Planting native is really expensive

I started trying to plant 75% native plants in my garden about 3 years ago, but honestly, it’s really tough, especially in years like this year, where I lost a lot of plants to a very hungry vole. At local native plant nurseries, a 4-inch perennial might sell for as much as $18 - meanwhile, a 4-inch petunia at Home Depot sells for $2.50. No wonder most people don’t plant native plants! I was shocked to see that 4-inch columbines were sold for $12 at the local native plant farmstand. Columbines are incredibly easy to grow from seed (I’m doing that myself this year).

I’m just not sure I can do this for much longer. I could spend $150 on about 8 native plants, or $50 on 16 annuals from Home Depot. Native planting (at least in the Pacific Northwest where I live) just isn’t accessible unless you have the time and space to grow from seed, or a fat stack of cash lying around.


I feel your pain. Many town and cities have garden clubs that host plant exchanges. At least contacting the locals may help point you in the right direction. Also check to see if your county extension hosts a plant sale.


The best part about growing natives from seed is that you (usually) can just put it in the ground and they’ll grow, so the only space needed is where you were going to plant something anyway and the only time spent after planting is just waiting for it to grow. There’s no seed beds or anything in nature; the only reason other plants need them to sprout is because they aren’t conditioned to germinate outside of their native habitat (or they’re bred to require human intervention). Just put a stick or flag above it so you don’t mow it down or something.

You could also just spray glyphosate (NOT glufosinate) in an area you want to plant and see what ends up growing, pulling out what you don’t want (that’s how I run my milkweed garden). You could even hang a bird feeder above it so birds will plant some seeds for you from farther away (but they also bring more invasives with them).

It’s a bit tricky to navigate the laws around this, but sometimes you can also collect seeds from Fish and Wildlife areas. Certain berries, fruits, and nuts are legal to be collected with no restrictions, but for other seeds you might be able to get a permit or at least permission from the property manager (especially if they have a native plant garden separate from the wildlife area) to collect seeds.

My state also has a Native Plant Society that holds relocation events for areas of wildlife that’s about to be cleared out for construction. They say that plants from these events can’t be put back in the wild for one reason or another, and half of the plants dug up go to nurseries run by the society while the other half goes to the volunteers who worked the event for free (besides the labor), so you should see if your Native Plant Society does something similar.

Other than all that, if you remove just invasives instead of all “weeds” (not even nonnatives; just invasives), natives will just grow. You could have a messy backyard “garden” full of ugly weeds to bait seeds to grow, then dig up what you like and put it in your front yard garden.

I know this sentence doesn’t particularly matter, but by my math you’re saving $50 every year after year 4 in this example and I just wanted to point it out because I don’t think 4 years is a long time.


It can be expensive, yes. Bundles of 25 bare root shrubs from the state forestry were $32 each (last photo) a few years ago. Packet of 100 cactus seeds for $6 plus space and supplies to start them, less affordable, versus buying individual cactus from a sale for $10-15 each. (I’m in the desert, so I grow many cactus for native bees.) Volunteering to rescue cactus has provided many free plants and seeds for me. I also have dozens of native wildflowers (including a patch of wild ground cherry) that grow entirely on their own in my front yard (thanks to wildlife and wind) and a desert willow tree that I started from a cutting.

Photos: claret cup rescued from solar farm, yucca rescued from housing construction, and Datura growing from seed pods collected on walks sowed directly.


…and because plant seeds in the wild have a high mortality rate which horticulturists would not accept. How many seeds will a Douglas-fir send out in its lifetime? And if just one survives to produce a mature tree, the parent tree has succeeded in its evolutionary goal.


I’m going to have to move from the house where I am staying next year, since it is a rental, so that’s not true for me. I guess someone might ask, “Well, why bother gardening at all?” I like seeing birds and butterflies. I know native plants help them. I can afford it, but barely.

My other plants are at an allotment, and like I said, I lost many of them this year to wildlife. The perennials are not “perennial” if a vole kills them!

Also, I tried this, and I now have a bare patch of ground with about 3 farewell-to-spring and a single, 3-inch-tall lupine. We have a lot of nonnatives here that are happy to volunteer, though. I’ve spent all spring pulling out shotweed, bindweed, sow thistle, and what-not from that patch. My little experiment did not work very well! My landlord has asked that I plant it up, so I’ve bought $150 of older native perennials to plant there. I’m very frustrated.

I was part of the Washington Native Plant Society a few years ago, and at the time, if they did plant “rescues”, I was not aware of it. Maybe they do now.


It totally can be. I just learned of this local (well, essentially, they are based in piedmont region but thats right nextdoor!) native plant place for Alabama which I will definitely be utilizing at some point I am sure. Perennials start at $8 which tbf is about what I see for perennials at box stores around here but there are def cheaper ones around.

Some things I do currently though to get native stuff without starting a thing or doing any work myself because I am lazy and have a brown thumb:

  1. State forestry has free plant days, and I know TN does as well. Most states I’m aware of have something similar. Typically more for trees, but sometimes other stuff as well.

  2. Master Gardeners need hours, find the local group and tell them what you want. Collect the seeds / show them how to ID what you want to get them, have them do it. Boom, you reap the rewards. Many wont care about native stuff, but there is usually at least one person itching to learn and try something new, and they can do that starter work for ya.

  3. Plant swaps - i have a friend who is on all the facebook plant swap groups, its amazing what you can get free or cheap

  4. Find a friend who likes to forage and see if they’ll watch for plants too if it’s an area legal to take seeds, cuttings, etc.

  5. Locate the plants where you could legally get seeds or cuttings or whatever is needed, and just go for it. I just scatter seeds in the right spots (light & moisture wise) and let nature do the rest. Low effort but okay payout, because, well, native, and they’re supposed to be there.


Okay, these are nice tips for people with a lot of time, but I don’t think it addresses the root of the problem. It’s really easy, cheap, and accessible to plant nonnative plants. It’s extremely expensive and you need to jump through weird hoops like facebook plant swaps and dubiously legal things like collecting wild seeds to make planting native plants affordable. At a time when we’ve lost so much habitat, and wild birds and pollinators are really suffering, shouldn’t we start having conversations about making gardening with native plants accessible without needing to make it into a whole time-consuming thing where it basically has to become your identity?

I don’t think someone like my mom, who has limited income doesn’t use the internet at all, could even begin to plant native. You really have to be an enthusiast. And that’s a shame.


It’s true that it can be expensive and time-consuming to plant natives. I think there are several things that contribute to that.

First of all, it takes time to even find a nursery that grows and sells native plants. Why do so few stores sell native plants? Part of it is lack of demand. If more people asked for natives, more nurseries would react to that demand by producing and selling them. We’ve had these conversations at our local Native Plant Society meetings and I think Audubon Society meetings as well. What came out of these discussions basically was that we need to start with generating demand so more nurseries will invest in selling natives and figuring out better production methods to make native plants more accessible and competitive at the stores. It seems to work as increased demand for native plants has been noted by growers.

But once they are in the stores, do enough people buy them to make that a worthwhile investment for the seller? I know of a local nursery that did try to sell more natives at some point but stopped because they were actually losing money doing that. People weren’t buying them when natives are offered side-by-side with “traditional” garden plants. As a result, natives become this sort of specialty item that’s hard to find for sale. It seems if a nursery sells natives, they usually go all in on that and become a specialty nursery for just natives.

A big part of that is production cost and know-how required. As noted, native plants are usually more expensive than the “traditional” gardening plants being sold. This has to do with the time and effort that needs to go into growing plants for sale. What is getting mass-produced to sell cheaply at the big box stores (e.g. the mentioned petunias at Home Depot) are annuals that are quick to germinate from seed and grow to flowering stage. Production greenhouses can crank these out in masses in 3 months going from seeds to flats of plants budding and blooming ready to sell at the store.

There aren’t that many native annuals that can be produced on such a tight schedule. In my area, most natives for sale are perennials including shrubs and trees. Perennials are more expensive than annuals regardless of whether they are native or not. Many have special germination requirements. A lot of those seeds need stratification (cold treatment for at least a month or more) to break dormancy, and a lot of these perennials don’t bloom the first year. People want to pick up blooming plants at the store. This means they are taking up greenhouse space for longer to grow them up to a size where they bloom so they can be sold. If more people were willing to buy plants that aren’t blooming until the next year, these could be sold faster and cheaper. But again demand drives the market as most people buy blooming plants.

Another factor is that native plants are usually only native to a small area to which they are adapted well. So offerings of native plants have to be tailored to the location. You can’t sell the same selection of “natives” in New England, the Southeast, California and the Pacific Northwest. Each of those areas would have to have their own selection of native plants for sale. This means a big production greenhouse is limiting its potential market reach by growing natives adapted for just one area. Part of the problem here of course is how everything cheap seems to get mass-produced for the largest market possible.

There are cultivars of native plants though that have been selected as more traditional “garden plants” and may pop up in store offerings. They usually aren’t marketed as natives though and sort of mixed in with all the other plants. If you’ve ever tried asking for native plants at one of the big stores, you probably know the employees are usually totally clueless what you’re talking about and may try to pass things off as native that aren’t (e.g. “wildflower” seed mixes that contain seeds from all over the world). So you have to do the research ahead of time and come well-informed, ideally with a wish list of plants. Once you have learned to pick out plants that fit your definition of native, you may be able to snatch up a deal here and there. It’s hard to plan for this though.

So to plant mostly natives, you have to do a lot more research yourself, think about garden planning more long-term (perennials vs. annuals), invest time in finding native plant nurseries or local sales, be willing to maybe mail-order from specialty nurseries, invest more money into getting plants, and/or plan ahead and start from seeds yourself to cut costs. Growing natives from seeds comes with a learning curve and a whole new set of frustrations that makes you appreciate why these plants are usually more expensive if you can find them for sale at all.

I agree it’s not easy and not really all that accessible to the general public. Our local Native Plant Society’s response has been to install a seed library box and ramp up the native plant sales we’re organizing. They have been a huge success with the community and our biggest fundraiser. So the demand is definitely there.


I’ve kind of found it the opposite lately, where the longer I grow them, the more frustrated I am with nurseries’ offerings. We have many beautiful native flowers where I live, and I’ve raised them to flowering stage from seed myself, but you only see them sold as scraggly little things with just a name tag with their scientific name - not even a photo of what they’ll look like in bloom! Of course people buy cheap pretty plants instead of spending their life savings on tufts of nondescript vegetation with a name like Symphyotrichum chilense, though (also, I saw that sold for $24 at the nursery. I haven’t a clue why, since it’s rhizomatous and spreads like wildfire - I had tor remove it from my garden and pot it).

Yes, I’m aware of how hard it is to grow native plants from seed, having tried it myself with horrible luck and great disappointment (and having signed up to collect rare native seeds for a local university). My greatest success has been with just transplanting volunteers that spread in my garden rather than intentionally planting seed.


One of the glories of native planting is that (seed-wise) you don’t really have to spend any money! Planting native means you can find most of your desired species right around you and collect the seeds for your garden. If you collect lots of them, and then plant most of them, plenty will germinate, and there will be some margin for herbivores to eat some while leaving you most of them.


“squidtk, post:3, topic:51796”]
I don’t think 4 years is a long time.

Four years can be a long time if you’re a senior citizen who wants to see flowers in the next few growing seasons.

1 Like

That can bring up questions of legality if they are growing on park or preserve land. Native seed collecting faces the same barriers as wild food foraging.


Thanks for choosing natives when you can, @song_dog! They make a real difference for wildlife. If you can’t afford very many, consider choosing what Doug Tallamy calls keystone plants, the ones that support the widest variety of life. Those who live in the US or Canada can find lists of plants for their region on the National Wildlife Federation site. Those in the US can also use the NWF native plant finder to find which trees, shrubs, perennials, and more support the most wildlife for their zipcode.

You said you’d be moving soon, so these tips are more for folks with a longer timeframe.

  • Consider choosing plants that spread. For example, I planted three Obedient Plants last year and now have about fifty of them. My mints, asters, and grasses more than double every year. I divide them and move them to other parts of my garden or give them away.
  • Plant saplings or seeds using the thrifty, low-labor method described in Basil Camu’ new book, From Wasteland to Wonder. He believes so much in this method that he’s giving away the ebook and selling the hardcopy for printing costs. I’ve been to his company’s demonstration garden and was very impressed with the technique and results.

Good luck!


And that’s the thing… there is little anyone here, at iNaturalist, could do to “address” the problem. It’s just what it is.

I’ve been in that same painful place - watching deers, rabbits, gophers, moles, voles (whatever) eat the expensive native plants from the top down and from the bottom up (also investing in plants at rentals). Might as well throw down $20 bills for the critters to eat.

So, I feel yah.

I do think it is nice when fellow naturalists point out some resources to go native and, possibly, save the big bucks. Me, I’m seeking a middle ground now. A few natives, a few drought tolerants, and a few affordable color spots. :person_shrugging:.



You should try looking into native plant groups in your area if you are on Facebook. I am in a couple of different ones and one of them is a native plant swap, you should see if there is something like that in your area.

In my area interest in native plant gardening seems to be growing. People are often posting things about needing people to take away volunteers that reseeded, extra seedlings, and taking plant divisions.

I feel your pain on things eating your plants. I was growing a ton of things from seed this spring, a lot of them were less common species that I wanted to share with the group. Slugs were really bad this year and ate a ton of the seedlings. I have to start over with some of them next spring, will be starting indoors under grow lights in a more controlled environment.


Planting native plants can be very expensive or incredibly cheap depending on the type of plants.
Say for example, a native orchid. Orchids species are placed in CITES Appendix II or III. which restrict importation, exportation and place scrutiny on the business of local nurseries by government agencies. I’ve thought in the past that maybe I could start a plant nursery, but if the gov people found out I have some rare orchids, then sometimes there could be troubles if snitched on by competitors. Government agencies across the world are different, some extract bribes, not impossible. I’m saying there is added cost in native plant industry, and the demand is specialised. Why the native plant can be expensive is because of overall low demand for the product, government restrictions on collecting from the wild, which implies restricted supply. Over time, cultivated plants lose their wildness or diversity. so the grower might need to be very skillful, but they often choose the best specimens from wild stock. Native orchids are not going to match up with hybrids which are more vigorous and floriferous, and free from CITES restrictions.
On the other hand, planting native plants can be exceedingly cheap. Just plant some seeds of shrubs or native trees which are available. Some species are abundant, some are rare. Because the native plants are so abundant, there isn’t any motivation to grow these plants. Although, for people trying to preserve the natural habitat, it can be useful. Many native plants are full of thorns or very shrubby and we are short of space. Plants tend to be better off in a native place. We thought we have a native plant, but it could be from an imported stock with slight differences in the genes. For example, the paphiopedium species are different in each mountain. It can be classified as native to a country but the origin of that stock at the nurseries will be unknown. I collected some Terminalia catappa seeds recently. Nobody grow this because it is too common. I thought I may need some leaves for feeding katydids, so I just put some seeds into a pot. Collecting the leaves every 3 days is tiring and the nearest feral tree is like 3km away. In this case of planting sea almond plant, it cost nothing.


Depends how you look at it. Removal of non-natives costs nothing. Some of what comes up after removals is usually native. Each iteration brings more natives. The problem is, we expect it to look a certain way. A carefully maintained border around a restoration area can make it look “planned”.


Also… I don’t know how old you are, my parents are in their 80s. Their generation planted natives by not treating the lawn. They did this out of cheapness, mainly. When you don’t treat the lawn, violets are one of the natives that can generally be expected to show up. As far as foundation bed plantings, there are several natives I’ve seen for sale at wal-mart and other big box retailers. All these are better than burning bush and box woods. I’m sure there are more.

Thuja occidentalis (arborvitae)
Hydrangea quercifolia (oak leaf hydrangea)
Baptisia australis (wild blue indigo)
Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower)
Rudbeckia hirta (black eyed susan)
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (new england asters)
Amelanchier arborea (common serviceberry)
Phlox stolonifera (creeping phlox)

Now if you’re going for straight species, locally adapted natives. Yah, you’re going to pay more. But to replace burning bush and box woods with some fairly common natives and nativars… it can be done.


Here, unfortunately, when you remove nonnatives, you just get more nonnatives!

I don’t have the luxury of being able to have a “messy” garden because I am renting, so a lot of my problem is that I am trying to plant native while also having an “aesthetically pleasing” garden. I could absolutely just let my Pacific aster go bananas and take over the world and potentially Mars as well. It’d love to!