Landscaping with Natives

Recap of MCMGA March Speaker Eileen Stark
By Carol DeCoursey

Marion County Master Gardeners turned out in force at the Salem Public Library on March 27 to hear renowned landscaper designer Eileen Stark’s talk about restoring the natural environment to our gardens. Eileen is a conservation enthusiast, photographer, and freelance writer. She has a B.S. in biology, and is the author of Real Gardens Grow Natives (Mountaineer Books, 2014).

Like many master gardeners, Eileen laments the destruction of our natural heritage. And she is doing something about it. Among other things, she advocates that we create natural wild life habitats and use native plants to landscape our gardens. Among Eileen’s Think Green suggestions are these:

• Redesign the areas with native trees, shrubs, and ground cover, or create a wildflower “meadow.” Or, dependent on the size of the garden, plant big trees and then add an understory of shrubs and perennials in a layered effect. This creates connections and conditions to help cover the soil, mimic nature, and lessen maintenance tasks.
• Do it in stages if the non-natives are supplying wildlife habitats. If you have several invasive species in your yard, determine which may be the most invasive and start with that.
• Replace non-native plants with native plants indigenous to your area. Eileen’s Quick Guide to such plants is invaluable.
• Avoid native cultivars (“nativars”) and instead use “straight species.”
• Go gentle with seasonal cleanups. Leave autumn leaves on bare soil to protect the soil and provide habitat for overwintering creatures and their predators.
• Allow dead wood (branches, twigs, snags) to remain where possible.
• Use ground-cover plants instead of wood or bark mulch to discourage weeds, prevent erosion, and create habitat. Leave some soil bare for native ground nesting bees.
• Many pollinating insects, including native bees and butterflies, will have gone through several stages by the time they reach adulthood and their needs differ greatly. So begin by providing water, and growing groups of sequentially-flowering plants that supply pollen and nectar from early spring through fall.
• Keep outdoor lighting to bare minimum. Light pollution (any adverse effect of artificial light) is making the night sky glow brighter each year. Its most obvious effects are on migratory songbirds lured into cities where they collide with unnecessarily illuminated buildings, killing more than 100 million of them each year in North America. If you must have light, chose fixtures that shine downwards and use motion-sensors so the lights go on only when necessary.
• Don’t use pesticides, poisons or synthetic fertilizers. Even so-called organic controls can be deadly and indiscriminate, especially if used improperly. If a pest if causing enough damage in your kitchen garden to warrant a control, consider hand removal, barriers and screens, companion plants, or simply sprays of water from the hose. Allow a natural balance to be achieved by welcoming natural pest control such as birds and predatory insects.
• For more ideas see Ellen’s Tips For A Healthy Northwest Eco-Garden and the Quick Guide: Native Plants for Specific Situations in Marion County
• Eileen also provided us a list of the plants she suggested, organized by plant community (there are more, of course).

Oregon White Oak Community
Trees & shrubs for moist sites: Cascara, Oregon ash, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. Willamettensis), Cal. hazelnut, willows, Douglas hawthorn, red-twig dogwood, Pacific ninebark, Indian plum, snowberry, orange honeysuckle (vine).

Some associated perennial species for moist sites: sword fern, tufted hairgrass, camas, Douglas spiraea, cinquefoil, checker mallow, Oregon iris, western columbine, lupines, Douglas aster, yellow monkey flower.

Trees & shrubs for drier sites: Madrone, serviceberry, oceanspray, red-flowering currant, Nootka rose, tall Oreon grape, kinnikinnick.

Some associated perennials for drier sites: fescues (Festuca idahoensis & F. californica), yarrow, wild onions (Allium cernuum & acuminatum), Henderson’s shooting star, pearly everlasting, Oregon sunshine, goldenrod, early-blue violet.

Western Hemlock Community:
Trees & shrubs associated species: Douglas-fir, western red cedar, red alder, vine maple, Indian plum, huckleberry (V. ovatum & V. parviflorum), salal.

Some associated perennials: fairy bells (Prosartes smithii & P. hookeri), goats beard, false solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum & M. stellatum), trillium ovatum, inside-out flower, western wild ginger, woodland strawberry, stream violet.

Additional resources: