Native Gardens + Landscaping

A field of pink flowers and tall plants with a circular side walk.

Native Garden at Leland Elementary


Plants and landscaping that are native to the greater Chicago region and Illinois have deep roots that soak up lots of water. Chicago was originally a swamp surrounded by a prairie ecosystem, so plants that are “native” to this area like rainwater and snowmelt. Their roots create pathways for water to percolate through soil, increasing the soil’s capacity to store water—which also helps address flooding issues by providing a place for the water to go when it rains (instead of heading straight to the sewer).

Space to Grow schoolyards are designed with green infrastructure elements and include native plants and landscaping that capture rainwater and snowmelt right where it falls. This not only helps keep water out of the sewers, it also reduces the demand on using fresh water for the gardens to grow. You can typically find these plantings around the perimeter of the schoolyard, in rain gardens or in designated native gardens inside the schoolyard.

Native gardens provide beautiful areas for outdoor learning, stewardship, relaxation and support the local environment and ecosystem. The tall grasses and plants provide flower displays and relaxing sounds for the school community to enjoy year-round, and habitat for insects, birds and pollinators such as butterflies.

Quick Fact

  • The deep root systems of many native plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants need less water which can help your water bill, while significantly reducing water runoff and flooding.

Do It Yourself

Most residential buildings have a yard or courtyard that often includes a lawn. Maintaining a home lawn typically requires large amounts of water as well as fertilizer and mowing time. Consider replacing the lawn or adding a native garden to these areas instead! Once established, native plants require less water, do not need to be mowed and will return year after year. Just like all gardens, they do require occasional weeding. The City of Chicago has a list identifying native Chicago plants, grasses, flowers and shrubs to help you select what works best for the sunlight on your property.

A residential native plant garden at the edge of a lawn. A rain barrel with a connected down spout flanks the garden.


  • The Conservation at Home program, a partnership between the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the University of Illinois Extension, supports native gardens and certifies residential properties with native landscaping practices. This program supports residents of Cook County who shape their private landscapes in a conservation-minded way. They provide guidance through volunteer master gardeners and a variety of educational programming and horticulture resources.

Local Partners

Click here to download a PDF of this page in Spanish and English

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