Going native with Seattle plants: R U doing it wrong?
September 25, 2009 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Seattle gardening and native plants: How hard should I be trying to stay native? If not native, what's good for this climate?

Hi there ... I have a large-ish swath of yard that I'd like to re-plant, and I've been focusing on native plants with mixed success. How hard should I be trying in my efforts to "go native?" If not native, what plants are good for this environment? Maybe some that are not native, but not invasive, either?

For example, sedum is being used by local "green" projects, but the ones most commonly used are native to Europe and are considered "naturalized" to North America.

Stipulations: I've already been to Molbak's and have raided their native plant section.
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First off - good for you for focusing on natives! You're helping the native fauna when you do that, so I think it's good to focus as much as possible on natives.
Another great resource is the Washington Native Plant Society - their website should provide you with loads of information about landscaping and plant selection.
They have a plant sale coming up in October - prime time for planting shrubs and bulbs around here.
All that said, I think it's also fine to use 'naturalized' plants judiciously, after determining that they aren't invasive. Even then, be very careful about species planted. Butterfly bush is a great example - the most common is considered a noxious weed here (as are Ox Eye Daisies).
Also remember that many natives do best in woodland settings, which isn't what we usually have in a neighborhood/suburban home setting, so patience and flexibility are key.
Good luck!
posted by dbmcd at 10:33 AM on September 25, 2009

Another: King County Native Plant Guide

I have also found that people at a real greenhouse/garden center (i.e. not Lowe's) have been helpful when I've asked about zones, what will survive the winter, etc.
posted by sararah at 12:01 PM on September 25, 2009

Answering a few (well - quite a few, actually) basic questions will help a lot:

A lot will depend on the planting site. Sun, shade, partial shade? Drainage? Soil type? How big is the plot? How will you be providing water?

What type of plants are you looking for? Flowers? Shrubs? Groundcovers?

Are you looking for a formal, informal, or natural arrangement?

How about maintentance? Do enjoy gardening, and will keep up with weeding, etc.? Or are you looking for something that will care for itself?

Finally - what seasons are you hoping to enjoy your garden in?

I've done a lot of gardening and landscaping with native Northwest species, so I'll try to give as much feedback as I can.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:17 PM on September 25, 2009

Response by poster: A lot will depend on the planting site.

Partial shade, in the evening. Soil is relatively average for the area (Sammamish). Primary plot is about 20 x 10 feet, with smaller spots scattered in other places. Good drainage; very gentle slopes. No watering overwinter needed or desired; daily or semi-daily watering with a hose during dry spells.

What type of plants are you looking for? Flowers? Shrubs? Groundcovers?

Everything, though decorative shrubs or hedges are less important. I particularly like fruit-bearing plants, but not on any formal making-jams-and-jellies level. More like, "Hey, look, a huckleberry! Cool." That said, I actually like ornamental grasses quite a bit.

Are you looking for a formal, informal, or natural arrangement?

Kinda formal, actually. Not an English or Asian garden, just something that looks deliberate and artful. I don't want "natural" where natural = "overgrown and messy."

How about maintenance? Do enjoy gardening, and will keep up with weeding, etc.? Or are you looking for something that will care for itself?

I'll weed and prune regularly, but part of my push toward native is the hope that it's somewhat fire-and-forget.

Finally - what seasons are you hoping to enjoy your garden in?

Spring, summer, most of fall. Winter, I honestly rarely go out there.

My main question is really about native vs. not-native-but-not-invasive. If I can't get a native son to work, what non-native plants play well with the locals?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:25 PM on September 25, 2009

Best answer: Sounds like an ideal site for many good Northwest-friendly plants. We've had hotter than ideal summers lately, so the partial shade in the evening will be perfect.

Evergreen huckleberries are a must, where you want a little height. They have attractive green foliage year-round, with new growth adding a pleasant red contrast. They are native, hardy, four to six feet tall, and produce many small, tart blue huckleberries that will last well into the winter months. The birds will love you for it.

Oregon grape and salal are other native evergreen bushes with edible purple berries for the local wildlife (or a hungry gardener). Be careful, though, because Oregon grape can become a bit invasive.

Native "wild" strawberries thrive, and make a good evergreen (and fragrant) groundcover.

Tiger lily are native and do well here, and when not in flower will give you some of the same visual appeal as ornamental grasses (many of which also do well here). There are a number of other lilies that are native or well suited here, as well.

There are several native iris varieties that will have a similar appeal, but most any iris should fit your application, native or not.

Columbine are beautiful, delicate natives that I enjoy very much in my garden.

Lupine are hardy native perennials with beautiful, tall, blue flower clusters that I really enjoy.

The native Sedum here is called Stonecrop. It will do fine, and is practically maintenance free, at least in my yard. Great for rock gardens, too.

Azaleas and rhododendrons are available in many varieties, and both native and non-native varieties will usually perform well.

And of course, ferns go nuts around here. Some will want shade, but not all will care.

Unfortunately, a lot of the other cool native plants will probably want more shade than this garden site, but this should give you a few ideas to start with. I've also left out a couple of nice natives, like wild hip roses and Oregon geranium that I've personally found just too invasive. But you still might do a little research and give them a try.

Daisies, tulips, and daffodils do well here. They aren't native, but they are naturalized, and shouldn't cause any issues. Likewise, hostas are attractive and perform well here, although they are originally Asian.

Hardy Fuchsias are not native, but thrive here as perennials, and will pretty much guarantee hummingbirds.

Hydrangea are not native, but fit in well with Northwest gardens.

Another non-native that grows well here is lavender. It is beautiful, fragrant, drought tolerant (but doesn't mind the rainy seasons here, so long as the soil has decent drainage), and is nearly maintenance free. Another plant with a grass-like foliage.

Good luck, and have fun!

p.s. Another site to check out is http://www.nwplants.com/.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:06 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's most ecologically important to use indigenous plants when you are next to a creek or other wilderness. It's nice to use them if you are in a wildlife corridor or flyover zone. Otherwise, I think the most important thing you can do is plant plants that are well suited to the "natural" conditions of the site and that will fit in the place you choose without a lot of cutting back.

There is certainly a fetish for natives, but here in California we have anywhere from 9 to several dozen plant communities (depending upon the system of classification), which means that 90% of California natives* are not appropriate for other ecozones, and very few are appropriate for the traditional suburban homesite that is flat and has had all its topsoil scraped away. This results in palnts being planted in areas than have inappropriate fertility, drainage, and water; and the result is often plants that grow too fast and die young, or succumb to pathogens that thrive in high water/poor drainage situations. I think learning about your soil and understanding the way water moves through your yard is the key to understanding what indigenous plants will thrive in those situations, and choose plants from other parts of the world in areas that suit their needs.

I come from a point of view of doing what is most sustainable in a garden, requires the least resources and causes the least plant mortality, and with the opinion that planting any plant is better than none at all. I've had months of study on native flora and have planted and cared for native plants in my client's gardens. I think it's very important to get over the label of "native" and look at plants in terms of what will survive in your yard, and then decide if you want to sort by place of origin, or work toward providing habitat for other visitors to your garden.

*this is a term based on arbitrary state boundaries- it's really better to use "indigenous".
posted by oneirodynia at 10:18 AM on September 26, 2009

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