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Landscaping with Native Plants

There is a positive trend toward utilization of native plants in Idaho home and business landscapes. The goals of this type of landscaping are myriad, including water conservation, reduced maintenance, attraction of wildlife, uniqueness and expression of personal creativity. Regardless of the reasons, native landscapes can be beautiful and effective if designed and completed properly. Here are some guidelines that will help you successfully design and establish a native landscape. They closely resemble the steps for establishing a traditional landscape, but differ in a few important aspects such as plant materials and maintenance planning.

  1. Complete a yard survey and map the existing landscape. Note problem areas that are difficult to manage and may be appropriate for native landscapes.
  2. Determine the areas to be planted using native or water conservation materials. It is not necessary or desirable to make an entire landscape native. Some areas should be more traditional with good shade, turf for recreation, leisure areas, and flower beds for consistent color. However, the location of native plantings will determine much of the design. Areas removed from public scrutiny, such as property corners and large back yards, can remain informal and will have less demand for maintenance. Native plantings in public areas, such as around the house entrance, can be as pleasing as traditional landscapes, but will require a more elaborate design.
  3. Design the native planting areas in such a way that they provide continuity and flow with the rest of the landscape. Zone the irrigation system to meet the needs of the native plants. Some areas may need less water if xeriscape principles are followed, while other areas (such as water features and lowland plantings) may actually need more water. Recognize that if a native planting is designed for low water use, it may be necessary to add landscape features other than plants, such as rocks or wood objects to maintain season-long interest, color and texture.
  4. Choose plant materials that will provide balance, color, line and movement and complement the rest of the landscape while at the same time meeting the goals of the design. Carefully consider transition zones between traditional and native components of the landscape and avoid sudden shifts in plant type. Carefully consider the mature size of all plant materials and arrange plantings accordingly. Do not mix plants with vastly different water or maintenance needs.
  5. Once the design is complete, install the new landscape using procedures outlined in the section above. In the case of a water-conserving landscape, remember that newly established plants are not especially drought tolerant for the first season and may need some supplemental water for several months.

There are some outstanding publications available on-line that provide detailed instructions for establishing a native landscape. Here are a few of the best that are appropriate for Idaho:

Several photographs utilized in this discussion of landscaping were supplied courtesy of Gizmo Creations, LLC, Merrifield, Minnesota.


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