Natives: The New Garden Ornamentals

Ornamental plants are very pretty and make landscapes very attractive. However, many ornamental trees that are planted in yards and cities are not native to the region. Non-natives can become invasive, though not all are, but also can have a harder time growing in our climate or soil types. Planting native plants is a better option for not only maintenance but also for the environment.

Natives_ The New Garden Ornamentals

Have you ever seen a Japanese maple tree? They are gorgeous trees but as the name suggests, they are from Japan and not native to the U.S. Not all non-natives become invasive but most of them do not provide anything for the local ecosystems. Some do end up outcompeting native species and can even be hazardous as they age such as the Bradford Pear tree. Planting native plants provide shelter and food for local fauna and can even tolerate local soils. Being from Ohio, I’m going to be talking about native plants from the Midwest and the Eastern United States.

Native Trees

Not every native plant is beautiful or exotic looking but we do have some pretty spectacular native trees that are absolutely beautiful.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)


The redbud tree is a tree that can grow to 20-30 feet tall and are low maintenance. Every spring they have beautiful purple-pinkish flowers that attract butterflies and bees. I mean, just look at those flowers! They do well in yards and can tolerate full sun to partial shade. After the blossoms have passed and leaves begin to grow, the trees become filled with medium-sized heart-shaped leaves. Redbuds are a great alternative to the invasive Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) and the Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa).

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)


The dogwood is another showy spring tree with large white flowers. They grow to 15-30 feet tall and need a little more maintenance than redbuds. They do well in full sun to partial shade and will attract birds, butterflies, and bees. Their bark is also neat as it has a fish scale texture that can be kind of flaky. The buds are also pretty cool in winter as they look like little onions or cloves of garlic sitting on the end of the twigs. Flowering dogwood is a beautiful tree year around. There are some other native dogwoods that are great to plant as well including Gray dogwood (C. racemosa) and Alternate-leaf Dogwood (C. alternifolia). Dogwoods are a great alternative to the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana).

Sumac (Rhus spp.)


There are a couple of different types of sumacs but some of the most common include smooth sumac (R. glabra), winged sumac (R. copalling), and staghorn sumac (R. typhing). They can grow up to 15 feet tall and have very showy flowers that produce a large cluster of red berries that can actually be used to make lemonade. They tolerate full sun to partial shade and attract butterflies and birds. Sumacs are a great alternative to the nasty invasive Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima).

Flowers & Vines

Trees aren’t the only non-native invasive plants that have been planted as ornamentals. There are many flowers, vines, and grasses that have been introduced into the landscape that are not native to the U.S.

Turk’s Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)


I grew up with daylilies lining the side of my childhood home not knowing that these common daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) were invasive exotics. Turks Cap lily is an orange spotted lily that likes full sun to partial shade. It likes a decent amount of water so it does well in rain gardens. It attracts hummingbirds and some butterflies. This lily is a great native replacement for not only daylilies but also tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) that are native to Asia.

Virgina Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)


This viny plant is often confused with poison ivy but it will not cause any rashes like poison ivy. Virginia creeper will grow across the ground as well as climb up trees and buildings. It can get up to 50 feet long and is not recommended to be allowed to grow up wooden or shingle walls as it can damage the walls. It likes full sun to partial shade and the leaves will turn shades of red and purple in autumn. Birds are attracted to this plant for its small berries. Virginia creeper is a good alternative to English ivy (Hedera helix).

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)


This beautiful flowering vine likes full sun to partial shade but flowers best when it is in full sun. The vine can grow 25-40 feet long and the showy flowers attract hummingbirds. The trumpet vine is a bit high maintenance as it grows rapidly and produces large colonies if not contained. This is a good native plant to replace Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), or Exotic Wisterias (Wisteria sinensis, W. floribunda).

There are so many exotic plants in the U.S. that can be replaced with equally as many native plants. This is just a small glimpse into what we have that grows naturally in the Eastern United States. Before planning your garden or landscape project, research what native plants are available that you could plant instead of exotics. Many nurseries will have a selection of native plants that you can choose from. If you are hiring a landscaper talk with them about planting natives instead of exotics. Planting natives can provide food, shelter, and more for the local wildlife as well as preventing the spread of invasive species.


Native Alternatives to Non-Native Invasive Plants in your Landscape
Native Alternatives to Commonly Planted Invasive Plants
Missouri Botanical Garden

How to Make an Elderberry Tincture

Elderberries are a great immune booster and making a tincture from the berries provides an easy way to get the plant’s benefits. Tinctures are easy to make and have a longer shelf life than most remedies available.

elderberry tincture

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Tinctures are one of my favorite remedies because they are easy to use, have a long shelf life, and are easy to store. If you are unfamiliar with tinctures, they are essentially a strong alcohol extract. Infusing herbs in a high proof alcohol creates a potent herbal extract that contains the medicinal qualities of the herb used. You can learn more about tinctures here.

Elderberries have a long history and are a well known medicinal ingredient. In Germany, elderberries are approved for the treatment of coughs, bronchitis, fevers, and colds. Today, it is a common remedy for colds and flu due to it’s immune boosting properties. There are many ways to take elderberries including tea, syrups, tinctures, and even desserts. Elderberry syrup is easy to make as well but it has short shelf life, must be kept in the freezer, and contains honey that not everyone can have. This tincture is great to have on hand and one dosage has the strength of two cups of tea!Continue reading →

Healing Eczema Salve

Many of us suffer from dry skin, especially during the winter, but some suffer from eczema that can be itchy and painful. There are many herbs available and when combined together can create a healing and soothing salve to help with dry skin and eczema.

eczema salve

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I first started working on an eczema lotion in December of 2015 for my husband. Eczema is not uncommon in his family and this was the first time he developed eczema in the time that I knew him. It started on his hand and it was bothersome to him but we didn’t think much of it. Next thing we knew it had taken over the back of his hand, his fingers, and spread all the way up to his elbows on both arms. It was painful and uncomfortable and his skin looked like a dried, cracked piece of land hit by a drought.

The tricky thing about eczema is that you don’t always know what is causing it or why. It’s not something that can be cured but is managed usually by lotions and avoiding things that cause flare-ups. It took awhile but we found that for my husband his eczema is worse in the winter and his flare-ups are usually caused by dust (he works retail) and from most soaps. We have completely switched what shampoos and soaps we use, he uses gloves while doing dishes, and uses an eczema salve almost every day and it helps keep his eczema at bay.Continue reading →

How to Identify Plants: Leaves Part III

Deciduous woody plants lose their leaves every autumn but some trees, like evergreens, keep their leaves. Evergreen leaves are often different from deciduous plants and pine trees are a very well know group of evergreens. Check out Part I to learn about leaf parts and arrangements and Part II to learn about leaf shapes and margins.

Identifying Plants_ Leaves Part III

Not every evergreen is a conifer (pine family) and not every conifer is an evergreen. However, most conifers are evergreen and have very different leaves compared to deciduous plants. We are going to talk about the leaves found specifically within the conifer family.

Conifer Leaves

Conifers leaves are called needles and can either be rounded, flat or angled.Continue reading →

How to Create a Wildlife Garden

Have you passed by a home with a Certified Wildlife Habitat in their yard full of flowers and other plants? Anyone can create a wildlife garden on their property to help local fauna and even get it certified.

How to Create a Wildlife Garden

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Importance of Wildlife Gardens

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “wildlife”? Maybe deer or raccoons? This may deter you from considering planting a wildlife garden but the point of a wildlife garden is not to attract deer or raccoons but butterflies and other smaller creatures.

Most urban homes have nice, trimmed grass lawns in both the front and backyard. Some people may have some flower beds and a tree here and there but it’s mostly grass. As soon a spring begins people rush out to buy Roundup® to kill those “pesky” dandelions in their yard. Not only are the pesticides being used not great for the environment but what is a lawn full of grass doing for the environment? Nothing. Grass doesn’t provide any value to the local fauna and you’re not grazing cows in your suburban yard.Continue reading →

The Best Herbs for Colds & Flu

Cold and flu season is upon us. There are many herbs available that can help you get through this winter. Are you ready?

The Best Herbs for Colds & Flu

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Before we talk about herbs that can help with a cold or flu, please know that the flu can turn very serious very quickly. Always talk to your doctor before starting something new and special attention should be taken to the very young, elderly, and with those who have underlying conditions such as asthma or having a compromised immune system. The flu could lead to the contraction of pneumonia or strep throat. See a doctor if you start coughing up blood, you have trouble breathing, can’t keep fluids down, have a very high fever, or experience confusion.

Since the flu and common cold are both viruses and not bacteria you will not be prescribed antibiotics to treat them. You usually just have to wait it out or take over the counter painkillers and decongestants. There are some herbs available that can help prevent colds and flu as well as help you get through the sickness if you manage to catch either. I’m very prone to getting colds and many of these herbs I have personally worked pretty well for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you too.Continue reading →

Planet Saving Resolutions Anyone Can Do

The new year is a time for change and resolutions. A lot of people choose to focus on their health whether it be attending a gym or starting a new diet. Why don’t we try to focus on improving the health of our planet this year?

Planet Saving Resolutions Anyone Can Do

Living an eco-friendly or green lifestyle can be very daunting. You see people like Lauren Singer who is best known for producing so little trash in the past 4 years that it fits in a mason jar. You sit there and think, how on earth is that possible? Singer proved that is its possible to live a zero waste lifestyle which is very good for our planet. But don’t worry, you don’t have to go all out at once but there are baby steps that you can take to reduce your impact on the earth.

A lot of these things we will be discussing are things that I have started doing and some of them I haven’t even completed since the year before. Every little thing counts and over time making eco-friendly choices will become easier and easier. Are you ready? Here are 5 things you can do this year to reduce your impact and start living a greener lifestyle.Continue reading →

Warming Winter Cats Tea

Need something other than chai to drink this winter? Give this warming, cinnamon filled tea a try and it might be the perfect tea for getting you through the winter.

Warming Winter Cats Tea

I originally created this tea for my mother in law who wanted a cinnamon tea. This tea blend did not disappoint. It’s even a favorite of my husbands who is very much like his mother. I named it “Cats Tea” because of the cats claw and catnip in the tea but it’s also ironic because my husband is very allergic to cats. Also, don’t give this tea to your cat…

Whenever I make tea I make it with more than the purpose of enjoying a cup of tea. Each herb is picked for a specific reason. This tea is very different from what I normally make since fruity teas are more my thing.

Cinnamon– anti-bacterial, antifungal, anti-infective, anti-oxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, astringent, stomachic, diaphoreticContinue reading →

History, Identification, & Uses of Mistletoe

Who are you planning on meeting under the mistletoe this Christmas? Besides inducing a kiss, mistletoe has once been used medicinally and are even being studied today for its role in treating cancer.


Mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant which means that it obtains all the nutrients it needs from the host plant. They grow on deciduous trees including maples, oaks, poplars, apple trees, and birch. It is said that mistletoe grown on oaks have the best medicinal properties. The plant does not kill its host but the host must be at least 20 years old and becomes weakened by the mistletoe.

There are many species of mistletoe but there are two that we will be discussing here. Phoradendron leucarpum is native to North America and has some history of being used as medicine. Viscum album is native to Europe and is best known for its medicinal uses. It’s possible that both species could be used interchangeably but most of the medicinal information we have on mistletoe is from Viscum album.Continue reading →

How to Make Immune Boosting Elderberry Syrup

Making your own elderberry syrup is easy, kid safe, and something that can help get you through cold and flu season.

Immune Boosting Elderberry Syrup

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The worst part about getting sick is having to take those nasty syrups you can pick up at the pharmacy. You know which ones I’m talking about. We’ve all had one at some point in our life and sometimes they were just as bad as being sick. I’m looking at you, Pepto Bismol. Being sick is miserable as it is so why suffer more just to try to feel better?

Elderberry syrup is a tasty, honey-sweetened syrup that will make you want more even when you’re not sick. Elderberries are a great immune booster and way cheaper to make at home. You can get premade elderberry syrup at some stores if you aren’t up to making your own. However, a homemade syrup is something that you can even use on pancakes…Continue reading →