Every time we ask local experts how to help local wildlife – like hummingbirds, insects and salmon – the same answer pops up: plant native plants and trees. The concept of replacing some of the habitat that humans destroyed through urbanization is simple, but native plants aren’t always easy to buy.
As a former nursery professional, I can confirm that around 90% of the plants available at most retail nurseries are not Pacific Northwest native species. Retail nurseries largely carry cultivars that have been hybridized or selected for certain features such as fragrance, fruit, shape, growth rate, and resiliency. Few of these plants are naturally occurring anywhere, let alone the PNW.
That’s not to say these plants aren’t without value. Many can provide food and habitat for our local wildlife. However, hybrid garden plants did not evolve side-by-side with our local wildlife like our native plants did and are often unable to naturally reproduce. In certain cases, they may even do more harm than good by introducing diseases and invasive pests.
How to find PNW native plants and trees
You could start with this list of Northwest native plants from Great Plant Picks and call local nurseries to see what’s in stock. However, the prices and general lack of availability may surprise you.
Or, look for sales like the one currently happening through King Conservation District (KCD). Shopping through KCD is easy and way cheaper than going through a nursery. KCD currently has around 55 species of PNW native plants for sale, although some are already marked “out of stock.” The plants are priced from $10-$20 and come in bundles of 5 or 10.
Are these plants 6 feet tall and ready to block your neighbors view into your living room? No. Most are just a year or two old and no larger than a foot tall. However, that means they are easier to plant, easier to water and easier to take home. They’ll also have the luxury of growing into their site which means less pruning and other maintenance.
The KCD site is incredibly easy to navigate, as well. Shoppers can search for plants by sun/shade preferences, pollinator benefits, or water requirements to ensure they find the right plant for their site. The site also groups plants by characteristics like fruit, flowers, seeds, edible, toxicity and wildfire resistance.
The ordering deadline fro this sale is March 4. Pick up the plants on Saturday, March 14 at the Tukwila Community Center. The pick-up day also includes a community fair with KCD partners, food trucks, planting resources and other conservation guides. Not only will you have native plants, you’ll have all the resources you need to successfully establish them.
Feature photo by Ian Poellet (User:Werewombat) [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)].