1 – “To Do” List For Native Plants For Winter
A – Winter Protection
Northwest native plants are usually hardy for
northwest winter weather. If you
leave any in containers, you should provide some extra protection. Bunch
pots together and use poly over tops of the containers and plants for
cold spells. If you are in the northern end of the northwest, provide some
extra protection for plants native to southern Oregon, even if the
plants are in the ground. Get 4 mil. clear or white poly and lay over
the tops of plants to be protected. At higher, cold areas you can make a
“sandwich” of two layers of poly with straw between.. Low
temperatures can be tolerated but strong winds and cold temps are a
B – Bordeaux and Lime-Sulfur
If you have native plants in the genus Malus (apple), Prunus (Cherry)
or Pyrus (Pear) I suggest you make one or two applications of Bordeaux
or Lime-Sulfur. Bordeaux is a mixture of copper sulfate and hydrated
lime. It is rain-fast when sprayed on plants. Both are broad spectrum
fungicides and give protection against bacteria. Lime sulfur gives
dormant season protection against insects and mites. You might apply
early in the winter and later before bud break. This is an old fashion
treatment, going back centuries in France, etc, long before modern
chemicals. In my opinion, you can be opposed to modern chemical for
plants and have a clear conscience in using these ancient, natural
C – Move and Prune In The Winter!
Winter is the time to move and to prune plants on your property –
both evergreen and deciduous. If moving plants, prune back first, upper
growth and possibly roots. Dig new holes, water well if not already
saturated and add amendments (compost, etc.). Stake if appropriate.
2 – Free Seeds
plant seeds are not like radish seeds – they may need cold moist
stratification. You must do a bit of research. Collect
Red Osier Dogwood, Scarlet Hawthorn (Crataegus columbiana –
colder climates), Chokecherry and
Native Vine Maple – The Golden Shrub - Tree Of The
It’s a tree! – It’s a shrub! For all seasons and all gardens!
Can grow to 20 ft, but usually much less. Found from British Columbia to
northern California – on the west side and some on the east side of
the Cascade Mountains (tolerates cold weather nicely!). Vine Maple has
no commercial value as a wood product but is a precious jewel in your
gardens and wooded areas. Use Vine Maple generously! Will tolerate deep
shade and full sun and all light range in between. Fall colors are
spectacular – a wonderful pallet of yellows and reds. You get more red
shades in full sun and yellows in shade. Fall colors are better if you
do not fertilize in the late summer and cut back on water. Never
over-fertilize! There are many maples from around the world, many very
handsome. I rate our northwest Vine Maple at the very top for ornamental use in
the northwest. This plant will take abuse and still survive. As a
country kid in the late twenties and thirties, I used to climb the
twisted trunks until the tree went over, carrying it’s unruly guest
gently to the ground and then springing back. The wood was also good for
bows to shoot home-made arrows and for sling shots.
I see very little disease in Vine Maples. All maples are subject to
anthracnose which may occur in a warm wet springtime. Best control is to
remove and destroy fallen leaves and to prune twig cankers during a
winter pruning. Bacterial leaf spot could be a problem. Treatment as
above and also fall and spring applications of fixed coppers or Kocide.
Chances are you will never have any of the above problems.
Vine Maple can be grown from seed and also by layering. Collect seeds
(samaras) in September and October. Plant the seeds in deep flats and
cover with mulch – leave outside in a protected area. Remove excess
mulch in the early Spring and the seeds should germinate. Transplant one
I recommend clumps or drifts of plants for visual effect. By the way,
Vine Maple is one of the few plants that will grow close to big tough
Doug Firs! Better water the first year or so until the roots get deep.
If you are a genuine Oregonian, living and working in the forest areas,
you may call this plant “Viney Maple.”
4 – Time For Winter Cuttings
I have been asking you to get into native plant propagation by
cuttings. This is the time for winter cuttings.
You can take cuttings from some evergreens – try
Kinninnick and Yew
and Blueblossom Lilac. Take the cutting with a leaf on top, with stems 3
to 8”. Dip in rooting hormone powder and stick in flats containing a
mixture of peat moss and plenty of fine pumice. Place in a protected
area and keep damp but not saturated. Be patient – when you gently tug
on a cutting and it does not move, the root is starting to form. Start
feeding the plant and try to grow a nice healthy set of roots. Then in
the spring, transplant into the ground or containers.
Deciduous shrubs should be handled differently. After all leaves are
down and after a first frost, take your cuttings, usually about 6 inches
long and pencil-thin. Keep damp and dip in rooting compound. Now we want
a callus to form at the root end of the cutting. Tie the cuttings in
bundles, wrapped in plastic (except the bottoms with the rooting hormone
dip), place vertically in a large plastic box with damp peat moss in the
bottom. Bury the closed box into the ground with about six inches of
soil over the top. Get these in before Christmas. Then you must start
peeking in early February. When a callus forms on the bottom of the
cutting and the new buds are swelling, remove from underground and stick
in flats. Place in a warm room with light and keep “misted” with
water and apply light liquid fertilizer, until roots form. A weak
compost tea is good for fertilizing these youngsters. Keep plants moist
with some heat, fertilizer and plenty of light until strong enough to
plant out in late spring.
5 –Northwest Soils and Native Plants
You could devote full time to the study of soils so I will discuss
basic concepts only for northwest native plant gardeners. Consider three types
of soil – sand, clay and loam. Sand has large particles, is gritty and
will not hold a shape when squeezed in your hand. Sandy soils are dry
and lack nutrients. At the other extreme are clay soils which dominate
the northwest. Clay has very fine particles and sticks in a tight ball
when squeezed with your hand. Clay is rich in nutrients but because of
the very fine particles, there is no room for air. Oxygen is needed
around the roots for healthy plants. Between the extremes of sand and
heavy clay is loam. Loam is the soil best for most plants – a mixture
of larger particles (sand) and very small particles (clay.) Loam will
hold together momentarily when squeezed with your hand but then will
fall loosely apart. Loam soil has the organic materials needed for
nutrients and for necessary microorganisms.
It is important to know the pH level of your soil. This refers to the
acid/alkaline condition, with a pH of 7.0 being exactly neutral. With
the heavy rainfall of the northwest, most soils in western Washington and
Oregon are acid. Alkaline soils are more common in drier areas such as
east of the Cascades. There are a lot of unique soils in the northwest
including the serpentine soils of the Siskiyou area. As a general rule,
northwest plants do best in slightly acid soil. Plants in the Heath family (Ericaceae)
all seem to need strongly acid soil, pH 5.5 – 6.5. Species in this
family include Bog Rosemary,
Azalea and Huckleberry.
Organic matter is vital to the fertility of soils. To improve soil,
add organic matter generously to clay or sandy soils. As organic matter
decomposes it releases nitrogen. However, soil bacteria must convert
this nitrogen to a different form so as to be used by plants.
Microorganisms convert organic material to humus – exactly what your
plants need. Beware, raw wood shavings, straw and manure containing
straw consumes nitrogen when breaking down. If you add these materials
as soil amendments also add ammonium sulfate for extra nitrogen. You can
also add lime and gypsum to overly acid soils to increase the Ph.
(Notice white lime spread on farm fields in the spring or fall.) To do
it right, have your soil tested. You can buy an inexpensive small Ph
Tester which will give you some idea of the Ph of your soil.
6 – Plan and Act Now “For The Birds”
Many of you folks like to attract birds to your gardens and woodland
properties. While planning now for next year, strongly consider the
following native plants as food sources for birds:
Hawthorn, Black Twinberry,
Madrone, Oregon Grape,
Flowering Currant, Red Osier Dogwood, Roses,
Thimbleberry. Be sure to have plenty of
Columbine for the Hummingbirds.
There are many more plants for birds, of course. Note that the above
listed plants all bear fruit. The birds eat fruit and the seeds go along
for the ride. Many of these seeds pass through the bird’s digestive
system intact. So, you feed the birds -- a kindly deed, a delightful
hobby -- and you scatter seeds all over the territory! What a marvelous
“seed survival” plan!
7 – Personal
“The days grow short when you reach December” - an old song with
a touch of melancholy. I guess we need a bit of melancholy once in
awhile so as to know the beauty, the joys, the wonder, the mysteries,
the miracles of life. For our native gardens here in the northwest,
December is the beginning of another wonderful cycle of life. Walk in
your gardens in the early twilight. Stay out until it is dark. Breathe
the cool, damp air – sense the stirrings of life and energy and
vitality all around you. There is a time for spring, a time for summer,
a time for fall and yes, a time for winter. At first glance the winter
garden looks rather desolate – a time of decay, of sorrow - look
again! Note the plump fresh buds on the maples and dogwoods – scrape
away some soil from the Columbines and see the new life. Try to spot a
Fairy Slipper – with new growth leaves, but too early for flowers.
They are all waiting for a bit more warmth – a bit more light and then
they will give the master of the garden another beautiful, wonderful
treat - again!
So starts another cycle of endless cycles which stretch backwards
into the womb of time and forward into the unknowable future. Be
grateful for your gardens! Work in your gardens! Be grateful for life
with it’s endless mysteries and beauty and even some melancholy -- how
can we know joy without knowing sorrow?
E-mail comments are welcome.
(Note from Jennifer: As did Wally, I also welcome your