Last month Linda posted on the need for horticultural knowledge for those trying to restore native habitats or at least establish native plants. There seems to be a pervasive notion that if we plant natives all we have to do is stick them in the ground and walk away. They’re native, right? Don’t need irrigation; don’t need fertilizer; all that good jazz. Well, often there is lot more to it than that.
A case in point. Over the past couple of years I’ve been watching an unintended experiment near the State Capitol grounds in Olympia, WA. The State opened up a vista so that the south end of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains were visible from the Capitol campus. It’s a lovely view. As part of the development, a switchback trail was established on the steep hillside to connect the Capitol grounds with the park surrounding Capitol Lake below. A great idea. Along the trial the hillside was planted with an array of native plants such as Oregon grape, salal, alder, and western redcedar. Another fine idea. Now comes the problem. Near as I can tell, there was no plan for maintaining these native plants. In fairly short order the hillside has become overrun with grasses, dandelions, and Himalayan blackberries – not exactly the desired effect. And therein lies the rub. Everyone is on board to plant natives but who’s on board for the hard work to maintain them. Keeping weedy species from this planting by hand would take an army volunteers. Burning is likely out due to the proximity of the Capitol and probably wouldn’t promote the desired species. The answer? Most likely a combination of hand-weeding and herbicides. It is interesting that when the end justifies the means, herbicide is not such a dirty word anymore. So there you go. In order to effectively establish and maintain native plants, not only do we need to know about Mahonia aquifolium, Gaultheria shallon, and Alnus rubra; but it also helps to know about glyphosate, flumioxazin, and triclopyr.