Using Native Plants to Enhance Your Farm
by Alayne Blickle
When it comes to planting, most of us think of spring, but for most of the country fall is the ideal time to plant all kinds of things from cool season veggies, turf grasses and perennials to both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. Horse owners don’t often realize how helpful native trees and shrubs can be on a farm.
I am a huge fan of using native plants on horse properties. People, wildlife, horses and the environment all benefit from this sort of landscape. Native plants are those that have evolved over thousands of years in a particular region. They have adapted to the geography, hydrology and climate and have co-evolved with animals, insects, fungi and microbes and are the foundation of our natural ecosystems. A community of native plants provides habitat for a variety of wildlife species such as songbirds and butterflies.
Logging, farming, ranching and development have led to a tremendous loss of vegetation and, as a result, a loss of critical wildlife habitat. Enhancing our horse properties with native plants not only promotes native wildlife, it also helps to control erosion, provides a visual buffer and filters chemicals and nutrients. Here is a list of the ways native plants can benefit a property:
- Hedgerows act as wind or dust barriers and provide an attractive visual boundary between neighboring uses. Plant hedgerows of native plants as an alternative to, or along with, fencing. Species to consider include beaked hazelnut, nootka rose, red flowering currant and coniferous and deciduous trees such as Douglas fir, western red cedar, black hawthorn and pacific crabapple. Native plants act as mud managers alongside paddocks and confinement areas. They help reduce flows, absorb water and filter sediments and pollutants. For wet areas consider red osier dogwood, pacific willow, black twinberry, salmonberry and pacific ninebark.
- Native plants act as buffers along streams and wetlands. They protect riparian habitat by improving water quality and reducing erosion. Species to consider for riparian areas: western red cedar, Oregon ash, black twinberry, pacific ninebark, salmonberry.
- Native plants provide decorative landscape features. Many native shrubs and groundcovers exhibit beautiful arrays of color in flowers and leaves. Choose a variety of evergreen and deciduous plants for year round coverage. Species to consider for ornamental value: red flowering currant, mock orange, salal, sword fern, kinnikinnick.
- Using native plants instead of lawns save time and money. How? By reducing or even eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment. For drier areas consider Douglas fir, shore pine, nootka rose, big leaf maple, beaked hazelnut, thimbleberry, snowberry, Oregon grape.
Why is fall planting so good for plants? In the fall, the warm soil encourages root growth. Roots continue to grow through the winter until the ground freezes. In mild winters like the Pacific Northwest roots continue to grow for most of the winter. Rapid roots returns in early spring along with top growth. The same plant planted in spring gets a slow start due to cool soils while fall-plantings are already well established. When summer finally arrives, the fall plant is far better equipped to deal with heat and drought, largely due to its more mature root system. Of course, there are plenty of other good reasons to plant in the fall, such as dependable rainfall, cooler weather and fewer pest and disease problems. In addition, many plants are on sale at nurseries which makes fall planting particularly attractive!
The ideal period for fall planting is roughly six weeks before the first hard frost. In northern areas of the country the ideal planting period might even be late summer. In general, the window of opportunity for most folks is during September and October. For help on selecting native plants suited for your specific climate, soil type, location and needs contact your local conservation district, extension office, native plant society or a local nursery.