Why Your Garden Should Use Native Plants

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Oak Fern and Thimbleberry (Gymnocarpium dryopteris and Rubus parviflorus) by Jason Hollinger; Vine maple (Acer circinatum) by Willamette National Forest; Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta) fruit by Superior National Forest; Nootka rose by The Watershed Company; Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) by Peter Stevens; Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) by Nacho.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Oak Fern and Thimbleberry (Gymnocarpium dryopteris and Rubus parviflorus) by Jason Hollinger; Vine maple (Acer circinatum) by Willamette National Forest; Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta) fruit by Superior National Forest; Nootka rose by The Watershed Company; Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) by Peter Stevens; Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) by Nacho.

Written by Marina French, PLA

When choosing plants for your garden, we landscape architects and designers consider a lot of variables, like:

  • how well the plant will survive,
  • how beautiful the plant will look,
  • how the plant will look year-round,
  • how much maintenance and watering the plant will need, and
  • whether the plant is friendly for wildlife.

Going down the checklist of desirable qualities, we keep coming back to native plants.

 

Why use native plants?

Many people have the misperception that native plants are dull – far from the truth! The Pacific Northwest’s unique native ecosystems are naturally very biodiverse, giving us a large palette of native plants to choose from. We at The Watershed Company love using native plants in our landscapes, because:

  • native plants survive well in the PNW climate (they were made for it!) and need little maintenance or watering,
  • native plants are beautiful and lush year-round, offering flowers in the spring and summer, berries in the fall, and greenery in the winter, and
  • native plants have flowers and berries that attract wildlife.
 

1. Native plants are low maintenance and drought-tolerant

Native plants also have a proven track record. Our landscape designers have seen that, when properly established, native plants just work.

A natural shoreline we designed for a lakefront home in Kirkland incorporates native plants.  

A natural shoreline we designed for a lakefront home in Kirkland incorporates native plants.

 

Native plants are adapted to Washington’s climate of wet winters and dry summers. This means that, after they have developed mature root systems, they can survive the summer without supplemental watering, unlike most non-native plants. This fact alone has huge implications for water conservation, and for your pocketbook.

Natives also have adapted to be resistant to native pests and diseases, which eliminates the need for pesticides that can contaminate groundwater and our streams.  

 
Birds on oregon grape by Jessie Hey.

Birds on oregon grape by Jessie Hey.

2. Native plants are beautiful, year-round

The native plants of the Pacific Northwest are beautiful. They may not all be as showy as variegated canna lilies or as exotic as a Monkey Puzzle tree, but they have an elegance and grace that is as much at home in the Pacific Northwest as the ecologically-minded people who live here. Even landscapes that rely on ornamentals can be complemented by a choice variety of native plants, giving any landscape a strong backbone to support a few flights of fancy.

 

3. Native plants support healthy ecosystems

The animals of the Pacific Northwest have evolved in conjunction with the native plant species. By using native plants in our landscape designs, we are providing preferred food and habitat for the animals that live amongst us. Native trees and shrubs along streams provide shade and erosion protection that allow salmon to spawn and survive. The fruits from native plants are a crucial food source for native birds and mammals. Urban and suburban development causes fragmentation of the ecosystems that native animals need, and using native plants in your garden can help reduce this problem.

We’ve found that lots of people enjoy watching wildlife in their gardens for the sense of beauty and community our non-human neighbors bring us. After all, it’s only fair to be neighborly with the native wildlife: your lot belonged to them long before you bought it!


Using natives in your garden is not only smart, it’s the right thing to do: they can help you save money, provide year-round interest, and provide a healthier ecosystem for all of us.

If you’re ready to give your garden a full overhaul, our landscape designers know how to find the right native plants for every part of your garden.  If you’re taking it one step at a time, you can still benefit by incorporating some native plants we love.