Gardening with Pacific Northwest Native Plants

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David's Penstemon

Penstemon davidsonii

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with an incredible array of native plants which are great ornamentals for the garden. Because these plants have evolved in our wet-winter, dry summer climate, they are able to thrive in gardens that may be challenging for introduced or exotic species. It is still important to know the right environment for each native plant you plan to use in your garden; each native species has its preferred environmental niche. If you have soil that is very sandy and lean, choose drought tolerant species that prefer well drained soils and can tolerate drought. If your soil is heavy and tends to stay wet well into summer, choose plants that tolerate wet soil.

We’ve put together an abbreviated list of Pacific Northwest Natives with some very general information about what type of soils and sun exposures they prefer. Click on the links for more information about habitat and range.

PlantLight ExposureSoil Type PreferredSize at 10-15 YearsComments
                                                                                                           Trees
Acer circinatum- Vine MapleSun to shadeRich, well drained15′-20′Drops leaves early if too dry
Arbutus menziesii- Pacific MadroneSun to partial shadeLean, Well drained20′-30′Difficult to establish
Betula papyrifera- Paper BirchSunAverage to Wet30′Fairly tolerant of wet soil
Chamaecyparis(Callitropis) nootkatensis- Alaskan CedarSun-partial shadeAverage to moist15′Narrow form
Cornus nuttallii- Pacific DogwoodPartial shadeMoist, well drained20′-30′Subject to canker
Corylus cornuta- Beaked HazelSun to partial shadeRich, well drained10′Small edible nuts
Picea sitchensis- Sitka SpruceSunAverage to Wet12′-15′Fairly tolerant of wet soil
Pinus contorta contorta- Shore PineSunAverage to Wet10′-12′Tolerates both drought and wet soil
Prunus emarginata- Bitter CherrySun to partial shadeAverage to Wet10′-12′Good wildlife tree as birds like the fruit
Quercus garryana- Oregon White OakSunLean, Well drained15′-20′Drought tolerant when established
Pseudotsuga menziesii- Douglas FirSunRich, well drained12′-15′Needs deep soil to tolerate wind
Rhamnus (Frangula) purshiana- CascaraPartial to full shadeDry to wet10′Fairly tolerant of wet soil
Taxus brevifolia-   Pacific YewPartial to full shadeRich, well drained8′-10′Drought tolerant when established
Thuja plicata -Western Red CedarSun to partial shadeAverage12′-15′Excellent hedging tree
Tsuga heterophylla-   Western HemlockSun to shadeRich, well drained10′-15′Grows large
Tsuga mertensiana – Mountain HemlockSun to partial shadeRich, well drained6′-8′Best conifer for small yards
                                                                                                          Shrubs
Amelanchier alnifolia-ServiceberrySun to partial shadeAverage to wet10′-12′Good wildlife tree as birds like the fruit
Arctostaphylos columbiana- Hairy ManzanitaSun to partial shadeLean, well drained4′-8′Drought tolerant when established
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi- KinnikinnikSun to partial shadeLean, well drained6″-12″ high, 3′-4′ wideDrought tolerant when established
Cornus sericea- Redtwig DogwoodSun to partial shadeAverage to wet6′-8′Very tolerant of wet soil
Garrya elliptica-Coast Silktassel (Oregon native)Sun to partial shadeRich, well drained6′-8′Drought tolerant
Gaultheria shallon-   SalalSun to shadeAverage to wet3′ high, SpreadsPrefers moist
Holodiscus discolor- Ocean SpraySunLean, well drained8′-10′Drought tolerant when established
Kalmia microphylla- Mountain LaurelSun to partial shadeAverage to wet4′-6′Fairly tolerant of wet soil, not drought tolerant
Mahonia aquifolium-   Tall Oregon GrapeSun to shadeDry to wet6′-8′Tolerates many soil types
Mahonia nervosa- Low Oregon GrapePartial shade to shadeRich, well drained2′-3′ high, SpreadsPrefers rich soil
Morella (Myrica californica)-Pacific Wax MyrtleSun to partial shadeLean, well drained10′-15′Drought tolerant when established
Myrica gale-Sweet GaleSun to partial shadeAverage to wet5′-6′Very tolerant of wet soil
Pachistima myrsinites – Oregon BoxSun to shadeLean, well drained2′-3′Drought tolerant when established
Philadelphus lewisii- Mock OrangeSun to partial shadeLean, well drained6′-8′Drought tolerant when established
Physocarpus capitatus- Western NineBarkSun to partial shadeAverage to wet8′-12′Very tolerant of wet soil
Rhododendron macrophyllum- Pacific RhododendronPartial shade to shadeLean, well drained5′-6′Drought tolerant when established
Ribes sanguineum- Red Flowering CurrantSun to partial shadeLean, well drained6′-8′Drought tolerant when established. Good wildlife shrub, flowers for hummingbirds, and berries for songbirds.
Vaccinium ovatum- Evergreen HuckleberrySun to shadeRich, well drained6′-8′Sweet, edible berries late summer
Vaccinium parviflorum- Red HuckleberryPartial shade to shadeRich, well drained6′-8′Needs organic rich soil to thrive
                                                                                                   Native Perennials
Adiantum pedatum (aleuticum)– Maidenhair FernPartial shade to shadeAverage to wet2′Needs moist summer soil
Blechnum spicant– Deer FernPartial shade to shadeRich, well drained2′Drought tolerant when established
Polystichum minutum– Sword FernSun to shadeDry to wet2′-3′Drought tolerant when established
Aquilegia formosa – Western ColumbineSun to partial shadeRich, well drained1′-2′Loved by hummingbirds
Asarum canadensis– Wild GingerPartial shade to shadeRich, well drained6″ high, spreadsDrought tolerant when established
Camassia leitchlini– Great CamasSun to partial shadeSpring wet, summer dry2′Summer dormant
Camassia quamash– Lesser CamasSun to partial shadeSpring wet, summer dry1′Summer dormant
Cornus canadensis (unalaschkensis)- BunchberryPartial shadeRich soil, some moisture6″ high, spreadsSome drought tolerance
Dryas octapetala– Mountain AvensSunLean, well drained6″ high, SpreadsDrought tolerant when established
Erythronium oregonum – Fawn LilySun to partial shadeRich, well drained6″-8″Summer dormant
Fritillaria lanceolata – Chocolate LilySun to partial shadeSpring wet, summer dry8″Summer dormant
Gymnocarpium dryopteris – Oak FernPartial shade to shadeAverage to wet6” high, SpreadsWill go dormant early in dry summers
Iris douglasii- Pacific Coast Iris Oregon nativeSun to partial shadeSpring wet, summer dry8″Drought tolerant when established
Iris inominata- Golden Iris Oregon nativeSun to partial shadeSpring wet, summer dry6″-8″Drought tolerant when established
Lewisia columbiana – Columbia LewisiaSunLean, well drained6″Drought tolerant when established
Lilium columbiana – Western Tiger LilySun to partial shadeRich, well drained8″-12″May go dormant early if dry
Penstemon davidsonii– Davids PenstemonSunLean, well drained4″-6″, SpreadsDrought tolerant when established
Smilacena (Maianthemum) stellata– Star flowered Solomon SealSun to partial shadeRich, well drained8″, SpreadsWill run in rich soil
Smilacena (Maianthemum) racemosum– Large false Solomon SealSun to partial shadeRich, well drained2′-3′Attractive berries for the birds
Trillium ovatum– Pacific TrilliumPartial shadeRich, well drained8″-12″May go dormant early if  dry
Vancouveria hexandra- Inside OutFlowerPartial shadeRich, well drained10″-12″, spreadsSome drought tolerance when established

Gymnocarpus dryopteris, Oak Fern

 

Resources:

Pacific Northwest Wildflowers
Washington Native Plant Society
Native Plants PNW

Books:
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast  Pojar & McKinnon

Gardening with Native Plants Arthur Kruckeberg

 

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