by Amber Jensen
Eastern Washington is home to many diverse ecosystems and so many native plants supporting those ecosystems. From wetlands to prairie, forest to channeled scablands, there are flourishing ecosystems chock full of plants that are well adapted to their environment.
Native plants are the cornerstone of biological diversity. They provide food and shelter for wild animals, as well as aid in the development of food and cultural connection to place. They are utilized for a variety of purposes, from reforesting farmland, reestablishing wetlands to creating gorgeous intentional landscaping that not only works with local environments but is an asset to these areas.
No matter the project, you’re bound to find a native plant equipped for the job. There are numerous selections that grow in every planting site, from dry shade to rock gardens. Touring a local native plant nursery can help you plan your project in a real and attainable way.
With continued droughts and hot dry summers, it is becoming more important than ever to collect and act upon the wisdom of these acclimated species.
The benefits of choosing to use native plants in your home and property landscaping are beyond beneficial. Here are some definite pluses to choosing indigenous plant species for your next project or replacing your existing traditional landscaping plants with heartier local versions.
Conservation of Water & Soil
Native plants grow with the seasons and conditions of the area where they have specialized and thrived for centuries. Their soil disturbance, nutrient usage vary greatly from their non-native imported or greenhouse grown counterparts. Native plants are essentially specialized to live right where you are.
Many native plants have the benefit of water storage systems or extensive root systems that allow for them to thrive in climates that naturalized non-natives would struggle in. An ideal native plantscape wouldn’t require more water than their wild cousins. While this may be the goal, many native plants still require a bit of attention and care to get started because soils become disturbed and often depleted during housing development and urban sprawl. Soil recovery can help with plants growth as well as restoration of the cyclical nature of their growth in native landscapes.
Overall, native plants require less soil maintenance and water once established and can actually improve soils and local waterways.
Native plants are specialists in their growth and areas of growth. This makes them inherently low maintenance. They are often equipped with natural protections, which makes them resistant to common diseases and pests. Growers typically don’t need to use the pesticides and fertilizers that non-native plants require. Native plants are also durable, and they grow easily with local conditions.
Traditional landscaping uses and often requires large amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, many of which which are suspected carcinogens. We have many types of wetlands in eastern Washington and the use of chemicals on landscaping has a big impact on local vegetation and wildlife as well as the public water supply. Runoff and leaching of chemicals happens. During rainstorms, these chemicals can runoff from the lawns, landscaping and gardens into public water supplies and local waterways.
Choosing native plants helps limit the need for aggressive pest and weed management. Many native plants have their own pest defense methods as well as a way of working with other plant species they grow with to limit unwanted insect interactions.
Protect and nurture wildlife populations
Local bird populations and migratory birds have spent generations honing nesting and foraging skills based on the native plants available. They are often evolutionarily adapted to specific plants and seeds as well as their locations.
Traditional landscaping often uses the same plants, regardless of location, and can produce monocultures limiting the variety and vitality of non-native plants. This can affect populations of birds, insects, and animal species that rely on specific plants for survival.
Native plants have evolved to produce fruit and nectar at appropriate times for each ecosystem they inhabit, in doing so, they can provide needed and appreciated nutrients to local inhabitants. Providing food sources, shelter and nesting materials for local birds isn’t the only benefit of native plants. Many areas are witnessing a decline in native pollinators as well as local birds. By planting native plants you ensure local pollinators will have a food source they are equipped to consume.
Native plants bloom rapidly with the seasons and can be easily divided to create free plants to expand gardens or share with friends and neighbors. If you plan your plantings with a native plant expert you can also choose plants that will stagger blooms, leaving your space in bloom during the entire growing season. Since native plants are durable and long-lived, often self-seeding, you won’t have to buy replacements as often as you would with non-native plants.
Many folks may not consider mowing and weeding with equipment to be an issue but using less fuel in mowers and weed eaters not only cuts down on the consumption of fossil fuels, it leaves your location quieter and more enjoyable overall.
Naturescaping provides much more than the static sterile appearance of many traditional landscaping techniques. A native plantscape overflows with color and local wildlife. It is cleaner, quieter, healthier, and may even increase your property value with its ease of maintenance and beautiful appearance.
If you’re hoping to incorporate native plants in your current landscaping or completely start from scratch, ask the folks at your local nursery to stock more native species and get more info through the Washington Native Plant Society, https://www.wnps.org/native-gardening.
Little by little we can shift the impact we make on the environment we inhabit and choosing to use more native plant species will help.