As a county agent, I am often asked to guest present for different organizations. This week, the Wilkes County Iris Gardening Club asked if I would come give a presentation to their membership about native plants for Georgia. Native plants are an interesting subject to me as the definition of what is “native” is variable from state to state. Nevertheless, there are many benefits of using native plants in your landscaping, and some beautiful options to consider. As we start thinking of spring, it’s a good time of year to start planning what your landscape or gardening goals might be for this growing season.

One challenge with native plants is the variety of definitions that are used with the moniker. Some define native plants as those which grow naturally in a particular region without human intervention. Others refer to whether the plant was in a region prior to European settlement of the area. The federal government defines native plants as “naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States.” One Georgia county ordinance defines native species as “any species indigenous to the ecosystem whose introduction or reintroduction is unlikely to cause environmental harm.” Regardless of which definition you follow, native plants are beneficial plantings in our region for a variety of reasons.

When incorporated in a landscape, native plants are low-maintenance and self-sufficient. They provide excellent habitat for native wildlife including insects, pollinators, mammals, birds, and reptiles. They are well-adapted to our climate and tolerate the wide range of temperatures and humidity that we experience regularly. Furthermore, preserving native plants is a great way of ecological preservation, ensuring these species survive for years to come.

While we often use “native plant” as a blanket term for plants indigenous to the state of Georgia, it’s also important to consider macro and micro climates. Macroclimates would refer to the larger region with specific tendencies of temperature, precipitation, and humidity. Georgia has several macroclimates including the Coastal Plains and Blue Ridge, but Lincoln, Wilkes, and McCormick are in the Piedmont region. In addition to the macroclimate, which refers to the larger environmental situation, native plants are adapted to microclimates. Microclimate refers to localized conditions like soil texture, soil pH and fertility, moisture, sunlight level, and so on. It’s the reason why some plants grow well on the banks of a river and others need a much drier spot.

The University of Georgia has a three-part publication available for free via the Extension Publications website titled “Native Plants for Georgia,” bulletin 987. This publication series outlines a variety of native plants for Georgia including their macro and micro climate requirements, broken down into medium-large trees, small trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, and wildflowers. If you’re interested in including native plants in your landscape, this is a great reference to start with. The Lincoln County Extension Office is happy to help you access this resource if needed – just call or email us at or 706-359-3233.

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