If you’re looking to add some low-maintenance plants, shrubs and trees to your garden, why not go native?
Native plants are those that have evolved under local growing conditions. Western Washington is a haven for everything from salal and huckleberry to vine maple and madrone.
Native plants are less prone to disease and, once established, require less watering than non-native species. They don’t require pesticides or fertilizers. Another plus – replacing a lawn with natives reduces maintenance time. In addition, native plants prevent erosion and provide habitat for wildlife.
“The plants that have been growing year after year in your gardening region are going to do better in your garden,” said Janell Patterson of Wildflowers Northwest. “They are also going to benefit pollinators, bring in more birds, bring in more bees and more butterflies because those animals have adapted with those plants.”
Native plants come in a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes, providing color and texture to your landscape all year round.
“It’s amazing that I lived in Washington most of my life and only in the last few years chose to start looking and learning about native plants,” said Jenifer Mick, who is a member of the Washington Native Plant Society. “It’s amazing how my world opened up and how I had no idea what was around me before I started learning.”
Mick’s advice to gardeners wanting to get started with native plants is to be patient and start slow.
“The most important (thing) is to just get out there,” she said.
One thing to consider when planting natives is choosing the right location.
“Just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it will grow well in your garden, “ said Northwest garden guru Ciscoe Morris. “In order to thrive they need conditions similar to where they grow in nature.”
Morris said while his garden is not exclusively natives, he can’t imagine a garden without them. He shared his thoughts on some of his favorites:
“It’s one of the most attractive of all ferns. It looks delicate with thin black stems and dark green leaves, but it’s tough as nails in a shady, well-drained location.”
“This is a low growing species of our ubiquitous Oregon grape. It only gets about three feet tall, has leaves that turn red in winter, the hummers love the late winter flowers and the birds feast on the berries.”
“Truly attractive compact shrub with attractive flowers and beautiful foliage. The birds will beat you to the flowers, but the foliage looks fantastic added into flower arrangements.”
“The queen of the spring blooming shrubs, it has long nodding clusters of red flowers that drive hummingbirds mad with desire. It blooms right when the Rufus hummer returns to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico in spring, so plant a bunch of them and you might persuade the rufous male to take up residence in your garden. If that happens the female might choose it as well, and you may find a hummingbird nest in your garden.”
“Named for explorer Meriwether Lewis, these native plants are the gems of the alpine garden. The succulent foliage forms a rosette out of which rise slender stalks topped with colorful flowers. Deadhead after bloom and they’ll usually rebloom. They prefer a bright location out of direct sunlight, and extremely well drained soil. I grow them in troughs with other alpine plants for a long season of highly attractive flowers and foliage.”
So many choices
Each native plant has a role in its habitat. To attract hummingbirds, plant red flowering currant and orange honeysuckle. Huckleberries and native blackberries are popular with animals and kids.
To attract a variety of wildlife, layer plants that grow to different heights. Most important is choosing plants that fit the location when full-grown.
“Native plants tend to get large so be sure you’re picking the right spot,” said Patterson. “It’s also good to have the right diversity of plants.”
Think about adding wildflowers to your palette. Native wildflowers include red columbine and poppy, white glacier lily and purple lupine.
“I called my nursery Wildflowers Northwest because I really like the perennial meadow flowers of the Northwest and I don’t think they are utilized enough in the landscape,” said Patterson.
“I think all native plants are important but there are also native meadows and wildflowers in our forest,” said Patterson.
“Having a sense of place is very important for native plants,” said Patterson. “Knowing the plants that grow around you and bringing those into your landscape can help you understand the beauty of Washington. “
“One of the most rewarding benefits of planting with native plants is a connection to home,” she said. “It’s a journey of learning the plants that make Washington beautiful and unique.”
Aquilega formosa (Western columbine) image by Janell Patterson