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Celebrate National Native Plant Month 

Residents and local governments explore adding native plants for wildlife and pollinator habitat

With bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate has proclaimed April to be National Native Plant Month under Senate Resolution 570. The designation "... recognizes the benefits of native plants to the environment and economy of the United States."

click to enlarge Swallowtail butterflies visit showy milkweed flowers in a Bend backyard garden. - CREDIT DAMIAN FAGAN
  • Credit Damian Fagan
  • Swallowtail butterflies visit showy milkweed flowers in a Bend backyard garden.

With Earth Day on the horizon, perhaps it's a good time to review our interest in native plant gardening.

"From an aesthetic standpoint, when maintained properly, I think native landscapes can be exceptionally pretty, and not only that, they foster a sense of place," said Andria Truax, owner of Great Basin Nursery. "I think as more of these landscapes are woven into the urban fabric they'll start to snowball and native and/or drought-tolerant will become the norm."

Truax primarily sells plants wholesale from her nursery, but during June and July, gardeners can purchase plants at the Northwest Crossing Saturday market and through occasional open houses. Wintercreek Nursey, located near Great Basin Nursery on Deschutes Market Road, is another nursery open to the public for purchasing native plants.

Truax encourages folks who are interested in native plants to observe and learn about wildflowers and shrubs during their outdoor explorations. "Pay attention to where the plants are growing, and from there you can extrapolate what conditions they will thrive in in the home landscape." Many nurseries and local landscapers, such as Your Garden Companion, can also be of help to homeowners.

"In order to sell native plants, you have to change people's thinking," said Yvonne Babb, owner of Your Garden Companion. Babb looks at the natural plant communities in a ponderosa pine forest and believes that native shrubs, forbs and grasses can be the anchors for residential landscaping. "Our vision is to reinvigorate hope for the future by modeling successful sustainable strategies that restore health, function and beauty to urban and rural properties."

As we tour her yard, Babb points out bitterbrush, chokecherry, wax currant and manzanita shrubs, and the benefits these native shrubs provide to wildlife. "Swallowtail butterfly larvae will chew on the leaves of chokecherry and then after it becomes an adult will return and feed on the nectar," said Babb. In addition, the beautiful clusters of flowers produce berries that attract birds later in summer.

A great benefit of utilizing native plants in a garden is that native pollinators such as bees, beetles, flies, hummingbirds and other insects have adapted to the flower types for obtaining nectar or pollen. Globe mallow bees (Diadasia diminuata) have long hairs on their legs that collect pollen from globemallow flowers and carry it back to their nests. "You look at these beautiful orange flowers, which close up at night, and here's a bee cradled like a baby in the blossom. You just get a bonus with the native plants," added Babb.

On the public side, the City of Bend has been partnering with the Bend Pollinator Project to plant pollinator-friendly landscapes on city property.

"The goal of the Bend Pollinator Pathway in its first full year (2021) was to get as many native pollinator plants into the ground as possible," said Basey Klopp, BPP coordinator. Volunteers, with the help of City staff, planted over 2,200 plants in public places such as Orchard Park, Al Moody Park, Laurel Pocket Park and other locations. A variety of shrubs and wildflowers, including wax currant, narrowleaf milkweed, sulphur-flowered buckwheat, shrubby penstemon and goldenrod, were planted to attract a wide diversity of pollinators throughout the growing season.

click to enlarge CREDIT DAMIAN FAGAN
  • Credit Damian Fagan

The group also provides resources on its website for homeowners to learn which native plants grow well in Central Oregon gardens and some best planting and maintenance practices for creating a pollinator habitat. These include planting key tree species for adults and larvae, providing soft landing areas such as understory plants or leaf litter for larvae and delaying spring cleaning so that overwintering insects have a higher survival success rate. "Mother Nature doesn't 'clean up' wildlands in the spring and you'll find the most beautiful butterflies on her land," added Klopp. Visit the BPP's Facebook page for volunteer opportunities, workshops and native plant news.

So as the snow melts and the temperatures rise, start planning and consulting with experts on transforming your garden into a wildlife sanctuary. The pollinators will thank you later.

National Native Plant Month
Learn more at nationalnativeplantmonth.org

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