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Native plants add sustainability

This is a year to think about ways to make your landscape more sustainable.

“Sustainable” is a buzzword that has been floating around for several years. A lot of people, though, are still wondering what it means. Simply put, a sustainable garden is one designed and maintained using low maintenance plants with less need for water, fertilizer and pesticides. One of the best ways to do this is use native plants. Here are a few of my favorites:

•Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an evergreen ground cover with small, dark-green leaves. This is one tough, versatile garden plant. For starters, it’s hardy to USDA zone 3b. Secondly, it prefers sandy, well-drained soil and tolerates the drought and heat of summers with minimal water. It does well in both full sun and partial shade.

In the spring, it has small, pink flowers, followed by small red berries in the fall. The plant forms a flat, tight mat that needs no pruning. This makes it perfect for those areas that don’t always get watered regularly, where other ground covers are hard to establish or where you just want a low-growing, evergreen ground cover.

•Vine maple (Acer circinatum) and Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum var. glabrum) can be either shrubs or small trees that resemble the Japanese maples in their form and fall leaf color. Both trees do well in moist, woodland settings. The Rocky Mountain maple is a little hardier than the vine maple (USDA zone 5a compared to zone 5b).

They are perfect for the edge of a garden either in full sun or partial shade and grow as either single stems or multistemmed clumps that need little if any pruning. They can go anywhere you would put a Japanese maple but are not a sensitive to early frosts and dryness. The fall color usually runs from the yellows through oranges with touches of purple.

•The Oregon grape family (Mahonia) has several members that are worthy of a sustainable garden – they do well in shade to sun in moist to dry areas. In early spring, they bloom with drooping clusters of fragrant, yellow flowers that turn into blue berries prized by wildlife. The berries are edible but very tart.

The plant spreads by underground rhizomes and slowly colonizes areas in the garden. Tall Oregon grape (M. aquifolium) is an erect shrub that can get to 6 or more feet with shiny, hollylike evergreen leaves. Cascade Oregon grape (M. nervosa) grows to about two feet tall with the same shiny green leaves as tall Oregon grape. Low Oregon grape (M. repens) is an evergreen ground cover that gets about a foot tall with dull green leaves. Tall and Cascade Oregon grape shrubs are hardy to zone 5a. The evergreen leaves can burn in extremely cold Arctic air but usually regrow in the spring. Low Oregon grape is hardy to zone 3b.