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In the Garden: Native plants a natural fit for home landscapes

UPDATED: Mon., May 14, 2018, 1:31 p.m.

Master Gardener Eva Lusk, left, poses for a photo with Diane Stutzman, owner of Desert Jewels Nursery on May 1 at Desert Jewels Nursery in Spokane Valley. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Master Gardener Eva Lusk, left, poses for a photo with Diane Stutzman, owner of Desert Jewels Nursery on May 1 at Desert Jewels Nursery in Spokane Valley. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

How would you like to have a beautiful landscape that requires less water and is also less work? Master Gardener Eva Lusk knows all of this is possible if you grow native plants.

Because they are indigenous to this area, native plants are ideal for our conditions.

“You are more apt to be successful growing them in your garden instead of something that comes from elsewhere,” Lusk said. “Native plants are used to the amount of water we get here and the types of winters we have. This means you’ll save yourself money and work.”

She began adding native plants to her landscape many years ago when she and her husband first moved to their property.

“There were a lot of junipers and Ponderosa pines, along with about 40 rhododendrons,” she said. “I looked at those rhododendrons and knew they are not designed to grow well in our area without a lot of extra care. The soil isn’t good, and the amount of water we get isn’t right.”

It wasn’t that she didn’t like rhododendrons. Lusk knew she’d rather grow plants that work well in our climate instead of trying to provide the rhododendrons with the extra attention they need to look good.

Once they’d been removed, she put in a pleasing mix of ninebark, Oregon grape, red twig dogwood, golden and wax currants, oceanspray, serviceberry and mock orange.

Lusk recommends observing the plants to make sure they’re in their ideal setting.

“Get to know your garden and figure out which is the right place for a plant. I’ve transplanted a number of things because I thought something wasn’t right,” she said.

Planting natives in the correct soil type is very important, too. If a plant is well-suited to growing in clay soil, don’t put it in sandy soil, and vice versa.

When it comes to watering native plants, there are some considerations to be aware of. After they have been planted, they should be watered for a couple of years until they become established. If the words “native plants” conjure up images of lackluster plants, Lusk has a surprise for you:

“People don’t realize how attractive they are. And if you give them a little more water when it gets really hot in the summer, they will stay green, lush and gorgeous.”

Keep in mind that some plants don’t tolerate being overwatered, which could cause the roots to rot.

It is a common misconception that native plants are deer-resistant.

“There is no single deer-resistant plant,” she said. “If deer are hungry enough, they’ll eat hellebores or lavender if they don’t find anything else. I’ve had good luck with bee balm, buckwheat, fleabane, sage, nodding onions and Oregon grape, though.”

While it can be tempting to collect your own native plants from the wild, Lusk advises against it.

“You should never dig up plants because there aren’t as many as there used to be,” she explained. “They need to live somewhere they’re accustomed to. Often you don’t know what that plant needs and you can’t duplicate it. But if a bulldozer is coming and the plant is in danger, go ahead and rescue it; just be aware that if you damage the roots of some plants, they’re going to die.”

Whenever you add native plants to your landscape, Lusk suggests being patient with them.

“Give them a chance to become established,” she said. “Gardening isn’t something where you just put the plants in the ground and then that’s it. I like to make my morning rounds of the garden to see which plants are doing well or if there’s a problem I can address. I like being able to enjoy plants that are happy in their situation, and help them out when they’re not. Patience is good.”

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com. Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video at youtube.com/c/susansinthegarden.


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