Once again, our Portland area garden centers have partnered with the Backyard Habitat Certification Program! This program has more than 5,500 people certified or working towards certification in Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, and Clark (WA) counties. In efforts to provide additional resources for purchasing native plants, we are listed as a participating garden center and have a 10% coupon in their brochure, which has been sent out to each active member.
The program has also provided us with materials and incentives, including a hard copy of the Portland Plant List, stick tags for plants on that list, a Backyard Habitat Certification Program sign, and several other helpful items. Keep in mind that the program does not recognize cultivars of native plants as equivalent to the straight species (i.e. Ribies sanguineum is considered native, but the cultivar R. sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’ is not). This is a continued topic of discussion among various horticultural academics (native plants versus cultivars of natives) and is yet to be resolved, however, more research must be done before reaching a conclusion.
Why Landscape with Native Plants?
Native plants are beautiful! But also…
- They provide year-round interest.
- Many are low maintenance and have low water needs.
- They help provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.
- Planting natives preserves our natural and cultural heritage, and it gives our neighborhoods a sense of regional identity.
Tips for Designing with Natives
Match the right plant to the right place! Pay attention to the mature size of the plant and choose plants with interest at various times of the year, including bulbs, conifers, and winter-blooming shrubs. Think in layers: tree canopy, understory plants, groundcovers. Always be sure to choose nursery grown stock from responsible suppliers. With smaller flowering plants, use several of the same variety in a clump so that pollinators will notice them more readily. Don’t forget to add a bird bath or a fountain for water.
Caring for Native Plants
They are “low maintenance” when planted in an appropriate spot, not “no maintenance”.
Just like other garden plants, water regularly until established. Ideal planting times are between September and March to give roots a chance to grow before the dry summer months. Most plants will still need to be watered regularly during the dry months in the first year or two after being planted. Mulch to conserve soil moisture and reduce weeds. Most natives do not need fertilizer, but the soil should be amended with compost.
Prune lightly or not all at once—spent flowers, seed heads, and other plant parts make great food, nesting material, and habitat for birds and beneficial insects. Cut back deciduous grasses and perennials in late winter before new growth begins. It’s nice to leave them up over the winter for birds and insects. Remember—native butterflies and moths are caterpillars when young, and need to feed on plant leaves, so tolerating some insect feeding is an important part of creating habitat.
Native Plant Resources
- Metro’s booklet on Native Plants for Willamette Valley: https://www.oregonmetro.gov/native-plants-willamette-valley-yards-booklet
- Portland Plant List: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/article/322280
- Back Yard Habitat Certification Program: www.backyardhabitats.org
- Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast book by Pojar and MacKinnon
Inspiration from Natural Places & Local Gardens
Some places to see native plants in garden settings:
- Bishop’s Close at Elk Rock Garden (SW Portland)
- Leach Botanic Garden (SE Portland)
- Bosky Dell Natives Nursery (West Linn)
- Hoyt Arboretum (SW Portland)
Some of Our Favorite Northwest Native Plants
PPL = on the Portland Plant List
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum): multi-trunked; delicate and small; great fall color; sun to shade with moderate water; PPL
Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana): small; foliage is oval-shaped with deep ribs, dark green above, lighter underneath; flowers are greenish-white and small—although hidden, butterflies will seek them out; purple-black fruit loved by birds; grows in sun to shade and dry to moist soil; PPL
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla): large and tall; delicate, down-sweeping branches hold feathery sprays of foliage resulting in a graceful appearance; grows in part shade; tolerates dry to moist soil; PPL
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): very large at maturity; pyramidal in shape with slender drooping branches of dark green sprays of foliage, part shade to full sun; moderate water (tolerates quite moist soil); PPL
Shore Pine (Pinus contorta): especially on the coast; large conifer 20–50 feet tall, 30 feet wide; easy to grow and very adaptable; good erosion control
Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa): small; deciduous; lance-shaped, divided green foliage; white pyramid-shaped flowers followed by red berries; part shade to sun with moist soil; PPL
Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguimeum): medium to large; deciduous; dark green maple-like leaves and drooping clusters of pink flowers in the spring; tolerates clay soil; drought-tolerant once established; PPL
Coast Silk Tassel (Garrya elliptica): large (can be trained as small tree), evergreen, elliptical leaves with wavy margins are very dark green on top and woolly grey underneath; long flower tassels (catkins) occur mid-winter into spring followed by purple fruits (on female plants) that persist through the summer if the birds don’t eat them! Grows in part to full sun and can withstand drought once established
Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii): medium; deciduous; loose habit of upright arching branches; soft green foliage is a stunning backdrop for its large, fragrant white flowers in early summer; part to full sun and moist to dry soil (more vigorous with regular water); PPL
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus): small; roundish green leaves; flowers in spring and are pink bells borne in clusters which turn into white fruit late summer and persist through winter—great food for birds; tolerates shade and little water, but flowers more with sun and regular water; PPL
Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum): PPL
Salal (Gaultheria shallon): PPL
Oregon Grape (Berberis; formerly Mahonia): PPL
Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa): 32 inches; low-growing; twice-divided, blue-green foliage late spring into summer; striking, large, nodding, spurred, orange-red and yellow flowers are borne on erect stems up to nearly 3 feet above the foliage—hummingbirds can’t resist them! Full sun to part shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil; PPL
Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa): 18 inches; blue-green, feathery, fern-like foliage appears in spring; clusters of pink heart-shaped flowers are prolific; naturalizes readily in mostly shady areas with relatively moist soil; PPL
Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora): 15 inches; semi-evergreen; heart-shaped foliage bears long stalks that are adorned with spikes of numerous tiny white or pink flowers mid-spring through mid-summer; part sun to full shade; moist, rich soil; PPL
Pacific Coast Trillium (Trillium ovatum): 12–18 inches; in spring stout bare stems give rise to whorls of 2 green, spade-shaped leaves and 1 large, white flower that ages to rose-purple, dies back and goes dormant in summer; naturalizes if left undisturbed; part to full shade and rich, well-drained, moist soil; PPL
Camas Lily: PPL
Pacific Coast Iris (Iris tenax): PPL
Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant): 18 inches; evergreen; dark green, leathery fronds—fertile fronds are held above those that are tufted and sterile; moist soil and shade; PPL
Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza): 12 inches; evergreen (semi-evergreen if summer air becomes too dry); glossy green fronds thrive in well-drained, moist soil and shade; PPL
Western Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum alueticum): 12–24 inches; herbaceous; delicate fan-shaped leaflets of glimmering light to bright green hold onto black stems—glamorous! Moist, well-drained soil and shade; PPL
Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina): 3–6 inches; herbaceous; erect frond of light to dark green lance-shaped fronds; moist, well-drained soil; shade to part-sun (prefers shade); PPL
Sword Fern (Ploystichum munitum): PPL
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis): 6 inches, semi-evergreen to evergreen, deeply veined, medium-green, roundish to oval foliage, white flowers in late spring through summer give way to orange-red berries that are a beloved bird treat! PPL
Inside Out Flower (Vancouveria hexandra): 12 inches, green foliage resembles duck feet, late spring into early summer nodding stems hold white, shooting star-like flowers that have bent back petals, shade to part sun and fertile, well-drained, moist soil; PPL
Beach or Coastal Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis): 4 inches, evergreen, glossy foliage is dark green above and silvery underneath, white flowers in spring, small edible red fruit in summer, sunny site with regular water
Creeping Oregon Grape (Berberis repens; formerly Mahonia repens): to 12 inches, evergreen, 3–7 toothed leaflets make up a leaf of blue-green color (amazing winter color of bronze to purplish-rose), small yellow late spring flowers, blue berries in summer (birds love ’em!), full sun to part shade, minimal water needed once established; PPL
Low Oregon grape (Berberis nervosa; formerly Mahonia nervosa): PPL