UConn Extension Releases Native Plant and Sustainable Landscaping Guide (Repost from ELA)

By Victoria Wallace and Alyssa Siegel-Miles


Interest in native plants and sustainable landscaping has exploded over the last decade. Through our UConn Extension Sustainable Turf & Landscape program, we provide practical, accessible, science-based information to support the sustainability goals of Connecticut green industry professionals, including golf course superintendents, sports turf managers, municipal and school grounds managers, and landscape contractors. Through our consultations, we interact with many gardeners and professionals who are seeking accurate, well-organized information on native plants and recommendations about how to incorporate them into the landscape. With this in mind, we developed the Native Plant & Sustainable Landscaping Guide, with 44 pages of plant lists for every location matched with vibrant photographs.

When designing landscapes with sustainability in mind, it is important to select plants that provide multiple benefits to the landscape, not only beauty – although MANY native plants certainly offer incredible aesthetic interest! Consider and select plants that are adapted to the existing soil conditions and microclimate, without supplemental water needs, so that soil amendments and inputs of fertilizer and irrigation can be reduced or eliminated. Prioritize the planting of native species, which have evolved in concert with native pollinators and wildlife, providing the foundation of local food webs that contribute to the restoration of local ecosystems and create conditions that support a wide variety of indigenous, beneficial animal and insect species.

The Native Plant & Sustainable Landscaping Guide is a resource that will help garden enthusiasts and professionals identify plants that will thrive in the existing conditions and fill each niche in the garden. The guide is formatted like a calendar, with back-to-back pages intended for printing and displaying for easy viewing and frequent accessibility. Most plants listed in the guide are native to the Northeast United States. Some plants that are not native (but are not invasive) have also been included, because they offer qualities that are useful in a sustainable landscape, such as drought tolerance, salt tolerance, deer resistance, or other qualities of value. Plants that are not native to Northeastern U.S. are clearly labeled.

The guide lists plants by category, including native perennials for garden beds, low-growing ground covers, low-maintenance and alternative lawn options, forbs that grow easily by seed, tough native trees and shrubs, plants for reclamation areas, as well as plants that serve as cover crops or pasture crops. Each page lists the plant name, flower color, bloom time, mature height, water and sunlight needs, and provides information on the insects/pollinators the plant supports, deer resistance, and growing conditions. The guide also includes a list of native plant resources and nurseries, which are primarily Connecticut-based.

Many plants included in the document may be well known to ELA members, while many others may be new surprises to consider. For example, two pages highlight low-growing ground covers, with species including Prunus pumila var. depressa (creeping sand cherry), Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ (fragrant sumac), Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), and Xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot), which all are identified as attracting and supporting birds and bees. Ruellia humilis (wild petunia) and Zizia aurea (golden Alexander) both attract and support butterflies and bees. Growing information is also included, with interesting tidbits on each species: yellowroot has “excellent fall color,” Uvularia grandiflora (large-flowered bellwort) is a good cut flower but is “favored by deer.” Waldsteinia fragarioides (barren strawberry) is salt tolerant and sports evergreen foliage that “turns bronze in winter.”

Plant pictures from UConn Extension’s Native Plant & Sustainable Landscaping Guide.

This guide is a valuable resource for any gardener or landscape professional seeking to expand their knowledge and enhance their usage of native plants that will thrive and add value to the landscape. Plant lovers will enjoy reviewing the plant lists in the guide and finding inspiration from the beautiful photographs. The guide is available for free download at ipm.uconn.edu.


Charts from UConn Extension’s Native Plant & Sustainable Landscaping Guide, available for free download at ipm.uconn.edu.

About the Authors

Victoria (Vickie) Wallace serves as the statewide Extension Educator of Sustainable Landscapes for the University of Connecticut. With a focus on IPM as well as sustainable turf and landscape practices, she works closely with green industry professionals, including municipal and school grounds managers who require pesticide-free management programs to maintain their athletic fields and grounds. She evaluates turfgrasses for low input use and oversees a swallow-wort biological control research project.

Alyssa Siegel-Miles is a Research Technician for the Department of Extension and supports the Sustainable Landscape and IPM programs.

Contact: Jeremy Pelletier, jeremy@ctnofa.org


The NOFA Organic Land Care Program is making some exciting changes to the Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care. In the last year, our move to online learning has come with a lot of unexpected changes – changes in the way we offer programming and, more importantly, changes in how students expect to receive an education. At the beginning of the pandemic, the quick shift to live zoom courses was largely out of necessity – and it worked as intended. Now, as we slowly return to our busy lives, it is more important than ever to continue offering flexible, online learning that is accessible to anyone, no matter their schedule.

We are proud to announce the new self-paced Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care. This new format allows you to learn on your own time, at any hour, to fit your schedule. This course will introduce you to the concepts of organic landscaping as defined by the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care with subjects including soil science, stormwater management, organic lawn care, site design and analysis, compost and compost tea, invasive plant removal, and more. You can view the complete curriculum here.

Growing public awareness of pesticide use hazards and new legislation mandating less toxic and non-toxic alternatives are fueling a new market opportunity for professionals with knowledge of organic lawn, gardens, and landscape care.  Our program allows clients to identify trained professionals who can help them to manage their land organically.

This credential, NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP), tells consumers that you are following a set of guidelines with the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care and that you belong to a recognized and credible accreditation program. There is an increasing demand by homeowners, municipalities, and private entities for organic practices on a wide variety of landscapes. This credential will demonstrate that you have professional competency in the area of organic landscaping and that you will protect the public interest in the responsible use of land care products and land resources.

The word ‘organic’ is not regulated in landscape and land care practices as it is with agriculture. For this reason, it is important to earn this credential from a reputable organization.

Course graduates benefit from:

• The respected AOLCP credential for use with potential clients and employers.
• Use of the NOFA Organic Land Care logo for promotional materials and websites.
• Discounts on other NOFA OLC courses and other affiliates gatherings.
• Networking with a community of highly trained organic professionals who know how to manage organic lawns, gardens, and landscapes.
• AOLCPs can be found by new clients via NOFA’s Organic Land Care search engine.

In addition to the self-paced curriculum, there will also be live sessions throughout the month of August with course instructors where you can ask questions, clarify concepts in the curriculum, and converse with your fellow students. We will also be offering optional master classes throughout the month as part of the course.  Topics include permaculture design, sustainable purchasing and acquisition, and edible landscaping.

The NOFA Accreditation Course will be available to start on August 1st and will run through the entire month of August. Click here to learn more, email jeremy@ctnofa.org for more information, or register here.

Course fees: $500 ($400 for AOLCPs and their employees)

Course sign up deadline: Friday, July 30th at 10 pm

Registration link


Download this document to use as a reference when establishing Ecotype Project seedlings from one of our nursery and plant sale partners. 

How to Effectively Establish Native Plant Plugs

See below for a more detailed description with links for further resources.

Special thanks to John Campanelli for creating this document for our farmers, gardeners, and conservation partners.


How to Effectively Establish Native Plant Plugs

Native herbaceous plants are frequently sold as plugs because their compact size allows for the creation of masses and drifts to better emulate how they grow in nature. Once the plants leave the constraints of the plug tray and their roots can expand more freely in the soil, they rapidly grow taller and wider, filling in the space between plugs. However, achieving dense stands of each species requires planning and preparation.

Landscaping with Native Plants (A comprehensive guide for landscaping with native plants. However, as part of site preparation, this guide mentions the use of herbicides, which we at NOFA discourage.)

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening – Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

7 Ways to Use Drifts and Masses In Your Garden



Site Selection and Assessment

Decide how and where you want to use plugs, whether for new border gardens, massing among shrubs in existing foundation beds, pollinator or other wildlife habitats, or replacing portions of lawn with small meadows.  Assess the space where you will be planting to determine the quality of sunlight, moisture, and soil. Survey existing vegetation to determine what does and does not thrive. In particular, identify the type and number of existing weeds. 

Site Preparation

Successful establishment requires that the plugs not get outcompeted by existing weeds and their seed banks. We suggest keeping any soil tilling to a minimum since doing so results in the germination of previously dormant weed seeds. However, if choosing a site overrun by weeds and invasive plants, plan appropriate site preparation weeks – if not months – before planting, especially when using organic methods for killing existing vegetation.

Sheet Mulching: How to Smother Weeds, Build Soil & Conserve Water the Easy Way

Map the Area to Be Planted

Outline the area to be planted whether with rope, hose, or stakes. Since most planting spaces have round, irregular edges, measure the length and width as best you can to determine the rough square footage. While each species spreads at different rates, an easy rule of thumb for estimating the number of plugs needed to achieve dense stands within a year is one plug per square foot. 

Native Plant Garden Designs For Small Spaces

Estimating Irregularly Shaped Areas

Calculate the size of your garden bed

Preparing to Plant

Plugs require planting a greater number of plants than most landscaping projects. Therefore, it’s important to develop an easy, uniform, and effective planting method.

  • Keep plugs moist before planting

Because their compact roots leave them susceptible to drying out, it’s important that plug trays be kept well-watered and out of direct sun from the moment they’re brought home up until they’re planted. Make sure to thoroughly water them two to three hours before planting. This makes it easier to remove them from their trays and loosen their roots before putting them in the ground.  In addition, by deeply watering the plugs just before planting, they can be removed from their trays and laid in the spots they will be planted without drying out, thus saving time.

  • Recommended tools, starting with those we deem most convenient to use, include:
  1. ProPlugger 5-IN-1 Lawn Tool and Garden Tool, Bulb Planter, Weeder, Sod Plugger, Annual Planter, Soil Test (available through Amazon)
  2. 3″ bulb & bedding plant auger drill attachment
  3. Bulb planter tool
  4. Small spade
  5. Hand trowel

Planting Plugs: Putting Tools to the Test

ProPlugger 5-IN-1 Lawn Tool and Garden Tool, Bulb Planter, Weeder, Sod Plugger, Annual Planter, Soil Test (ProPlugger demonstration video)

Power Planter 100% USA Made 3″x7″ Bulb & Bedding Plant Auger

  • Determining spacing and groupings

Taking time before planting to determine the spacing of the plugs will ensure uniform density and that your supply of plugs cover the desired area. When planting larger areas, use a grid pattern with plants 12” off center from each other.

If you’re creating smaller groups of a variety of species, be aware of the differences in mature heights when arranging each group. If planting against a structure, make sure the tallest species are in the back along the structure to ensure shorter species receive proper light.

Planting in the Ground

Plant plugs to a depth that allows the plant’s crown to lie at soil level. Backfill soil between the plug and the hole.

Water in plugs immediately after installation to fill soil air holes around root systems. During the first three weeks, water plantings for about 60 minutes every four days on mild spring days or every three days on hot summer days. A one-hour watering will soak more deeply than 15-minute ones.

Mulch helps conserve soil moisture and reduces weed pressure. We recommend immediately after planting 2-4” of mulch. Preferred mulches include weed-free wheat straw, dried grass clippings, cocoa bean hulls, or dried shredded leaves. Avoid cocoa bean hulls on heavy or wet soils or in dense shade to prevent fungus build-up. Avoid using bark mulch, especially large pieces.

Sweet Peet Mulch

WeedGuardPlus Organic Paper Mulch 

Proactive Weed Prevention

Vigilant weed controls the first year will ensure effective establishment over the long term. By preventing weeds from outcompeting herbaceous native plants, the plugs will fill in the spaces between plants, resulting in dense stands and few weeds the following years.

Taking care of natives in your home garden

Wilton High School Joins in The Ecotype Project!

This spring Wilton High School is planning to host a plant sale to benefit The Ecotype Project and their own intensive school farming and ecological restoration programming.  Stay tuned for more information in the upcoming month about the sale and how you can purchase OUR FIRST EVER crop of local ecotype native plants.

Jim Hunter, a longtime NOFA supporter and a teacher in the High School has been instrumental in supporting this extraordinary group of students (pictured above) who will are working tirelessly on green projects on and off their campus.

Starting in 2019, CT NOFA launched the Ecotype Project with the support for the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant – as a way of supporting habitat restoration and pollinator health – as well as supporting an emerging market for nursery growers.

To learn more about the Ecotype Project, check out our website.


Through funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care are available in a digital format.
If you would like to order hard copies, please contact us.