By Olive Dawson and Rachael Baihn
So you bought a home, and you’re ready to do some landscaping! You don’t need the deepest shade of green thumb if you spruce up your yard with plants that practically take care of themselves. Native plants are best for low maintenance, as they don’t need much water, saving you time and naturally thriving in our North Carolina weather. Here are a few of your best options.
This non-flowering fern prefers part to full shade but can tolerate heavy shade and needs just a little water to thrive. It usually grows 1½ to 2 feet tall and has fine-textured, frilly fronds which may turn brown by late summer if it gets too much sun. The Northern maidenhair has no serious insect or disease problems and flourishes best in a native plant garden, a shaded rock garden, or as an edger along paths in shaded areas.
This native shrub grows 3 to 5 feet tall and just as wide, although it can get bigger. It requires low water and part shade, making it easy to maintain. This plant is both heat- and cold-tolerant. The American beautyberry is often cut to 12 inches above the base each winter to promote smaller growth. It can also be left alone to mature into a tall, woody shrub. The beautiful purple berries attract birds and butterflies and are edible. It’s best to only eat a small amount at one sitting until you know how your body will react.
The delicate-looking Carolina rose is a shrub in the rose family thrives in nearly every state. The stems have straight, needle-like thorns and fragrant, light pink flowers. They grow to a height of 1 to 3 feet and bloom in May and June. The Carolina rose needs little water and grows best in open, sunny areas. In spite of its thorns or stickers, it attracts birds and is especially beneficial to native bees.
Eastern Blue Phlox
This blue-purple wildflower adds curb appeal to your yard with its unique color and, an added bonus, its sweet fragrance. Eastern blue phlox is an evergreen ground cover that attracts hummingbirds, as well as bees and butterflies. Flower spikes grow 1 to 2 feet tall, and this N.C. native takes part shade and moist soil. Its landscape value is huge, although, according to the North Carolina Native Plant Society, it’s not well-known across the state. It’s a great early bloomer for shaded gardens.
Carolina lupine is an easy-to-grow native plant that produces tower-like spikes of yellow flowers. These flowers bloom in July and add a bright pop of color to your landscape. It grows best in dry to medium soil, in full sun. It is drought-tolerant. Display it cut or dried. Make this plant a border around your garden, where it grows up to 4 feet tall. Carolina lupine attracts birds and butterflies. It’s underused and pest-free, so get your neighbors talking about the gorgeous yellow flowers in your garden.
Make your garden pretty in pink with bee balm. This showy plant is a member of the mint family. It grows from 1 to 4 feet tall and has average water needs. Bee balm blossoms come out from mid-summer to early and make great cut flowers. The crushed leaves release a fragrant essential oil. The plant attracts birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bee balm adds an explosion of color to your landscape with colors ranging from dark red, to bluish-lilac, to pink.
These are some of the brightest, most fragrant options when looking for low maintenance plants that thrive in The Triangle. Do some homework when looking at other choices, as some native wildflowers aren’t flowers at all but rather pretty weeds. Don’t let unwanted plants take over the entire space, so your hard work in the garden goes down the drain.
Olive Dawson is a gardening and landscape design writer and environmentalist. She is always searching for new ways to reduce waste and grow food organically. She is most proud of her native flower garden.