Landscaping with Native Plants on Horse Farms

Learn why native plants are great for landscaping and which plants are non-toxic to horses.

A farm with showy, neat landscaping is desirable to landowners and attractive to clients. Environmentally conscious farm owners may want to use native plants to support pollinators and local ecosystems and to avoid spreading invasive species. However, many horse farm owners are understandably nervous about their landscaping plants being toxic if a horse gets loose and grazes on the garden. This article lists some horse-safe, native plants that can be planted in gardens and around buildings on horse farms.

Benefits of Native Plants

In the United States, a native plant is a plant that grew in a specific area before European settlers arrived. Landscaping with native plants is preferable to using non-native plants for numerous reasons. They are adapted to local environmental conditions, meaning they grow easily with little maintenance required after establishment. A major benefit is that they provide food for the local ecosystem and support native pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Planning Your Planting

When you are selecting a spot for your native garden, take note of the area’s growing conditions. Determine how much sun exposure the area gets. Too much or too little sun can hinder certain plants’ growth. Pay attention to how well it drains; does it have standing water after a rain event? If so, it might be better suited to build a rain garden . Keep gardens out of reach of horses; while the plants on this list are not known to be toxic, your plants will not last long if they get eaten! They are not intended to be grazed by horses.

When looking for native plant seeds or seedlings, make sure to purchase them from a nursery or local plant sale. Never remove native plants from the wild!

Native Plants & Horses

be aware that any time a horse consumes a large quantity of a new plant, it has the potential to cause digestive upset (such as diarrhea or colic), so it is generally best practice to keep horses away from your garden.

When selecting plants, pay close attention to the scientific name, as the common name may be used for more than one species. For example, horse-safe Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is not related to water hemlock (Cicuta maculata), which is extremely toxic.

Well-planned gardens can elevate a property’s aesthetic, but it is important to choose plants carefully. Not only should they be adapted to the site conditions, but they should also be non-toxic to horses in case a horse gets loose from its field and grazes the plants. Using native plants reduces the maintenance required and helps the local ecosystem and pollinators. Overall, native plants will benefit everyone on the farm.

Courtesy of Penn State Extension