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Frequently Asked Questions

Questions

  1. What is a native plant?
  2. Why should I plant native plants?
  3. Are native plants better than introduced plants?
  4. What if I want to try a plant that is not native in my state, but is native close by?
  5. What if I only have 8 inches of annual precipitation, but I want to use a native plant like Prunus virginiana Chokecherry, which does best with 16 inches or more rainfall?
  6. What does the term “Drought Tolerant” mean?
  7. What does Water-wise mean?
  8. When should I plant?
  9. I received my trees today and it is snowing. What do I do now?
  10. Why are the names of plants confusing?
  11. What does this funny looking pot do?
  12. How quickly should I transplant after getting my plants?
  13. Do I need to irrigate native plants?
  14. Should I fertilize?
  15. What about weed control?
  16. Is glyphosate herbicide safe for the environment?
  17. How do I learn what is my annual rainfall?
  18. Can I just dig wild plants and transplant?
  19. How close together should I plant these?
  20. Will these native plants attract wildlife?
  21. How big a project should I attempt?
  22. What can I expect for Cold hardiness?
  23. What can I expect for Drought Tolerance?
  24. What if I water my native plants?

Answers

  1. What is a native plant?
    • The approximate consensus in the native plant world is “a native plant is any plant that was growing in your area before European settlers arrived.” This definition is simple and works pretty well. Any plant that is not native is called “Introduced.”

      Lewis & Clark documented quite a few native plants on their exploratory probe, but they did not see all the intermountain west and they did not document every plant even along the route they took. They sampled only a small fraction of all the native plants in the western U.S. Contemporary botanists have expertise in these things and they agree on many plants being native that were not listed by Meriwether Lewis.

      Contemporary botanists also disagree on quite a few species whether they are native or not. At Rugged Country Plants, we rely on Hitchcock and Cronquist and the USDA Plants Database (see Links & Resources page for both references), and the developed opinions of regional botanists to determine which species are native or not.

      Meriwether Lewis, incidentally, managed to retrieve to Washington, D.C. only 175 species collected from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean (see Links & Resources page for details on Plants of the Lewis & Clark Expedition).
  2. Why should I plant native plants?
    • Native plants are generally better adapted to the environment. You do not have to water native plants as much or some not at all. Native plants do not require as much yard maintenance. Native plants celebrate and protect your local biodiversity. Local wildlife thrives on native plants. Native plants are the natural way to rebuild and protect your environment. Naturescaping your property is sustainable. Native plants are beautiful, have so much to offer and they are the next landscaping frontier!
  3. Are native plants better than introduced plants?
    • Well…maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. It depends on what landscaping objectives you are trying to achieve. Plants native to the intermountain west are well adapted to survive and serve a vegetative purpose with no care or water beyond what their native environment provides. Introduced plants usually require more care and watering to keep them alive and looking good. But some of our native plants will also require some care and extra water at your location to keep them alive and looking good (see Water Needs and Maintenance Suggestions for each plant). There are many different native species coming from diverse environments in the Intermountain Region. It is up to you, if you want to mix and match, or keep to a strict planting of natives only found in your neighborhood.

      There are also hundreds of introduced species that can serve many delightful functions. For example, my wife wants to use in our yard daffodils, peonies and iris which are not native to our area, but they look great in our mostly native landscape, so we use them! How can one say which is better and which is worse? We leave it to you whether you want to use native or non-native species. Having options is wonderful.
  4. What if I want to try a plant that is not native in my state, but is native close by?
    • First of all, there is no law about such things. And that is why you can plant almost any introduced species from almost anywhere in the world, almost anywhere in the United States (there are some laws about some plants that are identified as Noxious Weeds, but the list of Prohibited Noxious Weeds is short compared to the hundreds of introduced species that are readily available to plant anywhere.) See Links page for Federal List of Noxious Weeds. Rugged Country Plants does not sell any species listed as Noxious Weeds.

      But the question of planting a species in a place it is not currently found is a personal question and the question has many personal answers. Some people only want to plant species that are native to their neighborhood, other people are willing to plant species that may not be native to their neighborhood, but are native to their state, etc. Personally, we would like to plant various well adapted native species from our region in our yard so we can enjoy a full diversity of plants. Quercus gambelii is not known to be native to Oregon however, it makes a strong contribution to our landscape and so we will use it.
  5. What if I only have 8 inches of annual precipitation, but I want to use a native plant like Prunus virginiana Chokecherry, which does best with 16 inches or more rainfall?
    • If you can irrigate the chokecherry, go ahead and plant it and just water it with 2 or three good soakings during the early to late summer. You will have to water to make up the difference between your annual rainfall and the water needs of the native species you are growing.
  6. What does the term “Drought Tolerant” mean?
    • Drought Tolerant is a kind of fuzzy concept that is related to the “water needs” of the plant. We know that a certain species needs about so much annual precipitation in rain, snow, hail, or applied irrigation as for example Rhus glabra Smooth Sumac needs between 12 and 18 inches of total water to live and thrive, and it will grow like a garden gangster if it gets 30 inches per year. The question arises, though, “if I plant Smooth Sumac which is adapted to “Low-Medium” water use, and once the sumac is established I only get 9 inches of rain in some year in the future, will the Smooth Sumac survive?” Is it drought tolerant? If we say it is Drought Tolerant, what we mean is “for the range of environments in which this species is naturally found, it seems to tolerate low rainfall years quite well, it is tough!”
  7. What does Water-wise mean?
    • A waterwise native plant is one that is thrifty in its use of water. For example Artemisia tridentata Big Sagebrush lives with incredible tenacity with only 7 inches of rainfall, but if Artemisia tridentata receives 20 inches of rainfall it will grow robustly and form an 8 foot tall bush. Artemisia tridentata will take advantage of all the water it has available, but it is a very low water use native plant and will survive on only 7 inches of water where so many plants cannot survive, it is “waterwise” in the extreme.
  8. When should I plant?
    • If you can water your planting site:
      you can transplant our native plants anytime between September 10 and May 30.
      As planting gets later in the spring, you will have to think more about watering to help the small plants get established the first year. Planting in June in the Walla Walla Valley (900 feet elevation and 150 day growing season) is hard on plants, because temperatures are in the 80’s, the plants really want to grow, but they do not have large enough root systems to keep up with the transpiration of the tops. It is difficult to keep them watered enough to establish during June, July, August and early September, unless you have a drip irrigation or sprinkler system that you can use as often as needed.
    • If you cannot water your site:
      the best time to plant in our region is whenever the ground temperature has cooled some and the soil has moisture and it is not frozen which in our region is usually between October 15 and March 30.
  9. I received my trees today and it is snowing. What do I do now?
    • In the fall, native plants can be planted until the ground is frozen solid. As long as a shovel can be inserted into the ground, it is okay to plant the trees.
  10. Why are the names of plants confusing?
    • All plants have two types of names. First, plants have a Latin name, also called the Scientific name. There is supposed to be only one official scientific or latin name for any one plant. But because there are many systematic botanists (plant namers) working around the world, the names of plants tend to evolve. The botanists do research and then propose changes to the scientific names so there can be several scientific name synonyms for the same plant. This is confusing. But it is just a fact of life with which we have to deal. For example, the older and more generally known scientific name for our native grass Bluebunch Wheatgrass is Agropyron spicata, but the newer more correct name for it is Pseudoroegneria spicata. There is no law that we have to use one name or the other, so people pick which name they prefer to use. Therefore, and for various reasons, there are often a few different names for the same plant floating around the industry.

      The latin name has two parts the first name identifies the Genus of the plant, the second name identifies the Species of the plant, so a full scientific name has to have two latin words such as, Prunus virginiana. Prunus is the genus for many prune like, or cherry like plants and virginiana is the species. “Prunus virginiana” has to be said together or the person you are talking to may not know which plant you are talking about. The scientific name is international in scope; the same scientific name is used by plant people whether they are from Korea, Kazakhstan, or Klamath Falls.

      Secondly, plants also have common names. There can be numerous common names for plants. The officially accepted U.S. common name for Eriogonum umbellatum is Sulfur-flower Buckwheat (as defined by http://plants.usda.gov/ ), but it also has the common name synonyms: Sulfur Buckwheat and Sulfur Wildbuckwheat. From region to region and going around the world there are many common names for the same plant. That is why plant people use the scientific name and usually also use in combination a common name, so that we can be sure we are talking about the same plant. The scientific name is more universal and that is why we choose to organize our website on the scientific names first, but also provide for searching by common names.
  11. What does this funny looking pot do?
    • The square inverted pyramid pot that we grow our premium plants in is called a RootMakerTM. These are air-root pruning propagation containers. With the internal ribs, roots are guided down to one of the twelve holes built into the container. Roots are air-pruned at the holes. The result is no root spiraling around the sides of the pots which happens in conventional containers. Although RootMakerTM containers cost more than regular containers, we think the better root system contributes to greater outplanting success.
  12. How quickly should I transplant after getting my plants?
    • Transplanting the same day is ideal. If the plants are dormant in mid-winter, open the box and set the plants upright where they will be cool, but do not let them freeze and they will wait for a week or so. If the plants have leaves on and they are growing, be sure to keep them watered and plant them as soon as possible (within a week).
  13. Do I need to irrigate native plants?
    • It depends. If you match the plants you buy with the natural precipitation of your area, and you plant when the plants are dormant (November through March) then you may not need to irrigate at all.
  14. Should I fertilize?
    • You do not have to fertilize. But if your soil is not very fertile then using a slow release fertilizer will provide essential nutrients for your plants to establish and grow. If your soil is fertile, these rugged natives will do great without fertilizer. To know how fertile your soil is: look at the weeds growing in an area that gets watered, if the weeds are large and healthy looking, your soil is relatively fertile.
  15. What about weed control?
    • Weeds steal water and nutrients. Weed control is second in importance after good transplanting technique (see How-To transplanting technique). You will want to keep weeds at least 3 feet away from your establishing native plants. A hoe works well for smaller plantings. Weed barrier is a good solution to stop weeds for larger plantings. Careful use of glyphosate based herbicide can also be very effective, but extreme care must be taken not to get even any herbicide mist on the native plants. (See How-To Section Herbicide).
  16. Is glyphosate herbicide safe for the environment?
    • (Brand names: Roundup®, Honcho®, Clearout® and others) Glyphosate herbicide is known to be one of the safest herbicides for people to use and one of the safest in the environment (see Wikipedia “glyphosate” for a quick introduction). Glyphosate is taken into a growing plant by being absorbed by green leaves. It then blocks the carbohydrate synthesizing process in the green plant so that the plant starves to death. Glyphosate is not active in the soil, as soon as the herbicide contacts soil it becomes deactivated and harmless. Glyphosate has been used with huge success and been harmless to the environment for more than 25 years. We do not sell glyphosate products nor do we endorse any one brand of glyphosate.
  17. How do I learn what is my annual rainfall?
    • Your local county extension agent or master gardener will be the most knowledgeable about your local rainfall.
  18. Can I just dig wild plants and transplant?
    • Well, yes and no. There are restrictions about digging wild plants in many public areas. And permission from the landowner is needed to remove from private land. Then there is the problem that many native plants do not transplant well by digging, or the timing of digging is critical. We do not dig any wild plants ourselves for production. We harvest seed and grow 90% of our plants from seed. The other 10% we propagate from cuttings. Occasionally we dig a specimen plant, but it is hard for us, too, to get the timing right!
  19. How close together should I plant these?
    • It depends on the landscaping effect you want. Please see our spacing suggestions under each plant description.
  20. Will these native plants attract wildlife?
    • Yes. Many of the plants we sell are the natural food for birds, bees, moths, butterflies, rabbits, deer and elk. Some of the native plants are not eaten or used by some wildlife. Please see wildlife comments under each plant description.
  21. How big a project should I attempt?
    • The sky’s the limit if you have the land and time. If you are not sure how much to attempt, try one of our Sampler Kits for your area and learn how the plants will perform for you. See our sample planting drawings for ideas how to use hardy intermountain natives.
  22. What can I expect for Cold hardiness?
    • The native plants we sell are from seed collected in the intermountain region from the natural habitats. Our plants are grown outdoors and naturally hardened (conditioned to cold temperatures) at the end of the growing season and once planted our plants will be cold hardy to the zone listed under the plant description. Because the roots of plants are not as cold hardy as the stems, do not let the unplanted plants experience freezing weather.
  23. What can I expect for Drought Tolerance?
    • This is truly a subject of relativity. Under each plant description we list the water needs and relative drought tolerance of each species. Many of our natives are very drought tolerant, but if you plant a species that needs 15-20 inches of water every year where it will only get 10 inches, and you do not supplement another 5 inches of water by watering 3 or 4 times during the summer, then the plant will die. Knowing your local annual rainfall and studying the listed water needs of our native plants will help you plan any supplemental water needed.
  24. What if I water my native plants?
    1. They will grow more; many will be more vigorous and showy.
    2. On the other hand, some of our desert plants will not tolerate too much extra water (see description of plant).
 

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