Native Plants: Gardening Guide

With garden season upon us, it’s nice to incorporate some local foliage into the mix. Walking the streets of Corvallis is quite the treat right now, with many different colors and shapes formed by the landscaping. Some of these plants however, are not native and even invasive, causing a decrease of beautiful plants that are from Oregon. With mountain, valley, coastal, and desert climates, many different plants can grow here, which makes it even more important to choose native. Here are four options for your garden that will help you replenish our Oregonian species. 

Azaleas or Rhododendrons
Rhodies as they’re colloquially called – there’s even a community called Rhododendron in Oregon – are large shrub-like plants with long green leaves and fragrant blooms. Their flowers come in a variety of colors and form a little bouquet at the end of the branch. Taking care of them can be challenging as they’re quite picky. The winter chill is great for blooming which can occur anytime from March to July. They enjoy dappled light – not directly in the sun, but not completely in the shade either. Putting them behind another plant or tree is a great way to achieve this. Rhodies can also be propagated from a cutting. All you need is some rooting hormone and a place to plant it! Rooting hormone, a catalyst for root growth of cuttings, can be anything from a brand name hormone such as Miracle-Gro bought at the store, to a more natural alternative such as apple cider vinegar or even saliva. 

Willamette Daisies
These little misunderstood flowers are often thought of as weeds, but are in fact great ground cover and excellent for making daisy chains and hair accessories. They come in a variety of colors, but one special type with slight purple color is truly eye-catching, and nowadays quite rare. Historically, Willamette daisies were all over the valley, but many people have mowed them down. Their diminishing habitat currently classifies them as endangered according to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office website. 

“Willamette Valley prairie is considered to be among the rarest habitats in western Oregon and is threatened by fragmentation, agriculture and urban growth.” they go on to say. While the white varieties are more numerous, if you happen to come across a purple one, do it a favor and leave it be.

Hen and Chick Succulents
These mat-forming succulents form parent hens and offspring chicks much like a spider plant – the long-leaved green bushes that shoot off baby plants periodically. Hen and Chicks have a green body with purple to red tips and are quite easy to grow as they are drought tolerant. They need no fertilization, enjoy full sun and sandy soil, and will quickly spread out if left to grow. When the mother hens get old enough, they’ll start to produce chicks next to them which if propagated, will grow into their own plant

Propagating is easy too! Simply cut the chick from the mother plant and place it in some soil. Once the roots spread out, it will quickly rival the mother plant. Providing good drainage and letting the soil dry out completely after watering is key. The trick I’ve found with succulents: neglect them a bit. 

Oregon Iris
The Oregon iris shares its name with the Greek goddess of the rainbow. These bulbous plants are perennial and grow up to two years, blooming in May and June and producing the most beautiful purple to blue flowers. They grow to be over one foot tall, and while they do prefer the wet climate here, the irises will not bloom without partial sun throughout the day. Another concern is root rot, the main causes being planting too deep and overwatering. Keep in mind that parts of these plants are poisonous if ingested, so be sure to keep children and pets safe. Two other native Oregon irises are the Clackamas iris which grow near Mount Hood, and the Siskiyou iris found in Southern Oregon. 

Invasive Species
While many non-native species are beautiful, they have a tendency of spreading to a damaging degree. English ivy is an interesting looking vine grown on many fences here in Corvallis, but it is invasive to Oregon. St. John’s-wort is also invasive despite its common uses as a natural alternative to antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. Bull thistle is a species more widely known to be invasive with its ugly appearance, complete with sharp spikes and pointed leaves. Though all of these species aren’t harmful to humans, they are harmful to our native species and push them out. 

Native plants will thrive in your gardens and give it a local flair. They’re also just as beautiful as many of the non-native species people plant instead. This year, instead of planting whatever will grow fastest, try to incorporate native species first. Your Oregonian garden will thank you for it.

By Laine Aswad