February 16, 2012 in Washington Voices

Conservation district’s plants are zone smart

Pat Munts

Every year conservation districts around the state offer trees, shrubs and groundcovers to help rural landowners build shelter belts, develop wildlife habitat and reforest land to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.

However, rural areas aren’t the only places where we need to restore land, reduce erosion and improve water quality. Urban landscapes have their own issues with nonpoint pollution, storm water runoff and urban heat build up. Urban landowners can use many of the same plants offered at these sales to deal with urban conservation issues often at a very nominal cost.

Using more drought tolerant native plants or plants that are native to similar climatic conditions can reduce water and fertilizer use in the garden. This can go a long way toward reducing the potential for nutrient-laden runoff water from getting into the aquifer or the Spokane River. It is believed that some of the phosphorous issues in the river may be caused by residential lawn and garden fertilization. Grouping plants with similar water needs can further reduce runoff and nutrient overload. Group water-loving plants near your faucets so it’s easy to give them an extra drink when it gets hot. Continue to group plants with decreasing water needs in rings away from the house so those that need the least are at the edges of your water system. Keep in mind all plants will need steady water the first couple of years.

Trees and shrubs can also help reduce the heating and cooling costs for a house. Deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides of homes can provide shade in the summer thus reducing the need to run the air conditioner. Conifers planted to the north and east of a home will help block the cold winter winds and reduce heating costs.

This year the Spokane Conservation District is offering 28 trees, shrubs and ground covers that are either native or well adapted to our Inland Northwest climate at their sale. Many of them are perfect for helping homeowners improve their conservation practices.

The conservation district is currently taking orders for plants through March 16. You can view the list of plants at the district’s website, www.sccd.org, and download an order form. They can’t take credit or debit cards, so the form will need to be sent with a check to the district’s office. Orders then will be available for pick up at the district’s office April 6-7.

The plants will come bare root in bundles of five and most will be small – 2 feet tall or smaller. This means you need to be able to plant them immediately or place them in a holding bed until you can. Some people keep them in the holding bed for a year before planting them in your landscape. Regardless, they will need a steady moisture supply for the first couple of years to settle in.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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