Adding native plants to our yards and gardens is more important than ever
The population of the U.S. is now more than 300 million people. Yes, that's right, the population has doubled since many of us were kids!
This important news comes to us via the website of professor and native plant enthusiast Doug Tallamy.
Native plants have many advantages over non-natives — including drought resistance, benefits to pollinators and ease of care. We'll get to some good plant recommendations in a moment.
But first, a few more important highlights from Tallamy's website:
• "Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce, and in too many places we have eliminated both," says Tallamy. There are dire consequences from humans turning so much land into housing developments and vast expanses of lawn, he adds.
• The natural spaces around our homes and in our neighborhoods are "the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals…once common throughout the U.S.," states Tallamy.
• Extinction takes a while, but the good news is, if we start managing our yards and gardens with a conscious goal of making them better for pollinators, birds and wildlife, we should be able to retain much of the biodiversity we have today.
Tallamy's research shows that alien ornamental plants and trees support "29 times less biodiversity than do native plants" — another compelling reason to go native when selecting trees and plants for yard and garden.
Plant choices that benefit the local ecosystem
Here are some excellent native plant choices to get you started; or, if you're already incorporating native plants in your garden, to further enhance its ecosystem services.
Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)
This upright deciduous shrub features opposite leaves, yellow tubular flowers, and shiny black berries in the summer. Its flowers are a nectar source for hummingbirds and butterflies, and small mammals and songbirds love its berries.
Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
This attractive and hardy shrub has eye-catching deep red stems and bears clusters of white flowers in the spring. It prefers full sun or part shade, grows to height of 10-15 feet and is easy to transplant. Its berries are a food source for at least 18 species of birds.
Blue Blossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)
Large showy blue blossoms in spring and fall make this hardy evergreen plant a standout. When planting, select a spacious location, as it can grow quite large.
Red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
A perennial favorite of native plant buffs, this attractive shrub comes back year after year and bears eye-catching magenta flower clusters. It prefers part to full sun and well-drained soil. The flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds, who will visit frequently in the spring.
Mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii)
Mock-orange makes a great choice for its reliability and fragrant white flowers in springtime. The flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. This hardy plant can take a little shade or be in full sun; apply a generous layer of mulch upon planting.
When adding these shrubs to your landscape, remember that clump plantings in three-foot by three-foot blocks per species is more beneficial to pollinators than spreading plants widely apart. Also, minimal use of pesticides is recommended.
Excellent tree choices include vine maple (Acer circinatus) for small yards; cascara (Rhamnus purshianus) for medium-sized yards and Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) for locations with plenty of room.
Vine maple provides early pollen for bees and other pollinators as well as fall color. Cascara features dark green leaves and nectar and berry resources for a variety of wildlife. Willamette Valley Pine, which attracts woodpeckers and nuthatches, has lovely puzzle-like bark.
Plant Material Specialist Kathy Pendergrass of the Natural Resource Conservation Service advises those seeking to incorporate native plants in their gardens to "choose the right plant for the right place, and the right size." She adds: "Willows are a very important early pollinator resource for bees and insects, as well as Oregon grape and kinnikinnik."
Consult with your favorite local nursery about planting requirements of these trees. Also, remember not to plant your new trees too deeply (a common mistake), and, to properly mulch and water your trees.
All new trees and shrubs should be deeply watered on a regular basis for the first three years after planting — this is especially important during hot spells.
"Meadowscaping" with wildflowers
Another fine option for the urbanite looking to make a difference for biodiversity is meadowscaping. This is an undertaking whereby you replace most or all of your lawn area with native wildflowers.
Good plant choices to provide continuous and varied bloom for pollinators include:
• Rose checkermallow (Sidalcea virgata), a lovely plant bearing deep pink spikes of flowers;
• Large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), river lupines (Lupinus rivularis) and/or heal-all (Prunella vulgaris subspecies linearis) for lovely purple spires;
• Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) provides exotic light pink flowers for butterfly habitat;
• Bright yellow daisy flowers called early-blooming Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), and late-blooming gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia).
"In the Portland metro area, the best approach in creating a prairie or meadow in an urban garden is to sign up for the Backyard Habitat program and follow the Meadowscaping reference," says Pendergrass.
That's available at: wmswcd.org/programs/pacific-northwest-urban-meadowscaping/
For a nominal fee, Backyard Habitat staff will visit your garden and provide recommendations for getting started. backyardhabitats.org/
Another tip: toss out some seed of annual plants (ahead of fall rains) for beautiful bursts of color that will return in successive years. Good choices are farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), grand collomia (Collomia grandiflora), California poppy (Eschscholtzia californica) and elegant tarweed (Madia elegans).
Two great low-growing bunch grasses that provide butterfly habitat and complement these prairie wildflowers are California oatgrass (Danthonia californica) and Roemer's fescue (Festuca roemeri). Plant these amongst the wildflowers.
Making a difference
Spread the word! Just a little time and effort can go a long ways in enhancing the yard and garden ecosystems surrounding our homes, making a world of difference…one garden at a time.
For more information:
Native Plants and Trees of Oregon
Bringing Nature Home — Doug Tallamy
Plants for pollinators in Oregon
Cynthia Orlando is a certified arborist and native plant enthusiast; she recently retired from the Oregon Department of Forestry.