Native plants exist for nearly every garden need including great variety in
plant form, flowers, foliage and fruit. Natives will provide an ideal
refuge and source of food for birds and animals. Many natives can survive
under extreme drought conditions. Many natives are evergreen, providing a
delightful mix with deciduous plants for a year long, attractive garden.
In the Pacific northwest there is a natural relationship and function
for native trees, shrubs and perennials. Native trees, both evergreen and
deciduous, provide the over-story framework of the landscape. Below tree
level, shrubs provide an understory. Below the shrubs, perennials
including ground covers complete the natural landscape. Shrubs and
perennials provide delightful color, texture and form. Some common
questions and answers are shown below.
Accept and enjoy natives as they are. Enjoyment of natives implies an
acceptance of the simple joys of nature - not a continual frenzied search
for the different, the bigger, the brighter, the new. Did you ever really
look at a native rose? Just a simple single petal flower - pale pink,
nostalgic fragrance. How beautiful, how fragile and yet eternal! How close
to the land and how close to life! If you can enjoy a simple wild rose,
your life is greatly enriched!
Where to Plant
Trees in full sun
Trees in some shade
Trees in medium shade
Trees in deep shade
Shrubs in medium shade
Require no watering or maintenance
Good ground covers
Saving water and surviving a drought
Bare Root vs. Container Grown Plants
How to plant natives in your garden from containers
Bulbs--how to plant and where
Nearly all native trees do fine in full sun. This includes
Spruce, Hemlock, Pines, Oaks, Madrone, Oregon Myrtle, Maple, Alder, Birch,
Hazel, Cottonwood, Quaking Aspen, Willow, Hawthorn, Plum, Cherry,
Crabapple, Dogwood, Oregon Ash and Cascara.
Doug Fir, White Pine, Oregon Ash, Madrone, Hawthorne, Crabapple
Spruce, Hemlock, Pacific Silver Fir, Grand Fir, White Fir, Coast Redwood,
Port Orford Cedar, California Black Oak, Canyon Live Oak, Tan Oak, Big Leaf Maple,
Oregon Myrtle, Cascara.
West. Hemlock, Sub-Alpine Fir, West. Red Cedar, Vine Maple, West.
Hazelnut, Pacific Dogwood.
Pacific Rhodie, Salal, Evergreen Huckleberry, Red Huckleberry,
Elderberries, Oregon Grape, Indian Plum, Devil's Club, Salmonberry, Twinberry,
Pacific Wax Myrtle, OR Boxwood, Ninebarks.
For deciduous trees and shrubs, consider plants in the Willow family -
Cottonwood and all the Willows. Consider the Birch family, including
Birches and Alders. Western Red Cedar is the best conifer for wet areas.
Bog Rosemary, Skunk Cabbage, Cat-tails and Yellow Leaf Iris (Iris
chrysophylla) all do well.
Check native plants growing in non-cultivated areas in your vicinity as a
start. Once established, most natives will go through the typical July -
Sep dry period without water. The two toughest attractive native plants in
the Willamette Valley are Doug Firs and Tall OR Grape, in my opinion. Many
perennials, such as Camas & Trilliums go dormant in the dry season.
Andromeda polifolia (Bog Rosemary), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnik),
Asarum caudatum (Wild Ginger), Ceanothus prostratus (Squaw Carpet), Cornus
canadensis (Bunchberry), Dicentra formosa (Bleeding Heart), Fragaria
chiloensis (Coastal Strawberry), Gaultheria shallon (Salal), Linnaea
borealis (Twinflower), Mahonia repens (Creeping Oregon Grape), Maianthemum
dilatatum (False Lily-of-the-Valley), Oxalis oregona (Oxalis), Smilacina
stellata (Star-Flowered Solomon's Seal), Vancouveria hexandra (Inside-Out
Native ferns are shade plants. Do not use in full sun. Use the magnificent
native Sword Fern as a strong design element in the shade garden -
supplement with other fine native ferns.
native plants like the northwest! This is their home. As good gardeners,
you want to protect your investment and give the little guys and gals a
head start. I suggest some extra water in the normally dry and hot
season--July, August and into September--for two years. The new plant needs to get
roots deep into the soil to find moisture.
the site carefully. Some plants can stand a lot of winter weather, even
submerged as Oregon Ash and Willows. This kills some plants such as
Madrone. Research this need before planting. As a general rule, a well
drained site is best.
Dig the hole wider than the diameter of the pot - up
to 50% larger. You need to set the plant so the new soil level is the same
as the soil level in the pot – the same soil line. However, shape the
area around the plant into a shallow “dish” which will hold a
temporary source of available water when watering the plant and not run
off. This can be 2 or 3 inches deep. The bottom of the root ball should
usually be on solid soil with some extra depth surrounding.
It is best to
dig holes the day before planting and fill with water to saturate the soil
before planting the next day. If the soil in the pot is rather dry, water
the plant in the pot the day before planting.
NW soils are acid and many soils are heavy clay with little humus
material. If your soil is too heavy you might amend the soil with some
peat moss and sand or better yet, finely ground pumice. If you go to the
trouble of amending the soil you might as well add some general purpose
fertilizer (12-12-12) with minor elements to the excavated soil. However,
native plants do not need large amounts of fertilizer.
your soil is very heavy clay, the hole you dig may be smooth and slick on
the sides. This may cause roots to “circle.” Counter this by roughing
up the sides so the roots will penetrate. You might also punch several
holes in the bottom of the hole you have dug by driving down an iron rod
and then removing. Hopefully the roots will find these openings and get
down deeper, faster.
and then pack the soil tightly around the plant. Commercial Tree Planters
have a fixed routine of “stomping” on both side of the new transplant
to pack the soil. This is OK but if a hose is available, “water pack”
the soil by flooding with water.
prepare the top surface of the soil around the plant to save summer water.
Apply a generous layer of mulch. Garden stores carry various mulches –
larger wood chips are good. Apply 2 or 3 inches of mulch around the stem
and out for 2 or 3 feet. Thick mulch keeps the soil damp and greatly
reduces the amount of summer water needed. When you do apply summer water
you can, if you like, pull the mulch back, water and then replace.
above indicates hand watering. You certainly can rig timer-driven drip
lines. These use little “spitters” to place a controlled amount of
water at the base of the plant.. This method applies water exactly where
you want, in the amount you want, automatically.
is a method that conserves maximum water but more initial work on your
part. Buy a length of PVC water pipe at least one inch in diameter. Cut a
piece with a hack saw about 2.5 – 3 ft tall. When you place the plant in
the prepared hole and start to backfill, place the plastic pipe section so
one end of the pipe is right in the middle of the roots. Slant the pipe
upwards at a sharp angle and backfill. The 1” pipe will allow you to
apply water with a narrow tip hose nozzle through the pipe directly to the
roots. Tip: do not drive the pipe through the soil as this will plug up
the pipe. Consider placing some sand at the lower end of the pipe to
is another method of saving water which may be controversial. Peat moss,
once dampened, absorbs and holds water like a high capacity sponge. Create
a peat moss sponge to hold water just below the root level. To do this,
dig lower that described above and place a “pillow” of damp peat moss
in the hole. Combine this with the water pipe above and you have reduced
the water needs to the very basic level.
How often to water? Every plant has a different water need. I suggest you
experiment a bit. Do not water until you see a slight “droop” of the
leaves – the plant is asking for water. This works with deciduous plants
but not with conifers. Sometimes you can use plants like coal mine
canaries – if the tested plant starts to droop, add water to all plants.
Native Moon Gardens
Our days seem so full sometimes we have no time left to enjoy our
gardens. We offer you tips here on creating a space in your own garden
specifically for evening enjoyment. Of course, you can visit there
during the day but this is a garden that will really shine at night.
Ideas about what kinds of plants to use, surprises to include and ways
to make this a very special area for night-time relaxation. (Moonlight
is optional but definitely provides an added attraction!)
A 'calico fence' is a mixture of different shrubs or small trees planted
in a row. It's a living fence that makes a colorful and ever-changing
border or noise barrier, good for privacy and definitely not boring. A
one-of-a-kind feature you create yourself just the way you want it.
Plant a patriot's fence--Red-Flowering
Currant (Ribes sanguineum),
Blueblossom (Ceanothus thrysiflorus). Go for a white fence--Goatsbeard
Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) and
Mock Orange (Philadelphus
lewisia). A tall windbreak of exquisite colors can be created with
two or three kinds of evergreen trees in a repeating pattern. Year-round
Planting Instructions for Native Bulbs
For Trilliums select a site that will have mostly shade. Trilliums like
humus – especially humus formed from decaying leaves. Amend the soil as
needed with compost, mostly from leaves. Amend soil if necessary, to a
depth of 12”. Do not add chicken or cow manure. Do not use mushroom
compost. Peat moss is good. Trilliums bloom around Easter time and the top
stems die back by June or early July. Underground, a new, small primitive
white stem forms and grows about 1” or less, from the site of the previous
stem on the rhizome (bulb.) It then stops growing and will not start up
until it goes thru the winter cold. Plant the trillium so the white stem
is 1 – 2” below the soil level (roots down, stem up.) Water in to pack the
soil and then no more water until the winter rains come. By late Jan or
Feb the trillium will start to grow. At that time the trillium needs
plenty of water, hopefully from winter rains. After blooming, let the
plants go dry to repeat the annual cycle. Plant the rhizome (bulb) with
the roots down and the white primitive stem pointed upward.
Fawn Lilies like partial shade. Amend the soil as described for
Trilliums above. Plant bulb about 3 inches deep. Place a small chip of
wood or stone just below the bulb to stop the bulb from going deeper. Fawn
lilies have a habit of pulling themselves deeper and deeper, maybe to
extinction. If I plant a Fawn Lily in a pot near the top of the soil, by
the end of summer, the bulb has worked itself to the bottom of the pot.
Tiger Lilies like partial sun, partial shade. Prepare the soil as noted
for Trilliums above. This is a true bulb with segments. Plant about 5 – 6”
deep in the same soil as for trilliums above.
All the above bulbs/rhizomes can be planted in July – August in
slightly damp ground but do not water. They can also be temporarily stored
from July through early September, when all should be planted out in the
garden. To store in the summer, place in peat moss which is very slightly
damp and store in the shade in a cool place – protect from squirrels, etc.
It's almost Bare Root Time!
Get ready for bare root planting! Here's why:
Less work! Because there is no soil to worry about, bare root plants
are easy to plant. If you've ever struggled to get a plant out of it's
pot so you can plant it in the hold you've just spent an hour digging,
you know how hard it can be. But bare root plants are all ready for you
to pop into that hole and shove some dirt around them. How simple is
proof that bare root plants are more ergonomically positive: Fill a
gallon pot with dirt and weigh it. Then weigh a bare root plant (use a
small branch if you've not got a bare root plant handy). Convinced? I
thought so. Also, bare root plants are a great choice because:
Here's Wally holding a bundle of 5 or so
bare root Noble Firs (Abies procera). These plants would be potted in
1-gallon pots for nursery sale. Try to imagine how difficult it would be
to hold up these same plants if they were already potted up. Whew!
Less cost! Bare root plants are newly propagated and ready to begin
their life in your garden. Instead of the grower potting them up and
tending them for months until they are ready to sell, you get the fresh
stock and plant them yourself. No need to pay the extra money to the
More plants! With the same gardening budget, you can get sometimes
twice as many plants as you'd pay for those already in containers. Such
Quicker growing! Bare root plants start their annual growth cycle
already in your yard. They skip the stress of being potted and then
being planted in the ground when you take them home. They establish
better and sooner than a transplanted container-grown specimen.
Planting potted plants now
Planting bare root plants
late December thru April
Plants in Pots
Bare Root Plants
Plants in pots are easy to grow, as the roots
are well established.
Bare root plants require more gardening skills
than potted plants.
Planted in September, the soil is still warm
and roots establish in the Fall. In the early spring, they start
Bare root plants, planted in the winter and
early spring, will be about a year behind potted plants, planted in
Plants have been growing in pots through the
summer and are very lush specimens, some quite large.
Bare root plants cost less than potted plants.
Very economical for large plantings, living fences, etc.
It depends on you--do it your way!