Using native plants can save water and protect bees

Close up of desert orange globe mallow flower.
Native plants, such as globemallow, are adapted to our climate and can thrive in our region. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

Spring must be on the horizon because I am starting to get planting catalogs in my mail box. I love browsing through the catalogs for the beautiful photos of flowers. But, when it comes to actually buying for our garden, I’m heading to my local nursery to buy native flowers.

I love native flowers for many reasons. I like the fact that they are adapted to our climate so they can thrive in the soils and weather conditions common to our region. This means they may require less water and fertilization than non-natives, which saves me money and protects the Truckee River from the effects of potential fertilizer leaching and runoff. I also love that they attract native bees and other beneficial insects that pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops, and feed on pest insects that damage our crops.

Some of my favorites include penstemon, columbine (Aquilegia), buckwheat (Eriogonum), blanketflower (Gaillardia), sundancer daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis), blue flax (Linum lewisii), four o’clock (Mirabilis), phlox, and globemallow. Some people plant natives from seed, and with the proper seed mix, this can be a great way to establish a “native meadow” or naturalized area in your landscape. But, I prefer to purchase seedlings so I can put them in just the right spot where they will thrive.

It’s important to think about where you will plant your native flowers because everyone’s yard is full of microclimates. Microclimates are areas within your landscape that might be just a little bit cooler, warmer, sunnier or shadier than other parts of your yard. For example, the north side of your home is probably the coolest side and may get less sunlight. This would be a good place for columbine or phlox, which appreciate part shade and cooler temperatures. Some parts of your yard might be hot and rocky. These would be a good spots for buckwheat, blanketflower, sundancer daisy or globemallow, which thrive in hot, dry, rocky places. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s “Flowers at the Border” fact sheet provides details on landscape needs for different native species.

Penstemon is a very large group of native flowers, with over 280 species native to North America and 51 species native to Nevada. Penstemons range in color from white or pink, to blue, purple or red. Some such as palmer’s penstemon grow over 6 feet tall, and others such as low penstemon are shorter at only 3 inches to 1 foot tall. The leaves can be wide and thick (palmer’s) or fine and feathery (pineleaf). But, they all have in common tube-shaped flowers, with open petal tips and bearded tongues that are favorite foraging places for native bees and hummingbirds. For more information about penstemons, read Cooperative Extension’s “Penstemons are for Great Basin Gardens” fact sheet.

When you are ready to purchase your native flowers, stop first at your favorite local nursery. Most have a variety of native perennials, and because they are sold locally, you know they will be successful in our climate. Keep in mind that not all nurseries will label their native perennials as native so you may have to do your own research to find what you want. Beware, however, of native wildflower seed mixes that are not locally sourced. Some may actually be seeds from eastern U.S. natives, which may not do well and could be weedy in our region.


Heidi Kratsch is the northern area horticulture specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have gardening questions? Contact a Master Gardener at or 775-336-0265.