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Why Care About Native Plants?
Native plants get a lot of attention in our neck of the woods, but it isn’t always clear why they are so heavily preferred by the conservation community over some other plants.
Native plants provide food and shelter for many of our native birds and wildlife. These critters have grown accustomed to (in fact, have adapted to) the mix of plants in our area, and often their dietary or housekeeping requirements make it hard for them to keep up with the ways in which we have changed the landscape.
Those changes to our landscape often also lead to lower diversity of plant species as landscapers and home gardeners rely on tried and true varieties that require little or no maintenance. By putting native plants back in the landscape when we can, we have the chance to bolster the diversity of plant life in our area.
Good native plant cover can discourage the spread of weeds. Weeds are of course only plants where we don’t want them to be, but often times, there are good reasons that some plants are unwanted. Certain weeds spread very quickly to dominate a landscape (invasives) while others may harm crops, livestock, or human health (noxious). Considerable time and money can be saved by crowding the weeds out with a healthy, dense native plant community from the start.
Not only are native animals adapted to native plant communities, but native plants are adapted to our local climate and soils. They tend to be more resilient in the landscape – that is, they can tough out what Mother Nature throws at them once they are established. Native plants can survive the usual assortment of local pests and diseases, as well as the average annual weather. As new pests are introduced or climate changes, it is true than native plants might begin to struggle. In the meantime, however, using native plants in our natural areas or landscaping is one good way to avoid having to add lots of water or chemicals year round.
Native plants also do a far superior job of holding onto soil and building up its organic matter through their roots as compared to invasive species. This can be very important to protecting water quality as strong roots of different depths help hold soil in place and prevent it from eroding. These amazing root structures also help store carbon in our soils, helping to mitigate climate change over time.
Still skeptical about native plants? You aren’t alone – when the wrong plant is selected and put in the wrong place, the chances of failure are high. The Informed Gardener has an excellent explanation of why choosing the “right plant for the right place” is critical.
Tips for Working with Native Plants
In Washington County, winter is a good time of year to purchase and plant natives. There are many local plant sales, often hosted by area groups as fundraisers, and several of these include native plants. To be sure you are getting the right plant, consider taking along the scientific names of each plant you hope to buy. Showing up without a list? Be sure to know the conditions of your site and follow the mantra of “right plant, right place”. Note that some native plant sales are pre-order sales: many of these open for orders as early as November or December of the year preceding delivery, so you may need to plan in advance!
Our Restoration Program shares this advice for handling native plants:
Q: When I am shopping for native plants, will they all be sold in containers and pots?
Shopping a native plant sale for the first time can be intimidating because, in many cases, plants will arrive in many different forms, and very rarely in fact will they appear in containers or pots.
You are likely to find:
1) Bare-root plants: Perennial plants that are dug-up and stored without soil on their roots while they are not actively growing (dormant). These are planted by digging a small hole, deep enough to cover the roots, and taking care that the roots are not matted together and are pointing down.
2) Container plants: Plants growing in containers with soil. These are usually just placed in holes in the ground for establishment.
3) Cuttings: These are typically branches cut from woody trees and shrubs that can reproduce vegetatively, such as red osier dogwood and willow. It can be beneficial to store cuttings in water for 24-48 hours before planting. Cuttings are placed in pre-made narrow holes in the soil for establishment, and will create new roots and stems of their own. Just make sure you remember which way is up after you cut them!
4) Plugs: Blocks of soil containing one or several plants that are planted by literally plugging them into a hole in the ground, primarily used to establish forbs and grasses.
5) Seed: Seed is either broadcast or drilled into the ground, and is primarily used to establish forbs and grasses.
6) Bulbs/Rhizomes: You may also find bare bulbs or potted bulbs. These should be treated in the same manner as bulbs you would buy at the garden center, unless you are instructed to do otherwise. For example, when purchasing solomon’s seal, you may be instructed to lay the bulb horizontally instead of planting it vertically because the emerging sprout will curve as it emerges.
Q: When should I buy and plant natives?
You can buy and plant natives any time of year, but we usually plant ours from January to March. There are several reasons that the winter season is the best time to plant native trees and shrubs, including:
1) Transplants are less stressful in the winter .
2) Winter planting encourages proper root growth.
3) Moist soil, available in the winter, is favorable for planting and plants.
4) Spring rains provide needed moisture for transplants.
5) Roots are less susceptible to drying.
Q. What about trees and shrubs? Is it okay to plant them later in the spring (maybe for Arbor Day)?
You may be taking a risk. Transplanting trees and shrubs while they are actively growing can result in mortality. If you transplant them in the winter, when they are dormant, there is less stress to the plant and you are more likely to have a successful planting. Even species with persistent or evergreen leaves are dormant in the winter.
Planting in the winter gives the plants some time to adjust from the shock of transplanting while they are dormant, and leaves them with the entire spring to develop roots capable of supporting the plant in the warm, dry summer. The spring rains that follow winter plantings supply continued moisture to the plants that will support root growth once the plants break dormancy.
Practical concerns apply here too: As we all know, the ground is moist in the winter, making it easier to shovel into the soil for planting, and providing favorable wet soil conditions for the roots of the newly planted trees and shrubs. Planting bare-root seedlings usually involves carrying around a box or bag of bare-root seedlings. This exposure to the air can cause the roots to dry out. During cool winter days, the roots stay hydrated for longer.
Where & How to Buy:
2016 Native Plant Sale List Last updated:Apr 7. 2016
[Our native plant sale list includes sales we are notified of and updated on; it may not reflect all qualifying sales. We will include as submitted all Washington county native plant sales, plant sales in Washington county containing a mix of native and non-native plants, any Washington county plant sale regardless of native plants if it is a fundraiser for a conservation or education related group, and non-Washington county sales of only native plants offered during primary restoration planting season (fall and winter sales) to assist landowners in locating dormant woody plant material for this work. We regret that we cannot include out of county sales that are not specifically identified in these criteria. To submit your sale for our list, contact Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!]
How to Plant & Care:
Native Plants for Willamette Valley Yards
We recommend planting natives before March 1 at elevations below 500 feet and before March 15 at elevations above 500 feet. If sites are flooded with standing water, then plant as soon as possible after water recedes.