Going native in the garden is earth-friendly

Last Updated: 
August 28, 2008

McMINNVILLE, Ore. - Landscaping with native plants not only protects our natural heritage – if used appropriately, these plants reduce fertilizer, pesticide and irrigation needs, thereby reducing costs to you and the environment.

More public places are going "native." Schools and parks are incorporating regionally native plants and employing landscaping practices that conserve water and prevent pollution.

Many plants native to the Pacific Northwest make beautiful and resilient additions to the home landscape, as well.

Native plants are adapted to regional soils and to regional patterns of wet winters and dry summers, so they require less pampering than plants imported from other parts of the world. In addition, native plants, especially shrubs with berries, provide the best food for native birds and wildlife.

But this doesn't mean that you can just plant them and walk away, says Linda McMahan, native plant expert and horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"Many gardeners make the mistake of thinking that native plants can fend for themselves in the garden," said McMahan. "Establishing native plants requires care. Knowing the plant's native habitat can help find the right garden conditions."

Each type of native plant has its own requirements for temperature, moisture, light, soil and terrain. Pay attention to the microenvironments in your home landscape and purchase or propagate and plant natives accordingly. A visit to the library, bookstore and native plant websites can provide a wealth of information on particular requirements of native plants.

To landscape a dry, sunny area on the west side of the Cascades, consider the Willamette Valley form of ponderosa pine, bitter cherry, Oregon white oak, California lilac, hairy manzanita, western mock orange, western serviceberry, red-flowering currant, tall Oregon grape, coastal strawberry, Douglas aster, blue-eyed grass, goldenrod, Oregon iris, pearly everlasting, Cascade penstemon, yarrow and California poppy.

For dry sunny areas east of the Cascades, McMahan recommends western juniper, yellow currant, quaking aspen, paper birch, western birch, Oregon grape, sagebrush, wild rose, penstemons and western red columbine.

West side hedgerows can be beautified with natives including Douglas hawthorn, wild rose or western serviceberry - all of which also provide food for wildlife. For early blossoms and decorative bark, consider Pacific ninebark, in wetter areas.

In shadier spots on the west side, consider natives such as western red cedar, blue elderberry, Indian plum or osoberry, evergreen huckleberry and wild strawberry. Wild ginger is a handsome and adaptable ground cover that stays green all year. Wild ginger's brownish flowers, pollinated by beetles or flies, make fascinating surprises in the spring. They sometimes bloom again in the summer or fall. If you have a moist area, vine maple, creek dogwood, white inside-out flower, small flowered alumroot, sword fern and western bleeding heart do well.

Many native plants are available from nurseries. Demand is high enough to keep specialty growers in business propagating native plants. Never dig up native plants from the wild, unless the area is under certain threat of destruction, such as new construction sites or logged areas and you have written permission to collect. And remember, it is illegal to collect plants from state and national parks and in other designated natural areas without a permit.

McMahan has loaded up the website of the Yamhill County office of the OSU Extension Service with a wealth of information and great links about gardening with native plants, including native plant lists for woodland and sunny border gardens and a downloadable source list where to get the plants in western Oregon.

McMahan has just published a new OSU Extension Service guide "Gardening with Oregon Native Plants West of the Cascades," (EC 1577). It is available on CD for $10 plus shipping and handling. To place an order, call 1-800-561-6719.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Linda McMahan