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What’s Really the Scoop with Native Plants?

Native plants are all the rage, and here’s why By Elaine Christen

My husband, Eric, and I have owned New Leaf Nursery in Hayden, Idaho, for nearly 30 years. Through the knowledge I have gained by owning a large garden center, and by being an avid gardener myself, I have learned that native plants and trees can not only create unique and interesting landscapes, but much of their true merit lies in the benefits they provide to our environment. From sculpted formal spaces, to a wild open meadow, your selections of native plants can provide a wealth of colors, textures, heights and bloom times in your spaces!

But why is it so important to consider native plants in your landscape? Native plants help our environment in so many ways! They take less water, less fertilizer and, most importantly, less pesticides. They help prevent water runoff and improve our air quality. They decrease pollution by reducing the need for mowers and other equipment. They have the ability to store excess carbon, and they provide habitats for pollinators. Plus, they are low maintenance, giving you more time to enjoy the beauty they provide.

In North Idaho, and Eastern Washington, we have a great number of native plants and trees. One of my favorites is the Western White Pine, which happens to be the state tree of Idaho. They are known for their long-elegant needles, and the cones they produce are stunning for use in holiday décor or can provide the perfect kindling.

Rocky Mountain Maples, Western Larch and Ponderosa Pines are other favorites to add color and interesting textures to your landscape. The maples show their green leaves through the summer, and as fall approaches, those leaves can turn to fiery shades of red, orange and yellow, putting on an amazing show of color for you and your neighborhood.

The Western Larch often blends in with their evergreen neighbors until fall, when their needles turn yellow, and then drop. In spring, buds on their branches burst with soft new neon-green needles.

The Ponderosa Pine are giants, growing sometimes over 200-feet tall with a trunk that measures 3 to four feet across. If you believe in planting a tree for future generations to enjoy, the Ponderosas are perfect for you!

As a home gardener, research which varieties are too aggressive for the home garden. Those same plants can be put to great use for erosion control and stream bank stabilization.

These two websites will be useful in offering more information about native plants specific to your region: and They will help you decide which are the best plants for your specific areas, and of course, I’d love to talk with you in person about it at the nursery!

Here are a few of my favorite natives and their cousins. Come see them in person at the nursery. We carry several varieties throughout the year, and you’re sure to find the perfect accents to enhance your outdoor living spaces!

• Ninebark: So many incredible colors • Elderberry: Beautiful berries, great jam • Kinnikinnick (bearberry): Striking red berries • Snowberries: A great accompaniment to a bouquet of cut flowers • Idaho Fescue: Grasses add movement to your landscape … watch them sway in the breeze!

Remember, too, that native plants can be very strong. They are more likely to establish quickly and will be very hardy and healthy, as they have evolved over many years, learning to thrive in the various elements of our specific climates. They have strong root systems, making them tolerant to strong winds that we experience in some areas of our region and are acclimated to the rocky or clay types of soil found in our locale.

Amending the soil is always a good way to ensure success—with natives and all plants. We are proud to carry the full line of G & B products. From their composts to soil amendments, along with fertilizers and foods specifically created for roses, vegetables and flowers, you can rest well knowing the products you are using are safe for our environment.

One final word on native plants, in addition to all the other benefits: Native plants can also benefit local wildlife. According to our friends at The Audubon Society, native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals. The native nuts, seeds and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife. Add some of these hardy workhorses to your landscape soon!

Elaine Christen has a degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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