A sagebrush for an ornamental landscape shrub? You've got to be
kidding. But why not? It is adapted to our climate, is low maintenance
and takes little water. In England, sagebrush is considered an exotic
ornamental. Why not in Oregon?
More and more people are looking to our own native habitat for
their landscaping needs; not only for ease of maintenance, but for
beauty. Junipers loaded with purple berries, dozens of colorful
wild flowers, and bird-attracting red berries of the squaw currant
are only some of the delights awaiting the native gardener.
The best way to familiarize yourself with native plants is to spend
some time with them. Walk among them. Visit them in all seasons.
The High Desert Museum and Sunriver Nature Center are excellent
resources, not only for learning the plants, but for books and seeds.
The botanical garden at Sunriver Nature Center that has many native
plants on display.
We live in an ecotone area that gives us several different habitat
choices. You may prefer the sagebrush steppe, the pine forest or
a combination of the two. If you are looking for ease of care, water
and work, go with the flow of your neighborhood.
Analyze your own landscape and needs to see what is appropriate
to grow. Is your land rocky? What is the existing vegetation? Is
water available, or must you depend on rainfall? Test your soil,
particularly the pH, and compare it with the soil of the native
environments you are interested in.
Ideally you will not have to improve the soil much if you are going
to grow the kind of plants that are native. This will vary with
individual circumstances, however, and with what your existing land
is like. Some plants will do better and grow more lush with improved
soil and some plants will not like this and decline. Rather than
fertilize all of the ground you may want to just do pocket planting
and only improve the soil in pockets around certain plants.
Plants in their natural environment live in communities. As you
study the area around you, it will become clear what plants like
to grow together. There are three levels in a plant community. Trees
are the dominate species in a habitat, and they set the scene, so
to speak. You can symbolize an entire community in a small space
by planting even one or two trees of the dominate species. The next
level is the understory, the shrubs and smaller trees. There is
quite a variety of these to plant and they can serve multiple purposes,
such as foundation plants, hedges and screens, wildlife food and
flowering ornamentals. The lower level is composed of the grasses
and the flowering plants. The bunch grasses are an important component
of this native habitat and should be encouraged whenever possible.
Many of the basic landscaping principles can applied when designing
your native garden. It is a good idea to lay your land out to scale
on paper. This helps to coordinate the native areas with the domestic
area. You may need to have some kind of fire break around your home
if you are in the woods.
There are nonliving elements that can add to the essence of your
garden. Rocks, logs and careful selection of artifacts can enhance
the beauty of your design. There are aspects of Japanese gardening
that can be applied to the type of native gardens and plants in
Central Oregon. Japanese gardens use symbolism to represent the
greater picture of the natural elements they are representing. They
also try to take advantage of the views that are available and often
make them a focal point.
When building fences and some of the other necessary components
of your living areas, keep them as informal as possible. Aim for
a natural look to fit in with the spirit of your garden.
There are a number of ways to obtain the plants. Check with the
local nurseries, they are beginning to get some of the more common
natives in stock. If you don't find what you want, tell them what
you are looking for. This is how they figure out what the consumer
wants, by the feedback they obtain. There are a number of mailorder
sources of seeds and nursery stock listed in the resource section
at the end of the book.
The least desirable way to obtain plants is to dig them in the
wild. Many of the wild plants do not transplant well and will not
live; or will die within a year or so. There are serious ecological
concerns to consider before doing any digging. Many species have
become extinct because of greed and this is happening at an accelerated
speed. Be very thoughtful about what you are going to do and want
to accomplish. Investigate the plant and the implications before
you make a decision to dig the plants.
Some experts advise to only dig on land that is going to be bulldozed
under for development anyway. If you see land under development
it may behove you to contact the owner and see about salvaging plants
that will otherwise be destroyed.
Digging plants on public land requires a permit. Permits are available
from the Forest Service or from the Bureau of Land Management.
If you decide to dig and transplant plants from the wild, do it
by plan, not on a spur of the moment decision. Have the planting
sight prepared beforehand, your pH corrected and the hole dug. The
quicker you can get the plant back into the ground, the better;
so plant it immediately. Don't let it set around overnight or longer.
The transplant seasons are spring and fall. It is extremely important
that the ground be wet around the plants being dug. Dry, sandy soil
falls right away from the roots and dooms your chances of success.
The smaller the plant the better, a seedling has a better chance
of survival than a large plant. Take as much soil with the plant
as you can, the less roots you disturb the better. Water the plant
well after you have it settled in it's new home. You will need to
continue watering until the plant has a chance to establish itself,
at least one season or more.
To dig a larger tree or shrub, plan to begin the spring before
you transplant in the fall. In the spring, take a shovel and circle
around the tree where you will dig the root ball. Sever the roots
that lead away from the plant, and that way it will have to build
up a good foundation of root system within the area you are going
to dig. Dig a large root ball, as big as you can lift. Slip burlap
or some covering around the dug root ball while still in the hole
if you can. Tie the covering around the root ball. Fill the hole
up that the plant comes out of when you are finished.
Some experts believe it is important to mark the magnetic direction
the plant is growing. Tie a string on the north side of the tree
before you take it out of the ground and when you replant, line
up the string to the north. Anything you can do to reduce the plant's
stress, the better your chances of success.
Propagation is the preferred method of obtaining your plants. Seed
gathering can be done in late summer and fall, about a month or
so after the plant blooms. Spot the plants when they are in bloom
and put markers on them. Later, when the blossom is gone, it is
difficult to find the plant again. Take no more seeds than you will
need, and no more than about 10 or 20%. Keep in mind that the plants
must propagate themselves in the wild and the seeds may be wildlife
feed, so do not over gather. Put your seeds in a closed container
or an envelope and label with name, date, location and any other
Berries are collected when they are their most brightly colored.
Mash them through a sieve, place the pulp in water, and the viable
seeds will sink. If there is danger of the seed head of the plant
shattering and loosing the seeds before you gather them, tie a paper
bag over the seed head. This will keep the seeds from being lost.
Wild seeds need stratification or scarification to get them to
germinate. This is nature's way of protecting the little seeds from
sprouting at an inappropriate time for survival. Stratification
is the process of cold to break their dormancy. It can be duplicated
in your freezer and refrigerator. Scarification can be the need
of heat or fire to germinate, or the seed may need to have its shell
gently sanded to weaken the outer shell. Some pine trees, in particular,
need the heat of fire to trigger their seeds to germinate. You may
need to do some experimentation to get the seeds to grow. The key
to success is what it takes the seeds in their native environment
to germinate. For example, a juniper seed needs to pass through
a bird's digestive tract, and can often be found on top of fence
posts that birds frequent.
The best and easiest procedure is to plant the seeds at once in
flats and leave them outside for the winter keeping them moist.
This way the natural freezing and thawing will stratify the seeds
and with any luck they will come up naturally in the spring. When
the plants are large enough, you can move them to their permanent
location or to a nursery bed.
Direct seeding is another way to grow the plants. Success tends
to be somewhat marginal, but does work under the right circumstances.
The odds are higher for germination when you plant them in the protected
environment of a seed flat.
Cuttings are another way to get plants. Softwood cuttings are taken
in early summer. Take the cuttings from vigorous plants at a stage
when the branch beaks with snap when bent. The cuttings should be
two to four inches, cut just below a node (the place where a leaf
grows from) and with two or three nodes to each cutting. Dust with
a rooting hormone and place in damp sand. Keep them warm, in a low
light and with the humidity high. They can be covered with plastic
to assist this process.
Hardwood cuttings are taken in the fall and stored over winter
in moist sand in a cold but not freezing place. A root cellar or
refrigerator will serve this purpose. The cuttings should be 3.5
to eight inches long, taken from the past season's growth or older.
Cut the top at a slant so you can tell the top from the bottom.
In the spring propagate like the softwood cuttings.
Evergreen cuttings can be taken in October and through November.
Three to five inch cuttings of well-ripened wood should be dusted
with a rooting hormone and planted in moist sand. Junipers do best
with a heel cutting. These should be kept cool and moist. They should
be rooted enough to transplant by the next summer, but may take
up to a year to root.
The next step is to move your plants from the rooting medium to
pots. When they are large enough to survive on their own they may
be moved to their permanent spot in the garden.
The determining factor of what to grow (besides what you like)
is the amount of water available to irrigate with. If you have little
or none, you will need to stick with what grows in the immediate
vicinity. This can be the sagebrush steppe or the pine forest with
The sagebrush steppe consists of juniper as the dominate plant,
with sagebrush, rabbit brush, bitterbrush and squaw currant as the
main understory shrubs. Bunch grasses are important and also many
wild flowers are available to you.
The pine forest mixes lodgepole and ponderosa along with some juniper.
Understory shrubs consist primarily of sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbit
brush, squaw currant, manzanita and ceonothis. Bunch grasses are
also important in this habitat. Many wild flowers are available.
Having water available and being willing to irrigate will increase
your choice of varieties. Shrubs and small trees that need water
but will grow in Central Oregon include choke cherry, quacking aspen,
hawthorn, willow, mock orange, service berry, wild roses, golden
currant and snowberry. Water will also expand the number of wild
flowers available to grow.
- Juniper, Juniperus occidentalis
- Heel cuttings, seeds
- Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
- Seeds, small seedlings
- Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
- Seeds, small seedlings
- Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata
- Half-ripened wood, cuttings, seeds, small plants
- Bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata
- Seeds, try cuttings, seedlings
- Grey rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnum nausiosus
- Seeds, seedlings
- Green rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnum viscidiflorus
- Squaw Currant, Ribes cerium
- Seeds, cuttings, layering
- Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
- Cuttings, try seeds
- Wild Lilac, Ceanothus sp.
- Seeds, small plants
- Idaho fescue, Festica idahoensis
- Seeds or seedlings
- Steppe bluegrass, Poa sanbergi
- Seeds or seedlings
- Indian ricegrass, Oryzopsis hymenoides
- Spiked wheatgrass, Agropyrons spicatum
- Needlegrass, Stipa comata
- Buckwheat family, Eriogonum sp.
- Seeds are recommended for flowers
- Oregon sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum
- Desert daisy, Eigeron sp.
- Locoweed varieties, Astragalus sp.
- Death camas, Zygadenus venenosus
- Mariposa lily, Calochortus macrocarpus
- Bitterroot, Lewisisa rediviva
- Phlox, Phlox sp.
- Indian paintbrush, Castilleja sp.
- Paintbrush is partially parasitic and must have other roots
to grow with
- Granite gilia, Leptodactylon pungens
- Larkspur, Delphinium sp.
- Lupin, Lupinus sp.
- Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
- Flax, Linum perenne
- Western wallflower, Erysimum asperimum
- Prickly pear cactus, Opuntia sp.
- A small pad will root
- Trees and Shrubs
- Quaking aspen, Populus temuloides
- Seeds, cuttings
- Service Berry, Amelanchier sp.
- Pussy willow, Salix sp.
- Commercial sources
- Golden currant, Ribes aureum
- Mock orange, Piladelphus lewisii
- Roses, Rosa sp.
- Hawthorn, Crataegus, douglasii
- Shooting star, Dodecatheon sp.
- Seeds are recommended for flowers
- Scarlet gilia, Gilia aggragata
- Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium
- Evening primrose, Oenothera sp.
- Crane's bill, Geranium sp.
- Balsam root, Basamorhiza sp.
- Alum root, Heuchera sp.
- Wild strawberry, Fragaria sp.