8 Reasons to Plant Something New

Photo © Pedro Fernandes

Did a long winter finally finish off that ailing tree in the backyard? Maybe it’s time to replace an invasive shrub with something less aggressive and more valuable to wildlife. Or, perhaps you actually smothered out some of that high-maintenance lawn and have a blank space to fill. There are plenty of reasons to be faced with the need to plant something new but it is a good problem to have because it gives you the opportunity to improve the space, aesthetically and ecologically, to your benefit as well as the wildlife it could potentially attract. If you need inspiration to plant something new we’ve provided the following eight reasons to fill the voids in your gardening life.


Photo © JR P

Plant to beautify and improve property value. It can be difficult to estimate the financial return on investing in landscaping but there are some common themes to go by when making your garden selections. Consider the maintenance requirements for the next (potential) buyers compared to the aesthetic value the new landscaping provides. Choose native species including tall ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and small blossoming trees for low-maintenance plants that are beautiful and will attract birds and butterflies for that added curb appeal.


Photo © Christina B Castro

Plant food and harvest your own fresh fruits and veggies. Growing your own food is a good way to reduce global fossil fuel use, improve your’s and your family’s health, and save some money, too. From building a raised bed garden and filling it with your favorite greens, to picking your own tomatoes from a potted plant on the porch, every bit of food you grow yourself benefits you and the planet. Consider rotating crops throughout the growing season to make more efficient use of smaller spaces.


Photo © Shawn McCready

Plant for the birds. As birds face greater survival challenges caused by climate change and habitat loss, every plant choice we make in our gardens and landscaping can have a direct impact on local and migrating birds. There are a number of attractive and garden-friendly native plants that benefit birds. Look for plants with habitat features such as blossoms in the spring to bring in bugs for nesting parents, or summer cherries and crabapples to provide fruit. Plants that have fall seeds, winter-persistent berries, or nuts will provide sustenance in the colder months. Take an inventory of the plants in your yard and see where you may have an opportunity to fill in the seasonal resource gaps.


Photo © DC Gardens

Plant to promote bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Growing wildflowers are one of the easiest ways to provide high quality habitat to local pollinators. A good wildflower mix is an excellent addition or a great start to a Pollinator Garden and will include a diverse collection of flowering species that provide abundant blossoms throughout the growing season and will also include native host plants for hatching caterpillars.

The Brightside Organization, The Nature Conservancy, UPS and Brown-Forman partnered to plant 150 trees along West Broadway from 20th Street to the end at Shawnee Park in Louisville, Kentucky.

Photo © © The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Plant to engage with nature. Getting fresh air in your lungs and a little dirt under your fingernails is good for your physical and your mental health. Not only does planting something new contribute to your overall health and well-being, it can also help improve and protect your environment. In Habitat Network “planting something new” is an action you take for our “Engage Nature” goal because it is an intimate way to connect to the outdoors. When you plant something, and steward its life, you create a relationship that deepens your engagement with nature. Planting native trees and shrubs or wildflowers and grasses, even vegetable gardens, will also help conserve resources and improve ecosystem services for cleaner air and water, storm water mitigation, and overall community resilience.


Photo © Steve Elgersma

Cast a shadow. If your patio is unbearable in the afternoon or if you’d like to save a little on the utility bill, planting trees and large shrubs in the right places can help you with some climate control. Plant deciduous trees on the south or southwest side of the house or patio to create natural shade during the hottest part of the year, and allow the milder sun through during the winter. Plant for the space and be patient–allowing small trees, appropriately spaced, to grow into their mature shapes will provide longer lasting and denser shade than starting with too many trees too close, which may provide immediate shade but can eventually crowd themselves and will require maintenance to stay healthy.

Yellow Twig Dogwood

Photo © Distant Hill Gardens

Plant a conversation starter. Sometimes your garden needs a centerpiece, a firework, or bit of fanfare. A striking contrast in shape or color, like the yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea var. Flaviramea) pictured above, can bring attention to a dull corner or a flat wall. Even unique stem structure or stunning fall foliage can make the neighbors envious. Native perennial plants, including tall ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and small blossoming trees, are all good options for low-maintenance plants to provide contrasting colors and a diversity of textures that can create dynamic visual displays and can accent the uniqueness of any garden space.

Botanical Backyard Art

Photo © Wayne S. Grazio

Plant in pots. It’s not uncommon for a native plants’ desired characteristics to be seasonal or short-lived. Some senesce after the spring while others wait until late summer to even emerge. This may leave holes in your garden design. Plant a variety of vegetation in pots to fill-in and move around as necessary to keep the garden full of color and foliage without overcrowding or committing. Most herbs and many vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, will grow well in pots and will not need to be cared for over the winter. If you live someplace cold in the winter, bring ornamental potted plants indoors and they can be the first greenery in your early spring set-up.


Photo © Forest Service Northern Region

Choose the right plant for the right place. After you’ve been inspired to plant something new you’ll want to take note of a few environmental and spatial points before hitting the nurseries. Look at light availability and soil qualities to start. Imagine how big a mature plant will fill the space and keep in mind the seasonal timing of blossoms and fruits to incorporate into your existing habitat network.


Photo © Tim Wilson

Time to purchase plants. One of the hardest parts of adding new plants can be deciding what to get and finding out where to get it. Habitat Network removes a lot of the guesswork by encouraging the use of native plants and providing valuable resources to help you discover the perfect new plant and the local nurseries that may carry it.


Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Under the Explore tab above, you will find a column called Your Local Resources where you can enter your zip code for instant access to a wealth of local native plant, pollinator, and birding information. You will be provided with a map showing your local plant hardiness zone as well as your ecoregion planting guide, which will direct you towards plant selections to support birds, pollinators, and other wildlife.


Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Under the map is a collection of gardening and habitat improvement resources including a list of local native plant nurseries near your home. To help you select the ideal plant for the space you have to fill, choose the item labeled Your State’s Native Plants. This will take you to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website and will automatically load a selection of native vegetation that you can filter down to find that perfect plant. Use the filter choices in the left sidebar to choose soil and light requirements or height and color preferences.

Tell us what you’ve planted

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First, add your trees and shrubs as objects to your map by selecting the Toolshed and then selecting Second.

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After selecting the icon for your plant from the tool bar along the bottom, simply click on the map where you would like to place it. A corner point of a box will appear with your plant icon. Move the mouse to drag open the box to the size you desire and click your mouse to place the opposite corner of the box.

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Double click on the newly placed plant object. An info-window will pop-up where you can add details and characteristics. Select Basic Information from the left hand menu and give your plant a personal title, anything you like. You can then Set the Species using the common or scientific name in the lower menu. Just start typing and a drop down menu will give you possible selections. Choose the correct species and then Save your entry.