
Emerald Coast Growers ecgrowers.com
Ernst Conservation Seeds ernstseeds.com
Additionally, our friends at the Birmingham Botanical Garden created a great resource this year, which you can download here.