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Sustainable Landscaping Using Native Plants to Conserve and Protect Our water

'It's that Easy!'

Think of the word water.  Really take a minute and think about it. What really comes to mind when you hear the word water?  Water is used daily by everyone around the world and is something that people often take for granted.  Most do not realize the amounts of water that gets wasted on average and how easily it could be conserved.

Also, streams, lakes, and other bodies of water can be some of the most beautiful and peaceful places found on this earth. Unfortunately, there are many ways that our waterways become contaminated through pollutants and other toxins too.

One area that has an impact on the quality of our water and the amount we use is in how we design the landscape for our homes, parks and businesses. Conserving water and keeping it clean is an easy process that all can contribute to in helping with.  For that reason, high maintenance lawns and exotic plants are no longer the best choice when it comes to architectural landscaping.

People are now choosing to decorate their homes using native plants as opposed to non-native plants. Native plants require low maintenance care and most importantly, they aid in the preservation and improvement of the quality of our water. 


Native vs Non-native

Plant Nurseries in Lancaster County

Stormwater run-off


Helpful Tips for Your own Lawn and Garden

Lancaster County Parks


Why 'It's that Easy'


Native vs Non-native

Native plants are plants that have grown in and adapted to the local soils and climate changes in a designated region.  They can also be referred to as indigenous plants as the two terms are interchangeable.

 These native plants function with far less necessities than those plants that are unfamiliar to our soil.  They use little to no fertilizers or pesticides. Native plants take on an active role in naturally improving water and saving water because they require less watering.

A helpful hint for the placement of native plants is to place some of the native plants on slopes, along water bodies, and along drainage spots.  The plants in these areas will aid in the prevention of erosion and contamination of the environment. The soil will become more stabilized and the flow of rainwater runoff will become slowed down.

A non-native plant is a plant that has been brought in from an area foreign to our land. The plants did not evolve in our soil and require much more care that will become tedious and wasteful because they cannot retain water and remove pollutants.  A non-native plant relies on the use of fertilizers and pesticides which are harmful to the environment. 

Fertilizers and pesticides are very harmful to groundwater.  What is groundwater? It is easy, it is simply water that comes from the ground.  Groundwater is the outcome of the various forms of precipitation that reach the earth and then soak into the ground. It passes through soil, rock, etc until it dumps into what is known as a water table. 

When people use fertilizers, especially excessive amounts of it, it can seep down into the groundwater passing straight through all other barriers thus contaminating our groundwater.  Cleaning it out can be difficult and very costly because some water tables are shallow but others can be hundreds of feet deep. 

Avoiding fertilizers at all costs will only save money in the long run because it reduces the possibility of polluting groundwater.  Groundwater can travel up into surface water which is our rivers, lakes, streams, etc.  We can’t afford to let polluted groundwater contaminate our surface water too.

Plant Nurseries in Lancaster County

Once you have decided to take action, make sure to buy all of the native plants you want to use from a nursery.  A native plant should NEVER be physically removed from the wild.  It will become too hard for the plant to meet all of the growth requirements it needs.

Simply find a nursery that can provide you with the seeds or cuttings of native plants.  The plants will flourish better in your garden if grown and not collected.  Also, the native plants you choose to place into your garden or around your home should be found roughly within a 200-mile vicinity.  Most likely a nursery within this domain to your house will carry locally grown native plants. 

Native Plants can be found at any local nursery that grows, has seeds of, and sells native plants.  The nurseries will most likely have to options for their customers.  The first, you can buy the plant or tree that simply can be placed right into your garden or yard that has already started to grow.  The other is you can buy the seeds of the native plants.  By mixing and matching, you will have a sustainable landscape that will be beneficial and beautiful to all.

Here are a few native plant nurseries that can be found within an hour driving distance of Lancaster County (thus meeting the criteria for staying within a 200 mile radius):

This first site contains a list of native plant nurseries found within Pennsylvania.  Some of them are a bit far but if you have friends or family you can tell them about how beneficial native plants can be and direct them in the right way

Check it out here:


Go Native Tree Farms

“Located in Lancaster County, PA, Go Native Tree Farm specializes in container-grown native trees of the easter woodlands, including all eight native magnolias, eight different species of hickory, including the delicious native pecan, twelve species of oak, and many other unique native trees, such as the pawpaw, a favorite fruit of George Washington, and hard-to-find blight-resistant American Elm and American Chestnut cultivators.” 

To place an order or to learn more on Go Native Tree Farms visit here site at:  
The site offers a how to in planting your trees and several ways to order which include a local pick-up or the order can be mailed and shipped. 

Nursery  Address: 678 S Chiques Rd Manheim, PA 17545
Office Address: 2310 Chestnut View Drive Lancaster, PA 17603


Mid Atlantic Natives

The people at Mid Atlantic Natives make it even easier for you to choose which native plants to buy for your home.  They have what are called collection gardens.  You can get packages that include either twelve, twenty-four or thirty-six plants.  These collection gardens are made up of specific plants that work together in benefiting the environment as well as looking great.

For more information or to place on order today visit their website at:


Groff’s Tree Farm

“Groff's Plant Farm is a family-owned retail greenhouse business specializing in annuals, perennials and shrubs. We pride ourselves on high quality, hard-to-find perennials and shrubs with an emphasis on natives and other species that grow well in the Susquehanna and Delaware Valleys.”

Groff's Tree Farm
6128 Street Road
Kirkwood, PA 17536
Phone: 717-529-2249


Octoraro Native Plant Nursery

Groff’s Tree Farm is located near Octoraro Native Plant Nursery)
Octoraro is a wholesale native plant nursersy.  They sell to non-profit organizations, schools districts, golf courses, government agencies, and other businesses.  The site offers information about their plants, how to care for them and how to place an order

For more information or to place an order today visit:


Native Plants Contribution to Stormwater Run-off

Stormwater results from precipitation that ‘runs off’ onto land and impervious areas.  Impervious areas are hard surfaces such as roads and sidewalks that prevent fluid from seeping into it unlike natural plant life and soil.  This run off contains waste from streets, parking lots, rooftops, etc.  Pollutants such as sediment, road salt, fertilizers, and other debris get carried along with it and often get dumped into our streams, rivers, etc. 

Native plants that are strategically placed around streams to help to clean out the run-off before it is released into the stream. The native plants hold the surplus water allowing it to slowly trickle into the stream or other body of water so that sediments and other various pollutants can be removed before reaching any of our water bodies. According to The Lancaster County Conservation District, Lancaster County’s number one pollutant is sediment.  Followed by nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. 

The majority of our roadways and sidewalks are constructed with impervious concrete.  In your home or business try replacing the impervious concrete with pervious concrete.   Pervious surfaces allow water to soak directly into it and then down into the ground below. There will be no stormwater thus helping to conserve and protect our waterways.


  • The chance of stormwater run-off is completely eliminated

  • Pollutants will not be carried into our waterways

  • Flooding is reduced

  • No more puddles to be maneuvered around

  • The roots of trees will be able to reach water and air better

  • Ground water will be better

Pervious concrete can be used for sidewalks, roads, parking lots, a golf course path or even landscaping around trees or stepping stones.  There are many uses for it and it also can come in a variety of colors to get the perfect look for your home or business. Hopefully this makes sense as to why after a big rainstorm, a parking lot or an area of the parking lot will appear to be completely dry.  This is because it practically is. Any type of water and precipitation that hits the surface will be soaked into it leaving the surface dry.

The photo was taken at Rothsville Lions Park in Lititz. The black surface is impervious concrete and the white surface is pervious concrete.  The two have a very different look.  The pervious surface has more of a rough and gap-like exterior.  Therefore, walking in a high heeled shoe with a very thin heel could become a struggle.

Impervious vs Pervious Concrete

Photo by Jenn Bargmann

The picture below is of a Bioswale located in the parking lot at Rothsville Lions Park in Lititz as well. Bioswales can be used in other locations too such as a median in a highway or along a roadside where there is a lot of traffic area.  A bioswale has a long and linear structure whereas sometimes the sides of it slope but this is not always the case. The main function of a bioswale is to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and to increase permeation and groundwater recharge through the use of natural vegetation and plants.  

Biowsale Bioswale drain

Photos by Jenn Bargmann

Bioswales are very common in parking lots because of all the cars that drive and park on it.  There are several pollutants that are released or washed off of a car after rainfall. Therefore, the bioswale cleans the water before it can be released anywhere else.  This bioswale is made up of plants that soak up the water and if the water does get to high it then runs into a drain.

In Pennsylvania alone, there are over 2,000 native plants. So why bring in plant species that are foreign to our state soil? Our homes and gardens will still be beautifully decorated, if not more beautiful and they will also have a unique look.  You will have a one-of-a-kind landscape that is helping to improve our environment. 

Here are some common types of plants native to our soil:

  • Ferns

  • clubmosses

  • grasses

  • flowering perennials

  • woody trees

  • sedges

  • rushe

  • wild giner

  • christmas fern

  • butterfly weed

  • black gum

  • sunflowers

  • spicebush

  • monkey flowers

  • highbush blueberry

  • maidenhair fern

  • ninebark (drought resistant)

  • jacob's ladder


Helpful Tips for Your Own Lawn and Garden

1. First and foremost, surround your home with native plants.  Replace non-native plants with native plants.  Simply walk around your home and look for areas were native plants can be planted.

2. Start your own nursery

While there are plenty of nurseries developing you should try starting your own.  Starting your own nursery can be fun, easy, and useful to not only you but others as well.  You will have to do   a little research so try talking to local nursery owners in Lancaster County or attending the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference held at Millersville University in June 2011.  To learn more about this click here ( I will place a link to take down near bottom of page where I have the info)

  • By replacing some of your home lawn with native plants, 20-50% of your outdoor water use will be reduced. When watering your lawn only water it when it ABSOLUTELY needs it.  You can test this by stepping onto it and seeing how much bounce it has after you remove your foot from it.  If it seems to have movement, you do not need to water it.

  • After mowing your lawn use a broom to remove the remaining grass from your driveway and sidewalk.  Do not use the hose to get this job done. By using a hose to clean off the extra debris, it was wastes extreme amounts of water.  It only takes a few minutes to sweep it up. Also, ensure that the grass is not cut too short.  Tall grass shades the roots and locks in moisture. 

  • Do not use lawn fertilizer

3. Avoid using lawn fertliizer. Lawn fertilizer is a huge pollutant to the Chesapeake Bay

First off, lawns do not need to be watered nearly as much as most people think they do.  Watering your lawn everyday will become tiresome and wasteful.  Your lawn only needs about an inch per week and according to the Weather Channel, Lancaster County, on average, receives about 3-4 inches of rain per month. 

Consequently, the need to even break out the hose and water your lawn should thus become even more minimal.  Nonetheless, a sprinkler gives your lawn an overwhelming amount of water and the water sprays out at a constant rate. Plants do not need to be soaked all over them in water. 

Think of this, when you water a flower that is in a pot, you pour the water directly into the dirt you don’t drench the plant all over.  This is done because plants really only benefit most when water is directly added to the roots.  The roots are like the mouth of the plant and needs to be properly fed through it.  It is the passageway for its life.

Instead of using a sprinkler try a drip irrigation system. Now, you may be wondering what the heck a drip irrigation system is. Well, drip irrigation just so happens to be the best way to irrigate. Drip irrigation is also typically inexpensive.  A drip irrigation system uses far less water than a sprinkler.  Water seeps directly into to the soil which is then directed straight to the roots of a plant or grass.  Thus, reducing the chance for run-off. 

The water has a direct target to the roots of the plants, rather than being sprayed all over the plant.  This wastes water by spreading water into areas that do not require it. A drip irrigation system is much more efficient than a sprinkler as you can see; water is directly placed into the roots not sprayed sporadically all over.     Eliminate the use of excess water wherever possible.

5. Use mulch around your yard

Mulch can hold water much better than plain old regular dirt.  It also helps to reduce the amount of those pesky weeds that seem to pop up all over our yards and gardens.  These weeds fight with plants for water and moisture.  Thus, by taking efforts to reduce the amount of weeds, it will only help those native plants to retain, clean, and conserve water.

  • Low maintenance means less time that you have to spend caring for your lawn and garden.  The extra time can be used in so many other ways like volunteering to help clean up a stream at a local park such as the Stream Clean-up day at Linear Park in Warwick Township. Or take on a bigger role and find out what you can do to help the Chesapeake Bay which is one of our largest watersheds. The simple, easy, and effective way in doing things is definitely something we can all relate to. Keep it simple and successful.

  • Use alternative native grasses. They function with about a quarter of the water that regular grass needs

  • Collect the leaves in your yard instead of raking them and bagging them up

6. Compost or mulch your leaves


Go by this motto, ‘it is okay to let it lay’.  It will be better for your lawn in the long run.


Laying leaves

Photo by Jenn Bargmann




Xeriscaping is a new and innovative way to landscape. The best part about it is all the water it helps to conserve.  Xeriscaping is more or less a fancy word that describes the process of using different types of native plants that grow very slowly and are drought tolerant for your lawn and garden.  Xeriscape landscaping is particularly beneficial to areas that are prone to drought.  Once again it using little to no fertilization and it keeps away pest and disease.

There are seven easy steps to having a successful Xeriscape design for your home:

1. PLANNING AND DESIGN - Before taking action, you will need to look at the layout of your home and decide what to place where. You will need to create a plan that will work

2. SOIL IMPROVEMENT - Your soil will need to retain and drain water quickly and simultaneously.  Simply use more organic substances, such as compost, within your soil. 

3. LIMIT TURF AREAS - Decrease the area of lawn surrounding your home


5. MULCH - Use Organic mulch like bark chips, pole peelings or wood grindings too.  Mulch retains water better than regular soil. It also reduces the amount of weeds in your garden that fight over water

6. IRRIGATION - A drip irrigation system is still recommended because it allows water to come into direct contact with the roots of the plants.  It also reduces the chances for erosion.

7. MAINTENANCE - While native plants do require less care than non-native plants, there will still be some work to be done.  It is really just a matter of shaping things up.


Lancaster County Parks

When designing a park, many landscape architects are looking at sustainability as an important factor in the design.  Filtration from streams into larger bodies of water and back into the streams is carefully thought out.  The streams are surrounded by wetlands that are filled with native plants in order to filter out the water.  The streams need to be shaded too.  This keeps the water at a comfortable temperature which benefits wildlife that depend on the stream for survival. 

This picture here is from The Linear Park in Warwick County.  This Linear Park has a lot of meaning for the people in the neighborhood because it was dedicated to the community. Notice how the park is floodplained with developments that are built on either side of it.  A floodplain is an area that is next to a river that can become flooded after heavy rainfall.


Floodplain at Linear park

Photo by Jenn Bargmann


Floodplains are flat areas such as the walking path and the soccer fields at the park.  The park has several areas for sports games and activities.  By building all of the houses on the top of the slope they can ensure that they will be protected.

Some floodplains have drains that help to remove excess water as well.  The water can slowly seep back into the river or down into the ground where it becomes groundwater. There is also huge water basin that is located in between some of the houses.  The houses are still on a slope and the basin is low in between.  There is also a drain that water can seep into in the chance that there is too much water to be absorbed by the basin fast enough.

If native plants are removed from a river, flooding will become more harmful and do more damage to the river or stream.  The water will not be free of pollutants and sediment either.  Thus, damaging other bodies of water along its path. 

Riparian Buffer

In efforts to protect and clean streams, one may find what is called a riparian buffer placed along side of it.  A riparian buffer is an area filled with native plants and trees that help to shade the stream and defend it from harmful toxins and other pollutants.  Riparian buffers get rid of sediments, pesticides, fertilizers, etc so that it does not get dumped into the stream.

A wide array of wildlife cultivate around this area too especially if there is  diverse amount of native plants being used.  It is very cost effective and when the plants and trees are full grown, they naturally restore and redevelop themselves on making the buffer stronger and better. 

The Linear Park in Warwick for example also has a stream cleaning day where Boy Scouts and other volunteers within the community come out to clean the stream.  The most recent Stream Clean-up day was held on March 20, 2010.  Streams, banks, and waterways located within Lititz are all sites that are visited to be cleaned. For more information or how to get involved e-mail Luba Irwin at

The largest body of water around Lancaster County is The Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Chesapeake Bay is a major source of living for wildlife, plants, and other water networks that lead into it.  Keeping small water sources clean will result in the big water sources being clean. Start small and receive big change.  The Chesapeake Bay’s contribution to conservation landscaping has what is sometimes referred to as “BayScaping”.  The bay is always being kept clean in order to maintain the quality of its tributaries too. 

The Native Plants in the Landscape Conference

On June 2-5, 2010 Millersville University in Lancaster County held its 20th annual Native Plants in the Landscape Conference.

Here is their mission statement: "to increase the knowledge, propagation, cultivation and use of native plants in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. To promote methods of land management and design that respect “sense of place” by preserving and restoring species and natural processes as well as to engender an appreciation of regionally appropriate, sustainable landscapes that are harmonious for people and nature. While the subject of the conference pertains to native plant communities, the spirit of the conference is to build human communities among a broad range of participants by designing a conference affordable to all, encouraging formal and informal exchanges of information and providing opportunities for social interaction. The conference is held on the campus of Millersville University in picturesque, historic Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The 21st annual Native Plants in the Landscape Conference is going to be held from June 1-4, 2011." 

Log on at for more information


One More Look at all the great things native plants can do for the environment and the conservation of water.


  • Ultimately, native plants are more cost efficient . By letting ‘nature take its course’ it cuts down on the physical man-labor and the amount of water we must use to maintain our gardens and parks.  These native plants thrive here therefore they can take care of themselves better.  

  • Less stressful because the care for them is not nearly as much as a non-native plant

  • The amount of pollution that is released into the air is reduced

  • If a lawn is replaced with more native plants, water will be saved because a lawn requires far more water  because it is a larger surface area

  • Native plants use little to no pesticides

  • The plants are able to handle rainfall and other forms on precipitation and reduce the amount of run-off that can harm our streams and other bodies of water

  • Reduces the negative impact on groundwater.  Groundwater is used in numerous ways that many people do not realize such as irrigation

  • Using native plants gives credit to our natural habitat.  It makes us seem proud that these plants are native to our soil and replacing them is harmful to our watersheds and is also a stab at our heritage. 

  • Rarely become invasive. Invasive plants are plants that grow quickly and aggressively and are not native to our soil. They are usually brought in on accident and sometimes on purpose.  They multiply and invade other plants nearyby.   If you do have invasive plants, replace with native, because if you do not replace the invasive plant may come back and continue to spread.

  • Surrounding wildlife also benefit from native plants.  The wildlife can find a reliable source of food and also a home within these native plants and trees.  Animals too want and need clean water and depend on streams and lakes to keep themselves hydrated.  The fish and other species living in these bodies of water benefit as well as those that depend on eating the fish for survival.

Why it's that Easy

You don’t have to be an expert on gardening and landscaping to have a home flourished with native plants and you may not even be concerned about our environment but you should be. It is cheaper, easier, and it will gratifying in the long haul. Plus, there are over 2,000 native plant species found within Pennsylvania.  Simply find and contact a local nursery and get started. 

With their help you can start to clean up the environment.  The only step you need to take is to purchase them, plant them and then take care of them.  Luckily they require very little attention. The plants kind-of ‘do it on their own’.  Let nature takes its course and leave non-native plants out of it.

When it comes down to it, conventional landscaping in the long run is damaging to our ecosystem.  Our waterways become polluted, stormwater run-off increases and leaks into bodies of water, non-native plants become invasive and water is wasted to care for them, and the natural habitats for wildlife become fragmented.

All of these issues are major problems that can start to be controlled by simply eliminating non-native plants and replacing them with native ones.  They help to control and get rid of these problems NATURALLY.  Or if you have no plants at all yet, go out and buy some native plants and flourish your home with them. It's that easy.  These are small plants that contribute by doing a big job for our environment. 

Before this class, it is safe to say that I knew next to nothing about sustainability and what I can do myself to help our planet. I never knew there were so many little, simple things that we can do that make such a big impact. Thanks to Chuck Hess of ELA Group inc, I have become an expert on the benefits of sustainable landscaping with a special focus on native plants. I have been able to educate people around me and also myself. Every living creature needs and deserves an abundance of clean water.

Over the summer my mom and decided to plant a garden in our backyard. On one side of the garden we filled it with tomato, cucumber, and zucchini plants, etc. We were able to grow all sorts of vegetation that we could use for cooking and to even share with family and friends.

On the other side of the garden we filled it with all sorts of flowers and shrubs. However, now that I look back on it, we never took into consideration what types of plants we were actually putting in there. We knew they were going to look beautiful but we did not think about what impact they would have on the enviornment. My grandmother lives in Connecticut and from time to time, she brings flowers from her own garden or places she has visited for my mother to plant around our house. These plants may be non-native.

Now, after learning so much about what native plants can do I decided to tell her about native plants and how beneficial they are to the environment. I explained how we should purchase some of our own to place around the house. We have also decided to take action in getting rid of the non-native plants we planted. It's that easy



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This site was created by Jenn Bargmann at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

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