USDA Zones Change but Planting Native Remains

The National Wildlife Federation’s head of native plant habitat strategy & certifications celebrates climate-smart, wildlife-friendly gardening

  • By Mary Phillips
  • Habitat Gardening
  • Mar 28, 2024

AS WE HEAD INTO SPRING, a welcome time to dig in the dirt and sow the seeds for this year’s garden, I want to thank the millions of you who have joined us to create vital wildlife habitat—yard by yard, neighborhood by neighborhood—through the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife™, Certified Wildlife Habitat® and other programs. For more than 50 years, your support and hard work have been changing the way individuals plant to benefit wildlife and people!

The need to cultivate native plants that evolved with the native wildlife those plants support has always been at the core of our wildlife gardening programs. Native plants become ever more critical as habitat loss and the impacts of climate change accelerate. According to a 2023 update of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, roughly half the country is now classified a half-zone warmer than those regions had been on the former map. In many of these areas, we are beginning to see spring arriving earlier, causing leaves and flowers to bud and bloom before many of the insects, birds and other wildlife that rely on them are present. Climate-smart gardening using native plants is one of our most powerful tools to help wildlife survive such changes.

Our approach is growing. A 2022 National Gardening Association survey of U.S. gardeners found that:

  • One in three adults (34 percent) purchase plants to help wildlife—up from 26 percent in 2020.
  • One in four (25 percent) specifically buy native plants—an increase from 17 percent in 2020.
  • The percentage planning to transform a portion of lawn to wildflower native landscaping more than doubled from 9 percent in 2019 to 19 percent in 2021.

Of course, many threats to wildlife and the plants they rely on also are growing, but each action you take to create sustainable habitat helps reconnect fragmented sources of food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young. Such action also supports carbon sequestration and improved air and water quality, thereby providing health benefits for people.

I am so proud to have watched participation in our movement and programs more than double over the past decade. You can read about some of these efforts in “A Colossal Need for Native Seed”, “Corporate Landscaping Rolls Out the Wildlife Welcome Mat” and “Planting a Legacy.” This summer, I encourage you to celebrate your work by entering NWF’s wildlife gardening photo contest. And if you’re not yet among the millions who are helping to expand native plant habitat and sustainability where people live, work, play, learn and worship, I invite you to join us!

LEARN MORE about creating a native wildlife garden and certifying your habitat.

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

Gardening for Pollinators »
Power Plants »
Unsung Heroes »

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