Native Plant Gardens are often considered wild, and messy with grasses dominating the landscape and wildflowers bursting through sporadically.  The question is, how do you tame the wild but keep the beautiful prairie?  Can it be done?   At Down to Earth Services, we believe that you can have a visually stunning native ecosystem with the proper design for your native plant garden.   


After all, there is nothing worse than designing a new garden and realizing it doesn’t look the part or doesn’t grow the way you want it to. This happens all the time for those who have never set up a new native plant garden.

Fundamentals for Your Native Plant Garden Design 

It’s time to learn how to design a native plant garden so it grows well. Here are six of the most important tips a gardener can follow for their setup.

1) Matching Plants to Your Location

Start with the basics, which means choosing the right plants for the site you will be planting in. 

Take a look at the landscape to get the lay of the land.  Is the area you are planting sunny or shaded?  What type of soil are you working with?  After you take a look at these three things, choose plants that will thrive in the climate that you are working with.  If the area is sunny, be sure to choose plants for your native plant garden that love the sun. These plants generally need at least 6 hours of sun to grow their best.  If the area is shady, choose native plants that love the shade.   


A beautifully designed native plant garden starts with the right plants for the climate.  For a maintenance-free landscape, be sure to select plants that grow in the same climate.  This is one of the most important things when designing a thriving native garden.  Choosing the right plants will determine if your garden flourishes with low maintenance or requires more effort than you expected.  Planting the wrong plants for your climate will not work.

grouping plants native plant garden

2) Designing for Succession Blooming

Most blooms do not last all year long, so it is important to choose your perennial plants based on the succession of blooms.  Select plants that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall.  By doing this, you will have a diverse garden with wildflowers coming into bloom while others are going out of bloom throughout the seasons.  You will want to be sure that you are designing your garden with bloom cycles in mind.  

You will want to have a good idea of how your native plants look in different seasons to determine the best placement for each plant.  You want to have your plants grouped in a way that they bloom seamlessly and add beauty to your garden.  For added movement, structure, and texture be sure to include different types of grasses.  Big Bluestem or “turkey-foot grass” creates a beautiful background or border for perennials and is a stunning bronze color in the fall and into the winter.  If you choose Big Bluestem, be sure to plant it sparingly so that it does not overtake your blooms.

3) Grouping Similar Plants Together   

While it can be fun to let our artistic side flow when designing your garden, don’t let it completely take over.  There are many practical reasons to group certain plants or flowers.  For the best possible results in your native plant garden, group plants that have the same or similar requirements for sunlight, soil, and water.  This will make it much easier to maintain your native garden.  


For aesthetics, be sure to use different textures in your native plant garden.  While blooming plants may provide a mesmerizing sea of color, contrasting textures and forms will add a unique element of beauty and contrast.  

4) Plant Height

Have you thought about the height of the plants?  This is a common mistake many beginners make. Be sure to choose plants that will not grow taller than half the width of the bed. 

native plant design

5) Designing the Contour of Your Native Plant Garden

When designing your native plant garden, the goal should be a naturalistic design.  By imitating what you see in specific landscapes in your community such as a prairie, or wetland, you can get an idea of what plants might grow well in the area you are planting in.  You will also be able to see what plants grow well together.  Something that many people overlook is plant size and the sequence in which they bloom.  Understanding what works well and where each plant should be placed will help you develop a beautiful and healthy ecosystem.  We suggest researching and learning about what native plants are the most dominant in your area to help decide which plants to choose as well. 

6) Weed Control

Weed control and maintenance of your native garden will require some initial dedication.  The most critical time for weeding is two weeks after planting.  Keep in mind that this is dependent on the season as well so if you are planting in warmer or dry seasons it could be longer.  Once your native landscape is established it should need only minimal maintenance.  


Be sure to research which plants need to be pruned, how often, and when, as well as making sure that you are weeding out any undesirable plants or plants that start to overtake your space. 


Final Thoughts

Designing a native plant garden can be challenging, however, your design does not have to be elaborate.  Consider limiting the number of different plants to 10 to 15 different species.  The secret to a beautiful and eco-friendly native plant garden is all about design, preparation, and planting based on the conditions of your space.  If you are willing to put in the time during the design phase, your result will be a native garden that is uniquely beautiful to your space.

native plant garden

At Down to Earth Services, we are native plant and landscaping specialists dedicated to the preservation and restoration of native plant communities.  We focus on the creation of regenerative and ecological landscapes with the mindset of solving problems and balancing design with nature’s intent for both function and beauty

If you need help designing, installing, or managing your native landscape, contact Down to Earth Services to schedule an appointment.  We look forward to hearing from you and in the meantime, we hope you continue to “Grow With Nature”!