Go Native 

Cultivating indigenous plants in you garden

There's something fulfilling about gardening, getting your hands in the dirt, planting something tiny and fragile and watching it grow. But when landscaping your yard, there's always the question of what to plant. With so many options to choose from it can become overwhelming. For climatic, aesthetic and, yes, monetary reasons, it's worthwhile to consider researching and planting native flora—that is, plants that have evolved and adapted to this particular region.

Let's get the caveat out before we get much further: if the idea of starting over with indigenous plants suddenly sends you into a digging, hoeing bacchanal, don't go out to the desert or up in the mountains and start ripping up sagebrush or pine trees and putting them into the trunk of your car. It's seriously illegal to do so. If you decide that you want to use native plantings in your yard, just buy 'em, or get starts out of the yards of friends and family.

For this region, there is an abundance of charming indigenous plants that would spruce up any landscaping—varying from silver sagebrush to wild aster to prickly pear cactus to syringa. Some native plants rarely make appearances in suburban tracts, and some are probably already familiar, maybe even taking up dirt in your yard right now. A little research uncovers a myriad of options. There are a lot of sound reasons, other than just aesthetic, to choose native plants for your yard and garden, and fortunately, a lot of them appeal to the inner sluggard and cheapskate. Using indigenous plants is even environmentally friendly, but without requiring a high level of commitment.

Native plants are, obviously, already acclimatized to their region, making them a logical landscaping choice. So once the plants become established in your yard, they should take far less water than a conventional lawn, or non-native flowers and shrubs that are original to less arid locales. Also, according to those who claim to know—including government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Boise Land Management—if cultivated appropriately (with proper attention to soil, sun and water requirements), native plants should become quite robust and require little to no pesticides or fertilizers, another plus. Landscaping with native plants is ultimately going to mean using less water as well as having to purchase less or perhaps no chemicals for the yard—a fortuitous dovetailing of form and function.

Simply identifying what plants are indigenous to the area is only part of the necessary research in planning a native-plant landscape. As with any other landscaping project, you ought to identify what kind of growing conditions you have in your yard and research what kinds of native plants fit those conditions. For example, it's helpful to know that your brand-new Narrowleaf yucca (yucca glauca) thrives in hot, dry conditions, so you don't accidentallyplant it in a shady corner that never completely dries when you water it. When you know your growing conditions, you'll know to save that corner for native plants like columbine—Western (aquilegia formosa) and Colorado Blue (aquilegia caerulea), respectively.

Once you decide to go for it, and you figure out what kind of growing conditions your yard has, there are a lot of resources to help you figure out what native plants fit your circumstances. There is a glut of information out there on native plants—including sound reasons to consider cultivating them, the pros and cons of the native planting approach, what to plant and where to get them—in the library or on the Web. Online, in particular, there are vast informational resources to be sifted through, databases and pictures in abundance. Or if you prefer the help of a live human being, the county extension office is usually a good place to gain access to knowledgeable, helpful people who can not only provide information, but a shove in the right direction for further research. And it never hurts to contact local nurseries around the valley and see what native plants they might supply. With patience and a bit of research you can find out a lot about landscaping with indigenous plants—the different kinds of plants, where to get them and good reasons to landscape with them.

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