FIELD NOTES: The myriad benefits of native plants

  • Wednesday, August 29, 2018 1:28pm
  • News
Caitlin Ames from The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust bundles native bare-root trees and shrubs for the annual native plant sale last year. This year’s sale opens online on Jan. 2, 2019, and pick-up day is Feb. 2. More than a dozen species will be available, including Nootka rose, red-flowering currant, red-osier dogwood, and serviceberry (Vashon Land Trust photo).

Caitlin Ames from The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust bundles native bare-root trees and shrubs for the annual native plant sale last year. This year’s sale opens online on Jan. 2, 2019, and pick-up day is Feb. 2. More than a dozen species will be available, including Nootka rose, red-flowering currant, red-osier dogwood, and serviceberry (Vashon Land Trust photo).

Native Plants

After a summer spent exposing the evils of invasive species, it’s time to focus on their antidote — native plants. I could list all their benefits, but I only have about 500 words here. Short version: they benefit the planet, require less work, little water, and no chemicals, compared to lawns and other landscapes, and they are essential to bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

For almost 20 years, The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust has made native plants inexpensive and easily available on Vashon through its annual native plant sale each winter. Native plant experts John and Vicki Browne started the sale as a way for people on the island to get cheap trees to fulfill their forest plans. The Land Trust now sells about 10,000 bare-root trees and shrubs every year. Bare-root stock is cheaper and easier to handle, making it a more efficient way to restore landscapes that have been mowed, developed or conquered by invasives.

The Land Trust purchases bare-root stock from three sources in the Puget Sound basin. Almost all of this plant stock is grown from seed, which allows the plants to continue to adapt to our changing climate.

Even though the native plant sale isn’t until January, it’s a good idea to start assessing your site now and make a planting plan because it’s important to get bare-root plants in the ground quickly. Planting within days will improve their chances of surviving the long, hot, dry summers that seem to be our new normal. You will also need to plan for deer protection and a way to water them through their first summer. Another option is to pot-up the bare root stock, nurse it inside a deer fence and plant it out in the fall. It’s more work, but it will increase your survival rate, and the plants will be taller and more deer resistant when it’s time to release them into the wild.

The Land Trust is ready to assist people interested in planning a native plant oasis. Executive Director Tom Dean says, “We are always willing to help people to work through what group of shrubs and trees might work best for their goals and their site, and to coach them on techniques for planting and survival.”

The Land Trust makes a small profit from the native plant sale that goes towards their restoration work, but more than that, it enables landowners to restore their own land and expand beautiful habitats for wildlife.

“The Land Trust can’t take care of all the important island habitats — there’s just too much. Which is a good thing, but everybody needs to take care of their own property to keep Vashon an oasis. We’re happy to help them do that,” says Dean.

More native plant instruction and inspiration will be offered this month when Pam Borso from the North Cascades Audubon Society gives a talk sponsored by Vashon Audubon. (Please see Calendar listing.) She will talk about how native plants can turn your backyard into a sanctuary for nesting and overwintering birds, as well as a recharge station for migrating birds. In addition to all their other benefits, native plants play an essential part in the rhythm of birds’ lives, which is more important than ever as they attempt to adapt to climate change.

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