Native species can spice up your landscape

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If you want to try something a little different in your residential landscaping, consider the use of native plant materials.

With proper care, species can be selected that are often better adapted to our climate and soils than some of the introduced non-native plant selections. If there is the potential to irrigate the natives to help get them going, the possibilities for some very nice native species are greatly enhanced.

It is important to realize, however, that some natives may not be the best suited for an intended use.

For example, Ponderosa pine may not be the tree of choice for your front yard - and certainly not on the windward side of your home. But it may be a well-suited option for the corner of the yard in combination with some native shrubs or perhaps other native evergreen trees such as Douglas-fir, Grand fir or Western red cedar.

Even the use of Western larch (a deciduous softwood that loses its needles over winter) is not uncommon. For a lower-growing evergreen, consider Western or Rocky Mountain juniper. Juniper is an outstanding choice for a lower-growing tree. Not only does it produce juniper berries used by many species of birds, it also provides excellent winter thermal cover.

And of course, blue spruce is a favorite due to its coloration and dense branching.

Note that not all of the above mentioned species grow wild here in the lower elevations. However, most are native to the county's higher elevations or to the Blue Mountains in general and they do quite well here in the valley bottoms with proper care.

Other native plant materials that can be considered are numerous.

There are many native deciduous trees with various growth forms and maturity heights. Rocky Mountain maple, mountain ash, chokecherry, Pacific dogwood and several aspens and birch varieties are options.

The native shrubs that could be used are too many to list but spirea, redosier dogwood, serviceberry, mock orange, Oregon grape and elderberry are some of the more common species that look nice. On dry, hot sites, consider basin big sage or even bitterbrush.

A word of caution: Elderberry may be listed as a shrub but around here it grows to a tree-like stature. Be careful where you put it!

Native plant selections do not stop with woody species. There are also a number of native grasses and broadleaf forbs that lend themselves well to residential landscaping.

Do you know there is a native prickly pear cactus in the Wallula area that makes a nice conversation piece in your planting beds? Put it in a sunny spot and watch it bloom . Lupine is another native that does well and has beautiful flowers.

As to grasses, natives like Snake River wheatgrass, basin wildrye, Idaho fescue and big bluegrass can be used. Start them from seed like you would a tomato and transplant the plugs.

Landscaping does not have to be 100 percent native selections. You can mix and match with an eye for color. The deep greens of an Oregon grape shrub are a sharp color contrast to the rust color of a red sedge.

For color, sprinkle in some lupine among barberry and spiraea. The gold of fall aspen leaves are may look nice near some flaming or burning bush.

For the not-so-ordinary, consider going native.

Larry Hooker is agricultural projects coordinator for the Walla Walla County Conservation District.

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