What a gorgeous picture! Isn’t it interesting that many of us leave our yards behind to go and see the beauty of nature? Why not create that natural beauty around you, in your own landscape? One of the best ways to accomplish this is by using plants that are native or adapted to your region.
Native plants are plants indigenous to the area in which you live. These plants have developed, occurred naturally, and/or existed for a long period of time in the same region. Here in the United States, we consider plants to be native if they were here before colonization. Adaptive plant species are non-native plants which perform well in the local climate. These could have been brought from anywhere in the world. (Occasionally this leads to the disasters we call ‘invasive species’ but that is a story for another day.) Here are a few of the reasons why you should consider using native or adapted plants:
~Native plants are easier to grow. They thrive in their native environments. Their biological structures are adapted to the soil conditions, harsh or unusual climates, altitude, etc.
~Intermountain West areas are dry. Plants that naturally grow here require low amounts of water. You will conserve irrigation water as you incorporate native plants. Water is a precious resource that we should carefully use and protect.
~Native plants contribute positively to the overall ecosystem. Plant life effects animal, insect, and other parts of our ecosystem. This, in turn, effects human populations.
~Lawn is overused and tiresome! Everybody has it! Native and adaptive plants can make each area unique and beautiful.
Have we convinced you yet that native plants are best? If not, here are a few of our favorites for the Intermountain Region. Their beauty is sure to win you over!
This is a very large tree, growing up to 100′ tall and 20-30′ wide. It has lovely green-blue needles. Their needles are softer and not painfully spiky like pines and spruces, earning them the endearing name ‘friendly fir’. The white fir requires soil that drains well and needs careful attention until it is established. Once mature, it requires supplemental irrigation. It doesn’t require pruning and does not tolerate over-watering. If you plant this gorgeous fir in your landscape give it plenty of space and good amounts of compost/organic matter in the soil.
Blue Flax is a very drought tolerant perennial flower. This plant showcases a stunning blue color, not often seen in nature. Due to its ‘airy’ look and self-sowing capabilities, Blue Flax is best planted in meadow gardens, as a background plant, or in dry rock gardens.
Purple Sage, also called Dorr Sage, can survive without irrigation, it looks good without pruning, and it has a nice aromatic minty smell…what more could you want in a plant?! This is a small shrub, at its highest growing 2 1/2′ tall with a 2-3′ width. We recommend you use this plant in your landscape as a display or accent plant or mix it in with larger groupings. Dorr Sage can also be used as a low hedge.
If you’ve visited the canyons of Utah, this is the gorgeous plant that we see on the mountains in fall; it really stands out, making the hills look like they are on fire with brilliant reds and oranges. Bigtooth Maple is a small tree, 20-30′ tall and 20-25′ wide. You can prune it to have multiple trunks (making its appearance more like a large shrub) or a single trunk. Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum) is a near relative also found in our region.
Bearberry is an evergreen groundcovering shrub. You may have heard of it by its fun nick-name ‘Kinnikinnik’. Its dark green color coupled with its berries which turn red in fall/winter make it a lovely plant. In its native environment, it is the groundcover under coniferous forests and reflects that need in the landscape. Bearberry thrives in protected, somewhat shaded areas. Although Bearberry only grows up to 6″ in height it can spread 5-6′ wide! It grows fairly slowly and can be pruned to keep it in your defined areas. Also keep in mind that groundcovers are wonderful weed barriers.
Creeping Oregon Grape is another spreading evergreen. It grows to 1′ tall and gets 3-4′ wide. Creeping Oregon Grape has many faces and looks lovely in all its seasons. In the spring it has attractive yellow flowers, in fall you will see bluish-black berries, and in winter the leaves turn purple or red. It does well in sun or shade, though in full sun will require more water. By way of warning, the leaves are holly-like and have bristled tips so don’t plant this where children play!
An interesting fact about the Bristlecone Pine is that these trees can live for more than 4,000 years! Naturally, this plant is found at very high elevations on rocky mountain slopes. In the landscape, it has a high drought tolerance and grows very slowly. Bristlecone Pine should not be pruned and requires well-drained soils. It can grow 20-25′ tall and 15-20′ wide. The shape or form of this tree is unpredictable and irregular, especially as it ages. Bristlecone Pine would make a great showcase plant (go ahead, put it in the spotlight!) or look fantastic in a naturalized area. Rocky Mountain bristlecone (Pinus artistata) is a near relative with a more pyramidal form and may be more readily available at your local plant nursery.
This is one native plant in our list that is not as drought tolerant as the others. Its natural habitat is along stream-sides and therefore requires slightly more water. It is a lovely large shrub, 6-8′ tall and wide. With white flowers, white berries, red fall leaves, and red branches it will look beautiful year-round. We recommend this plant for hedges and background plantings. It tolerates sun or shade.
A great resource for learning more about native plants is your local Botanical or community gardens. Here in Utah County we designed the Central Utah Gardens, which showcases acres of beautiful plants for the Intermountain West. They offer free, educational courses to the public!
There are so many beautiful native plants in the Intermountain area. Unfortunately, we cannot present all of them. Keep an eye on our Plant of Month posts for more of our favorite native or adapted species.