Here in Western Washington, it’s time to think about planting. Yes, it’s only January, but here in the temperate rainforest, things are already budding out and turning back on with the slow lengthening of days. Here at EEC Forest Stewardship, we’ve been transplanting small trees and shrubs since November. As soon as leaves drop, the trees are dormant, and digging up does the least harm. Some of the transplants are natives, and some are cultivars, as EEC is working the human component into the landscape. Though pacific crabapple dominates our fruit tree plantings, there are also many cultivated verities of pear, apple, and various stone fruits.
List of local native plant resources:
King Conservation District Native Bare Root Plant Sale
Plants purchased from bare root sales should spend a few years establishing in a zone 1 area. My kitchen garden offers space with water and good soil for a growing, vulnerable young plant. It’s also a space protected from plant predators like deer or livestock. You can heel-in your plants this way if needed. By taking the time to care for your bare-root, you have a much higher success rate of survival into maturity from initial investment. Buying plants is always expensive, but you can also selectively dig up natives at a neighbor’s house (with permission), or along national forest roads where the young plants (especially trees) will be cut or sprayed to keep the roads open. Note when you do road side collecting, stay within 5 feet of the road’s edge, and know the growth there is likely contaminated by chemical spray in the soil, and vehicle pollution. However, you can also mitigate this in the young plant when transplanting into healthy soil. Plants at a neighbor’s house could also be tainted, so ask about the land’s history before choosing to harvest.
Buying plants through your local conservation district ensurers you’re getting native plants, good genetic specimens, and supporting your local conservation district. It’s a good learning tool for what native plants are easy to establish, which ones are critical for restoration in your area, and expands landowner practices and projects to enhance ecological restoration. Conservation and native plant societies also have advanced knowledge about each species they offer, and will usually take the time to talk through any questions you have about plants. These organizations also offer workshops, land walk though and restoration planning, as well as countless other resources for land stewardship and restoration, usually free, or at a reduced cost. The plant sales offer smaller groupings of plants, so you’re not stuck buying a large number of plantings- more than you have space for. Bare root nurseries usually have minimum number purchasing, especially with trees, and those number range from 25-200.
EEC Forest Stewardship has been participating in multiple native plant sales for years, making smaller number purchases to prevent being overwhelmed by plantings, which become too numerous to manage. We’ve also spent the past decade observing the species which seem to do better in our biome. There are so many variables throughout a given habitat where restoration planting goes on. On this forest landscape, we’re planting less water reliant species like Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock, opting instead for Garry Oak and Douglas Fir. We’re also importing some non-native species like Crataegus monogyna or Cornus florida. Whatever planting you select, keep in mind, the native species are already best suited to your ecology, overall soil chemistry, and climate. They will most likely cohabit well together, establish, and last as long term habitat in the environment. All my fruit trees will be gone in twenty years, but the surrounding native evergreens like Douglas fir, could go on for hundreds of years as a climax species in Western Washington. The fir will also grow healthy and happy without human support, where as the apple need continued pruning and irrigation to thrive.
Think about your ability to commit to young plantings and what king of long term maintenance you’ll prefer to spend on plants. Make a good plan of where your plantings will go before you purchase them. Keep in mind space and resource demands a plant will need through out its life. A large leaf maple will easily fit into a container garden as a bare root, but after two or three years, it will be twelve feet high and the roots will be pushing to get out of the bed for additional water and soil. There are many types of smaller native plant species that will happily grow in containers, ask your conservation district for more information if needed. Timing is everything- from the moment you pick up your bare root plantings to the moment they go in the ground, you’re loosing plant vitality. Also, each time a plant is replanted, it slows it’s development by about two years. This means a fruiting plant will be hindered in production, and the size of a plant will develop more slowly. When you can direct plant bare root into its forever home, you’re giving it the best chance at success, but if you can’t maintain the watering and predator protection for the first few years, heel-in closer to home.