No Mow May and Native Plant Resources

No Mow May is an environmental initiative to help support pollinators in early spring. Find more information here:

Online resources to learn more about native gardening:

One thing that’s really amazing about native gardening is that it’s easy. Mow less. Rake less. Plant plants that are suited to your environment, so they flourish with very little help. It’s also joyful. You’ll see more birds and butterflies in your yard, and it’s a tangible and fun way to help the environment.

  • HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK® is an initiative from Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. The idea is that if every homeowner replaced a portion of their lawn with native plantings, we could collectively create the largest national park. Diverse native plantings support a healthier ecosystem than the monoculture of an “old-fashioned” yard. If you already avoid chemically treating your yard for the environment, the next step is to plant some native plants.
  • Wild Ones Capital Region NY is the local chapter of this national non-profit that promotes landscaping using native plants. They offer seed swaps, plant sales, and guided walks.
  • The New York Flora Association‘s atlas offers a search to determine if a specific plant is native to our area. Wild Ones recommends using this as a reference, and it has some sad surprises, like that echinacea isn’t native for my yard.
  • Pollinator Friendly Yards is a Facebook group that can be helpful when you have random questions.
  • Capital District Pollinator Allies is another Facebook group that has the added benefit of being local.
  • is a good resource listing plants and animals that you’ll find in Schenectady County.

Local places to purchase native plants:

The most challenging part of this process can be finding native plants. Big box stores offer plants that have been chemically treated. Seed companies sell “native mixes” that turn out to be filled with non-native seeds. Pretty wildflowers along the road might be invasive species instead of natives. Cultivars of native species sound like a good idea, but they aren’t. Through trial and error, I’ve found some reliable sources for native plants.

Help with identifying plants:

Along with getting new plants, it’s great to figure out what you’ve got growing in your yard and encouraging the native plants and possibly even removing the invasive plants — those plants that are not just “exotic”/non-native, but are actively harmful to the local ecosystem.

  • You can check the New York Flora Atlas to confirm that plants that you think are native actually are native to New York. You can search by scientific or common name (just be sure to choose the correct one in order to search properly.
  • The Picture This App is a great way to identify plants easily on your phone. It’s free, but they’ll constantly try to get you to sign up for a 7-day trial upgrade — you can X out of it every time.
  • Here’s a guide to some of the worst invasive species locally.
  • Invasive Plant Atlas offers a list of plants that don’t belong.

Removing invasive plants

When you choose not to mow, spend some of the time that you would spend mowing examining the plants that you see coming up and removing the invasive plants to encourage native plants to grow. Sadly, you’ll be in for some heartbreak, because some invasive plants are quite lovely. Chances are, you’ll find a lot of invasives. Here are some resources for helping you identify, report, and remove invasives.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Here’s some of what I’ve found around my front and back yards. To make it a little easier to keep track of everything, I’m bordering the images with colors. The green-bordered plants are native plants that I celebrate and encourage. The yellow-bordered plants are not native, but they are not the most super-aggressive of invasives, and they are lower priority for removing (for me) because I have worse offenders and (sometimes) because they’re pretty. I will pull them if they seem overwhelming or are threatening the growth I want to encourage. The red-bordered plant are considered highly or very highly aggressive, and I want them all gone. Technique for removal vary by plant. The orange-bordered plants are invasives that are not as bad as the red ones, but, for me, they are some combination of ugly and/or easy or satisfying to remove.

Violets – When you see these everywhere, you can rejoice! They are native and lovely.
Ground ivy – not native and we’d rather see violets.
Bugleweed – not native and they like to spread. But pretty! I’ll pull if there are too many or if violets or other natives are nearby.
Bitter dock – invasive and not cute, but not on the highest priority removal lists. This one has a really big taproot that you want to get, like digging out a giant dandelion.
Japanese knotweed – VERY invasive and notoriously tough to eradicate. Try pulling it out and you’ll stimulate massive spreading root growth. I THINK the best plan is to treat carefully with a chemical in the fall and trim if it gets too tall while you’re waiting for fall, but I’m calling in helpers for mine, I think, because I’m intimidated!
Mugwort – highly invasive and difficult to remove. It will regrow from pieces, so don’t try to throw into compost/yard waste.
Blue-eyed grass – Native! This lovely native was my favorite surprise of my first No Mow May.
Japanese barberry – highly invasive. This one is a tiny baby, but if you Google this plant and look at images, you’ll see that the grown-up bushes, which are reddish and have thorns and berries, are still VERY popular among landscapers. We actually removed a big landscaped bush of the stuff. If you have one of these bushes, removing it entirely is one single big thing you can do to help the environment. Because birds eat the berries and spread the seeds widely, removing it helps quite a bit.
Rugels Plantain – native, though not particularly pretty. Apparently you can put the leaves into a salad? I think I’ll just leave them.
Heart-leaf aster – Native, and not pretty yet, but it will be. Asters tend to look like variations on a daisy ( daisies are part of the Aster family, Asteraceae) once their flowers arrive.
White avens – Native, and it’s supposed to get little white flowers later. It’s a perennial, tall-ish groundcover.
Little-leaf or kidney-leaved buttercup – Native and super-cute!