Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
February, 2009
Regional Report

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Rhododendrons are especially suited to our rainy weather and humus-rich acidic soil. They bloom in May, just in time for Mother's Day.

For Carefree Gardening, Go Native!

I love walking through my garden in early spring. Native plants are always the first to awaken from their long winter's nap, showing new growth weeks before plants in my carefully planned landscape begin to stir. As new stems grow and leaves unfold, I imagine they're stretching and yawning in preparation for a busy growing season.

About Native Plants
Native plants are those that evolved and adapted over time and learned to live where they grow today. They have grown alongside the native insects, fungi, wildlife, and other native plants for hundreds of years. This long-time association has produced a complex web of interrelationships, where the native plant may depend upon other native organisms to survive, and a multitude of native organisms may, in turn, depend upon that plant.

Why Grow Natives?
Native plants have evolved and adapted to local conditions, making them vigorous and hardy enough to be able to withstand winter's cold and summer's heat. Once established, they require no irrigation, fertilization, or pruning. They're resistant to most pests and diseases. All these traits mean native plants are excellent choices for drought-resistant, low-maintenance gardening and landscaping.

Native Plants Stay Put
Each native plant species is a member of a community that includes other plants, animals, and microorganisms. This natural balance keeps each species in check, allowing it to thrive in conditions where it's suited, but preventing it from running amok. Native species rarely become invasive, unlike some plants introduced from other parts of the world.

Native Plants Support the Ecosystem
Native plants provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Many natives help enrich the soil. Their root systems help rainfall percolate into the soil, reducing erosion and runoff and improving water quality.

Native Plants Are Interesting
Native shrubs and trees provide a variety of heights, shapes, and textures in the landscape. Many provide winter interest through their bark or seedpods.

Some of my favorite native shrubs include the Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), which produces a spectacular floral display in late spring; evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) with its pink-tinged, bell-shaped flowers and sweet-tasting purplish black berries; and the western trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa) because the fragrant flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.

There's also room in my garden for queen's cup (Clintonia uniflora), a diminutive member of the lily family adorned with beautiful, pure-white, cup-shaped flowers with a crown of golden stamens; western coralroot (Corallorhiza maculate mertensiana) with their tall spires of reddish-purple flowers; and shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), which has naturalized in a wet corner of my garden and sets the bed ablaze with magenta flowers each year.

If you find some space in your garden to grow native plants, the local wildlife will thank you as they sip the flower nectar or feast on the berries these plants produce.

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