Native plants the way to go | SteamboatToday.com

Native plants the way to go

Kathy Conlon

— Do you want to be in harmony with nature? Incorporate native plants into your garden.

Gardening with native plants provides exquisite natural beauty and a great environment for native wildlife. The ever-changing beauty of your natural garden will bring you hours of pleasure, and you will be restoring native habitat as well.

Karen Vail, a local botanist with Yampatika, said native plants are those that have evolved here, in the Yampa Valley, over thousands of years. They’ve adapted to the environment in which they grow.

It’s these adaptations to local conditions that make native plants so easy to grow: The urge to flourish is encoded right in their genes.

To grow Yampa Valley native plants, you may need to change your thinking about watering, fertilizing and other soil amendments.

Many of our native species do best in “poorer” soils. Overwatering can promote disease, insect pests or a “leggy” appearance that does not support flowering parts very well.

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Most natives prefer infrequent, deep soakings and generally do not need fertilizing. In fact, an application of fertilizer could chemically burn them or stimulate lush foliage growth with few flowers.

Your source of inspiration for a native garden is natural habitat.

First, familiarize yourself with native plants in the wild. Then consider your garden site. Becoming aware of the amounts of sand, gravel and clay in the soil, along with the available moisture and sunlight, is crucial for selecting plants most suited to an area. Here’s the fun part: Create different habitat zones, e.g. a hot dry xerophytic (little water) zone, a shade zone and a small wet zone such as a depression or ditch.

If your yard is already landscaped, you can start out slowly and experiment with natives by selecting just a few.

Try complementing existing traditional flower beds with native species, or try creating a small native wildflower meadow garden with its colorful display, free-flowing look and plant diversity.

One of the most important aspects in maintaining native plant beds or a meadow is the initial soil preparation.

Incorporating organic matter, such as compost, into the soil will increase fertility and water retention.

Another key factor is eliminating weedy competition. Vail advises to sow native seed in the late fall before the ground freezes. This will allow the seed to take advantage of the winter and spring moisture.

A backyard composed primarily of native plants becomes an interacting changing landscape that offers a glimpse of the complexities of the natural world and a haven for native songbirds and other wildlife that can flourish for decades.

Kathy Conlon is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.