Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database


Wallace W Hansen Northwest Native Plant Journal
Northwest Native Plant Newsletter and Journal, December 2002


1 – “To Do” List For Native Plants For Winter

2 –Free Seeds.

3 –Native Vine Maple – The wonderful Tree/Shrub For All Gardens

4 – Time For Winter Cuttings

5 – Northwest Soils and Native Plants

6 – Plan And Act Now “For The Birds”

7 – Personal Notes

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)

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 deadly combination.

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 methods!

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

Native 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 Serviceberry.

3 – Native Vine Maple – The Golden Shrub - Tree Of The Northwest!

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 year later.

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, Madrone,. Manzanita, Salal, Laurel, Labrador Tea, Rhododendron, 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: Bitter Cherry, Black Hawthorn, Black Twinberry, Blue Elderberry, Bunchberry, Huckleberries, Indian Plum, Kinnikinnik, Madrone, Oregon Grape, Red Elderberry, Red Flowering Currant, Red Osier Dogwood, Roses, Salal, Salmonberry, Serviceberry, Snowberry, Thimbleberry. Be sure to have plenty of Red 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 email comments!)

Good Luck!


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