Find plants native to Kentucky for your garden and landscaping

By Rachel Nix, Building Kentucky

Did you know you can help Kentucky’s ecosystem by adding native plants to your garden and landscaping?

Native plants mitigate the impacts of global warming by storing more carbon than their non-native counterparts. Climate change is caused by the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When native plants store carbon in their roots and soil, they help the environment for everyone!

Why Choose Native Plants?

Don’t have a green thumb? Native plants give you great advantages. They’re already accustomed to the region making them easier to grow. That means less watering, better resistance to local weather and less work for you!

Kentucky native plants also help the birds, animals and pollinators known to be in your area that depend on them as a natural source of food. The world needs more bees! One third of the global food supply is pollinated by bees so helping them keeps good, clean food growing.

Plants native to the region have also already adapted to defend themselves against common fungi, diseases and insects that could kill them. This means no need for pesticides that could potentially pollute your environment and cause damage to other plants.

Common Kentucky Native Plants

Dropseed Native Plant Nursey is one of many Kentucky-based nurseries working to plant more native plants in Kentucky. Its website includes an extensive list of plants native to Kentucky including extra information on native plants that attract butterflies, birds and bees and are resistant to common pests like deer.

Whether you’re planting a rain garden, wetland area, prairie or traditional garden, there are a ton of options. Plus, edible plants to grow nuts, fruit, herbs, flowers and vegetables in your Kentucky garden.

Here are a few great options to get started:

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is an attractive shrub in the laurel family that blooms in the early spring season with yellow flowers. You can use its aromatic leaves and twigs to make tea. Plus, the tree’s red berries are a food source for birds and butterflies and it’s a host for Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars who feed on the leaves.

Milkweed (Asclepias) makes your garden the go-to destination for Monarch butterflies, who only eat milkweed, and other butterflies. With several native wildflower species (swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, whorled milkweed, tropical milkweed and common milkweed), you’re sure to find one with colorful blooms in your favorite hue.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) gives a taste of the tropics right here in Kentucky! Its fruit tastes like a mash up of a banana and a mango and it’s the largest edible fruit that’s native to the U.S. Make sure you plant two! The pawpaw requires two different types of tree for cross-pollination to produce fruit.

Find Native Plants In Kentucky

Now is the time to start planning your garden and landscaping!

Here are a few places to look for native plant:

Invasive Plants To Avoid

According to the Kentucky Native Plant Society, invasive plants are species of plants that are non-native to a region and disrupt plant communities or ecosystems.

Invasive plants are bullies in the environment, growing and spreading quickly to aggressively overtake other plants. When they threaten other species, they degrade water quality, increase soil erosion, degrade wildlife habitats and decrease plant diversity.

The Kentucky Invasive Plant Council offers a list of exotic plants that are seen as threats to Kentucky’s ecosystem and an annual “Least Wanted Plant” that is proven invasive. Past Least Wanted Plants include shrub honeysuckle – which crowds out less vigorous plant species by forming dense groves; mimosa or silktree – which shades out native vegetation; and burning bush – which rapidly dominates native species.

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