top of page
  • Writer's pictureZac Gnadinger

21 Kentucky Native Plants for Landscaping

Updated: Mar 5

home garden

With the recent interest in supporting our local pollinators and wildlife, more and more people are looking to plant native in their landscaping, gardens, and flowerbeds.

Below, you will find an in-depth list of Kentucky native flowers, vines, ferns, grasses, shrubs, and trees that can be used in landscaping projects.

When selecting a plant, it's important to pay attention to its preferred growing conditions, as well as its natural range in Kentucky.

While many of these plants are highly adaptable, you will see the highest growing success by giving the plants what they need.

Good luck and happy planting!

Quick Scroll Selection:

Why Use Native Plants in Landscaping?

Using native plants in your landscaping or gardening has many benefits.

First, native plants are adapted to local climate and soil conditions, making them a low-maintenance option that won't require excessive watering, fertilization, or pest control.

Native plants also play an important role in supporting local ecosystems and providing habitat for native wildlife, such as pollinators, birds, and small mammals.

Additionally, many native plants have unique and attractive features that make them beautiful additions to a landscape or garden.

Kentucky Native Plants for Landscaping

There are many types of Kentucky native plants that can be used in landscaping, depending on local conditions and desired aesthetic.

For example, in a sunny, dry area, native wildflowers and grasses may be a good choice. In a moist, shady area, native ferns, woodland flowers, and shrubs could be used. Native trees are often used as a focal point that provides shaded areas to a landscape design.

Keep in mind what you're going for as you scroll through the options. And feel free to also check out our book list related to native gardening in Kentucky.

1. Butterfly Milkweed

butterfly milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed, a popular variety of milkweed, is a must-have in any butterfly garden due to its long-lasting, bright orange flowers that attract many pollinators. Additionally, it serves as a larval host plant for monarch butterflies, which were recently put on the endangered species list. It's one of many native flowers that support pollinators.

butterfly milkweed info

2. Purple Coneflower

purple coneflower

Purple Coneflower is a favorite for those new to native plants. It boasts large pink-purple blooms that are both beautiful and a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. In addition, its seed heads attract finches and other birds in the late summer.

purple coneflower info

3. Black-Eyed Susan

black eyed susan

Black-Eyed Susan, an iconic flower of the prairie, add a splash of color to the summer landscape. The flowers have a prolonged bloom time and attract a variety of pollinators. In later seasons, the seed heads are enjoyed by finches and other birds.

black eyed susan info

4. Blue Phlox

blue phlox

Blue phlox is a fragrant ground cover that adds beauty to a woodland landscape. It blooms for nearly a month in mid to late spring, providing an important source of early nectar for pollinators.

blue phlox info

5. Cardinal Flower

cardinal flower

The cardinal flower is a late summer bloomer, producing brilliant red flower spikes for a month or longer. It is particularly attractive to hummingbirds, and is considered one of the best hummingbird-attracting plants in Kentucky.

cardinal flower info

6. Wild Bergamot

wild bergamot

Wild Bergamot, also known as bee balm, is a well known and highly adaptable plant for your landscape. Its fragrant lavender flowers are a popular source of nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

This plant could also play a role in getting rid of the invasive, brown marmorated stink bug, a significant pest of our state. Native sand wasps are voracious predators of the stinkbug and have been observed using Wild Bergamot extensively for nectar. By planting Wild Bergamot, we can support these wasps and help keep the stink bug in check.

wild bergamot info

7. Dense Blazing Star

dense blazing star

Attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, this native plant of the prairie is a favorite of gardeners. Dense Blazing Star is the most common blazing star variety of Kentucky, and is valued for its unique, fluffy flower spikes.

dense blazing star info

8. Passion Vine

passion vine

Passion Vine, also known as Maypop, is a fast-growing native vine known for its large, showy, fragrant flowers. It also produces edible fruit that's both sweet and sour in flavor. The vine freezes to the ground at the first frost in late fall and comes back in late spring.

passion vine info

9. Trumpet Honeysuckle

trumpet honeysuckle

Trumpet Honeysuckle is a deciduous climbing vine that's known for its vibrant, trumpet-shaped flowers. The blooms are typically a shade of red or orange and they are highly fragrant, attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators to the garden. It would make an excellent addition grown next to an arched arbor.

trumpet honeysuckle info

10. Cinnamon Fern

cinnamon fern

Cinnamon Fern is an excellent choice for landscaping due to its stunning beauty. It's known for its cinnamon-brown colored spore-bearing structures that are surrounded by lush green fronds. As a perennial plant, it reliably reblooms every year without the need for replanting, making it a low-maintenance addition to any garden.

cinnamon fern info

11. Christmas Fern

christmas fern

Christmas Fern is a type of evergreen fern commonly found in wooded areas. It is known for its distinctive leathery, dark green leaves that remain lush and green throughout the winter, making it a popular choice for holiday decorating and winter landscaping. It's one of the multiple Kentucky native ferns.

christmas fern info

12. Switchgrass


Switchgrass is both an important prairie grass as well as a handsome landscaping plant. A patch of Switchgrass creates valuable habitat, providing food, shelter, and nesting material for birds and other wildlife. Its deep roots also help in soil stabilization.

switchgrass info

13. Big Bluestem

big bluestem

Big Bluestem is a warm season grass that has ornamental qualities fit for the garden or landscape. It changes color from blue-green in summer, to a deep red-bronze in the fall, making a striking statement planted in the back of a perennial garden.

big bluestem info

14. Indiangrass


One of the earliest warm season grasses to seed, Indiangrass brings a natural drama to the autumn landscape. It attracts birds and butterflies to the garden with its feathery plumes and golden-bronze seed heads.

indiangrass info

15. Wild Hydrangea

wild hydrangea

Wild Hydrangea is a widely popular shrub, sought out for its clusters of white flowers that bloom in the summer. This plant flowers on the current season’s growth, so most gardeners cut the stems to the ground in the early spring, allowing new shoots to emerge from the base and bloom that same summer.

Unfortunately, this species has been cultivated to have more showy, but sterile flowers versus its naturally smaller, fertile ones. If you're looking to benefit pollinators the most, it's important to buy plants grown from seeds collected from wild populations.

wild hydrangea info

16. Carolina Rose

carolina rose

Carolina Rose, also known as Pasture Rose, is a medium shrub with delightfully fragrant pink flowers that bloom in the late spring. Later in the summer season, its blooms mature into vitamin-rich, red hips that are a great food source for birds.

carolina rose info

17. New Jersey Tea

new jersey tea

New Jersey Tea is a small, well-behaved bush with desirable glossy leaves, making it a perfect addition for any landscape when not in bloom. In the summer when it does bloom, it pops with clusters of scented white flowers, attracting numerous pollinators. It's one of the numerous Kentucky native shrubs.

new jersey tea info

18. Eastern Redbud

eastern redbud

With a dramatic display of purplish-pink blossoms covering its bare branches, the Eastern Redbud announces the arrival of spring every year. New leaves unfurl underneath the flowers and grow into perfect heart shapes for summer shade. This small, ornamental tree is a great focal point for the landscape, and also holds a special value to early season pollinators searching for nectar. In the wild it's primarily found as an understory tree, so it can tolerate partial shade conditions.

eastern redbud info

19. Flowering Dogwood

flowering dogwood

The Flowering Dogwood is widely considered one of the most beautiful small trees of Kentucky, offering multiple seasons of interest. With delicate white blooms in the spring, crimson foliage in the fall, and September berries that attract winter songbirds, it's no wonder why it's so charming. In the wild, it's typically an understory tree, so it does best in partial to full shade.

flowering dogwood info

20. River Birch

river birch

The River Birch is a highly sought after tree for landscaping due to its fast growth rate. Its unique bark, which is smooth and light-tan in color, peels back to reveal striking salmon-pink and cinnamon-brown hues beneath, adding visual interest to any outdoor space.

They are commonly available in both single stem and multiple trunk clumps, but from my experience the single stems hold up significantly better to storms and freezing rain events.

river birch info

21. Red Maple

red maple

The Red Maple truly lives up to its name with vibrant red hues that are present throughout the year. From its red flowers in the spring, reddish leaf stems in the summer, brilliantly colored leaves in the fall, and vibrant buds in the winter, it adds a splash of color to the landscape in every season. Additionally, it is an excellent choice for providing shade in your yard.

red maple info

Where to Buy Native Plants

Unfortunately, the big box stores don't typically carry native plants. If you found any plants you like from this list, the next step is to find where to get them. Head over to our article on where to buy Kentucky native plants. Each section is listed by county, so you can quickly skip to a supplier near you. If there’s not a seller in your area, we also include a section of online retailers that offer shipping.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page