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Steps to Plan Your Garden

Identify Your Habitat

Identifying the plant communities, associations of trees, shrubs, and/or herbaceous species that are found growing together on your property can help you understand your topography, soil, water, and climate. Even if you live in an urban or suburban area, the older vegetation on your property may be a clue to its original habitat type, which in turn can guide your choice of site-appropriate natives to restore or add to a property. Three example plant communities common to Lafayette Parish are listed below.

Coastal Tallgrass Prairie
Bottomland Hardwood Forest
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Loess Upland Hardwood Forest
Plan Your Layers

How you plant and interplant your garden with natives is just as important as what you plant. Instead of plunking down solo trees, lonely shrubs, and isolated specimens in empty mulched beds, think of what a lush, healthy woodland looks like. To encourage birds and wildlife to return, you need to plant in several different stories or “layers” of vegetation that mimic the varying heights and density of natural habitat.

Explore types of layers for consideration in the tabs below.


Working from top down, natural layers include

  • Large canopy trees such as bald cypress, oaks, hickories, and elms

  • Understory trees such as redbuds, maples, hollies, and mulberries

  • Shrubs such as American Beautyberry, Spicebush, and Dwarf Palmetto

  • Herbaceous plants (grasses, sedges and wildflowers)

  • Climbing vines (Clematis, Virginia Creeper, Muscadine Grape, Crossvine and Trumpet Creeper)

  • Ground cover species, including herbaceous annual and perennial flowering plants


Consider planting wide, deep beds too. A typical city or suburban residential lot needs a four- to 20-foot-wide band around its perimeter, made up of large trees layered with understory trees, shrubs, and perennials. Add a similar band around your house. You now have far less lawn to mow, congratulations!


Tall canopy trees are bird magnets, but if you leave them standing solo without underplanting you’ll miss a wonderful opportunity to enrich your garden habitat with food sources, nesting habitat, and safe zones for creatures. A bird feeder and bird house are no substitute. A water source is a must, whether it’s a birdbath or a recirculating water feature—the sound of trickling water is another bird magnet! Moving water or resident fish will help control mosquitoes.

Choose Your Plants

Check the plant lists below for the right plants to choose for different places and purposes, including canopy, understory, and ground cover plants, wildflowers, wildlife food and shelter, sun, shade, moist and dry and conditions. Elements of these lists were reproduced by permission of Bill Fontenot from his book, Native Gardening in the South, which you can purchase from our current inventory. 

Need Inspiration? Check out these sample landscape plans!

Click image to view full planting design and timeline in a new browser tab. All of these planting plans are free to download, print, and share.  Designs by Lawrence Rozas and Dona Weifenbach. Digitized by Amelia Rusbar. Please credit them and ANPP if you use or share them.

Need help with your plan?
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