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We can all play a role in restoring native plants and ecosystems to help wildlife and human communities thrive by planting native in our home gardens and local natural areas.
Benefits of Native Plants
Native plants are well-adapted to our climate of wet winters and dry summers
Native plants are well-adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and make an excellent choice for landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. These plants have adapted to the area over time, making them easier to care for and more likely to succeed. Sometimes the most challenging part of growing natives is finding the right plant for the right place. We recommend talking to your local native plant nursery for the best fit plant. The Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS) maintains a native plant and seed source list and updates it annually. Some great garden-friendly shrubs that do well during moist winters and hot summers, and require little attention are Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana), Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), and Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Improve soil & water quality by needing less fertilizer and pesticides
Native plants also often require less water, fertilizers, and pesticides than non-native plants, making them more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. They can also help to prevent erosion and stabilize slopes, protecting against soil loss and landslides, and can help to maintain and restore the natural balance of ecosystems. For example, Wapato (Sagitaria latifola), an arrowhead-shaped leafy emergent plant can be planted in wetlands and ditches and absorb nitrogen from the water and storing it in its leaves improving the water quality (1). Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) thrives along river and creek banks and can stabilize soil and prevent erosion (2). And if you have a nutrient-poor location that may require the addition of fertilizer, consider planting a local pea instead, like lupine or clovers, which can fix nitrogen with the help of a mutually-symbiotic relationship with bacteria, enriching your soil over time (3).
Avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides on your plants can also have numerous benefits for the health of your soil, nearby streams, and the overall ecosystem. Pesticides and herbicides are chemicals that are used to kill or control pests and weeds, but they can also have negative impacts on beneficial insects, bacteria, and other organisms in the soil. By avoiding the use of these chemicals, you can allow your soil’s health to improve, as beneficial insects and bacteria will be able to grow and thrive.
Provide habitat, resources, and food for native birds, pollinators, and wildlife
Native plants are an important resource for native birds, pollinators, and wildlife, as they provide habitat, resources, and food for these animals. For example, native flowering plants, such as Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), can provide nectar for native bees, butterflies. and birds. Berry-producing plants, such as Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) and Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), can provide food for birds, bears, foxes, and coyotes and other wildlife (4,5,6,7). Native plants also provide shelter and nesting sites for birds and other animals, helping to create a diverse and thriving ecosystem in your garden. By planting native plants, you can help to support the local wildlife in your area.
Require less water than ornamental plants used in landscaping in the long run
One of the benefits of planting native plants in your garden is that they often require less water than ornamental plants used in landscaping. Native plants are adapted to the local climate including the amount of rainfall that typically occurs in the region. Over time, you will likely not have to water the plants once they are well established. However, even cacti have a transition period when transplanting, so expect that your newly added native plants will need a little TLC (tender loving-care) when you first plant them. It is generally recommended to regularly water native transplants during the first one to two years as they will take a while to get establish in their new home. This includes irrigating during the summer for most western Washington restoration sites and paying close attention to your plants during periods of drought or extreme heat (8).
Encourage a sense of stewardship with restoration at home
Growing native plants in your garden or volunteering with a local restoration group can help you to feel connected to the local environment, your community, and contribute to its preservation. Native plants also have cultural and historical significance, as they have been a part of the local landscape for centuries. Being in nature and spending time outdoors has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental health, reducing stress and anxiety, increased physical activity and fitness, and enhanced social connections and relationships (9, 10, 11). Overall, taking your first steps toward native plants and restoration can provide a sense of connection to the local environment and community, while also benefiting your own health and well-being.
Many are just as beautiful as ornamental plants!
Washington State is home to more than 2500 native plant species, many of which are just as beautiful as ornamental plants and can be used to create beautiful and diverse gardens. Native plants can meet all your traditional garden needs and function as border plants and ground-covers, and work in challenging areas like container planting, ponds, and meadows. Try using plants to create natural barriers or privacy screens in an urban area, providing a more natural and aesthetic alternative to fences. Trees can create vertical elements, and vines can climb trellises or arbors. Here are a few great swap outs for ornamental plants that would thrive in the greater-Seattle area:
By choosing to incorporate native plants into your garden, you can create a beautiful and diverse space that is well-suited to the local environment provide numerous benefits to the ecosystem.
Steps to Start Planting!
- Learn about plants that are native to our area in the garden
- Discover which plants need sun or shade and find the right plant for the right place
- Plan to water the new plants until they are well established
- Volunteer in your community to support healthy native plant habitats and restore natural spaces near you
- Seed and plant sourcing – WNPS Seed and Nursery Source List
- Flores, Heather Jo. Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2006.
- UW Seattle Burke Herbarium – https://www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/collections-databases
- Washington Native Plant Society – https://www.wnps.org/native-gardening
- WSU Extension Offices – https://extension.wsu.edu/locations
- There are many offices throughout Washington State. They are great resources to learn about land and plant management and experts in your county.
- King County Noxious Weeds – https://kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/noxious-weeds.aspx
- Dave’s garden – https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf
- This website is not exclusive to native plants, but covers a lot of Washington natives. There are also forums you can ask questions in too.
- Marburger, Joy E. “Biology and Management of Sagittaria latifolia Willd (Broad-Leaf Arrow-Head) for Wetland Restoration and Creation.” Restoration Ecology, vol. 1, no. 4, 1993, pp. 248–255, doi:10.1111/j.1526-100x.1993.tb00034.x. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joy-Marburger/publication/229498116_Biology_and_Management_of_Sagittaria_latifolia_Willd_Broad-leaf_Arrow-head_for_Wetland_Restoration_and_Creation/links/5c6726c392851c1c9de45271/Biology-and-Management-of-Sagittaria-latifolia-Willd-Broad-leaf-Arrow-head-for-Wetland-Restoration-and-Creation.pdf
- PHCA, “Physocarpus capitatus (Pursh) Kuntze.” Usda.gov, https://plantsorig.sc.egov.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_phca11.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
- Williams, David B. “Rising from the Ashes.” Smithsonian Magazine, 30 Apr. 2005, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/rising-from-the-ashes-77047181.
- Stark, Eileen. “Pacific Northwest Native Plant Profile: Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii).” Real Gardens Grow Natives, 27 Nov. 2017, https://realgardensgrownatives.com/?p=3225.
- Mockorange, Lewis. “Plant Fact Sheet.” Usda.gov, https://plantsorig.sc.egov.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_phle4.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
- Nutkana, Rosa, et al. “Rosa nutkana C. Presl.” Usda.gov, https://plants.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/plantguide/pdf/pg_ronu.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
- Barbara, Santa, and Botanic Garden. “Plant Symbol = ARCO3. Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)” Usda.gov, https://plants.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/plantguide/pdf/pg_arco3.pdf.
- “Restoring the Watershed: A Citizen’s Guide to Riparian Restoration in Western Washington.” Kingcd.org, https://kingcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Restoring-The-Watershed.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan. 2023.
- Wood, Carly J., et al. “A Case-Control Study of the Health and Well-Being Benefits of Allotment Gardening.” Journal of Public Health (Oxford, England), vol. 38, no. 3, 2016, pp. e336–e344, doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdv146. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26515229/
- Louv, Richard. Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life. Algonquin Books, 2016.
- Tallamy, Douglas W. Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. Dreamscape Media, 2020.