5 Unique Native Plants to the Northwest United States

5 Unique Native Plants to the Northwest United States

Northwestern Native plants header

Check out the second of six in a Native Plant series for each region of the US and learn about Nature Hills' Top Five Astounding Native Plants for the Northwest!

Like the stunning landscapes found in the Northwest United States, the native plants found in that region of the country are unique and intriguing! Adapted to a high precipitation location with 60-240 inches of rain and snow a year, this is regarded as a foggy, coastal, and cooler area of the country, marked by mountains and evergreen forests. Once you go a bit further inland, however, you are met by open plains and pastures divided by rivers, mountains, and forests.

map of US areas

The Northwest, in general, is considered USDA planting zones 5 through 8 and west of the Rocky Mountains and typically includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

Northwestern Native Plants

What makes a native plant? These indigenous specimens can be defined by plants that have been established in a given area for hundreds of years, evolving with and supporting their surrounding ecosystems.

This definition goes hand in hand with a geographic location, like the Northwestern US. It is challenging to pinpoint an exact geographical boundary for natives, as plants do not follow the same boundaries as people do.

Check out these prominent natives in the Northwestern US that will work great in your landscape and are available at Nature Hills Nursery!

1. Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

NW plant types

Western Hemlock, Western Cedar, and the Douglas Fir Tree are the three major native conifers in the Northwestern US. And the Douglas Fir is the easiest and most readily available for you to grow! These feature upward-pointing branches full of soft blue-green needles and curious cones with papery ‘tongues’. Fast-growing and deer-resistant, these are ideal Christmas trees and evergreen shade throughout USDA planting zones 4 to 6. Growing up to 60 feet tall and half as wide at the base.

2. Vine Maple Tree (Acer circinatum)

The Bigleaf Maple may reign supreme in the Northwest, but if you've seen a lovely Vine Maple Tree lyrically growing in the wild, then you know they are beautiful native deciduous trees! Growing upright as large, shrubby ornamental trees, Vine Maples are a great native alternative to Japanese Maples. New spring leaves come out red in color, and mature into bright green on top, with a downy underside. Enjoy the months of welcome shade they provide all summer, as they'll soon develop their wonderful fall color.

Vine Maple looks beautiful all year long, with gorgeous bark, pretty spring blooms, outstanding leaves, and great fall color. The delicate reddish-purple flowers are a clarion call to local butterflies and honey bees. Growing throughout USDA planting zones 5 to 9, these shrubby trees can grow up to 30 feet tall and wide.

3. Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium)

From canary yellow flowers, Holly-shaped native broadleaf evergreen leaves, and edible fruit for you and the birds, the Oregon Grape Holly also features rich bronze-red new leaves and burgundy-purple fall color! Not a true Holly, the Grape Holly is a native fruiting shrub that is delightfully easy to grow and tough as nails! Hardy throughout USDA growing zones 5 to 9, these shrubs top out at around 6 feet tall and a bit smaller in width. No room for the larger form? Try the smaller Compact Oregon Grape Holly that keeps things under 3 feet in height and 4 feet in width.

4. Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Loving higher moisture and shade, the Western Sword Fern is a lush woodland native perennial that looks great in the landscape, the mixed planter, and your bouquets as fine-textured greenery! The dark green toothy fronds are glossy, symmetrical, and thick, forming dense vase-shaped clumps that create lovely naturalized colonies when left to ramble on their own. Deer-resistant and cute fiddleheads in the spring, this 3-5 foot tall and wide perennial Fern grows throughout USDA planting zones 6 to 9.

5. Fox Sedge Grass (Carex vulpinoidea)

The wetland restoration superhero, Fox Sedge Grass is one of those rare plants that will grow nearly anywhere and is native to most of the contiguous United States. It even grows into southern Canada! However, due to the high rainfall in the Northwestern US, Fox Sedge is one of the most prominent native grasses in the area! Summer brings bronzy, spiky Fox tail-like seed heads for added interest and motion in the wind. Hardy throughout USDA planting zones 3 to 8, these perennial ornamental grasses grow up to 2 feet wide and tall.

Honorable Mentions

lady fern

  • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) is a large conifer with a straight trunk, these evergreens are magnificent specimens found throughout the Northwestern US.
  • Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is also known as Juneberry. These white flowering trees have edible berries for you and the birds, plus dramatic fall color!
  • Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) also known as Red Twigged Dogwood are fantastic native shrubs with red stems, white berries, and blooms and support pollinators galore!
  • Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) are lush green, finely-cut Ferns that grow throughout USDA planting zones 5 to 10! Light and delicate, these shade-garden natives add instant cool, calm relaxation.
  • Red Columbines are lovely woodland and prairie flowers that have unique red and yellow blooms and can be found frolicking throughout the Northwestern meadows.
  • Giant Feather Grass (Stipa gigantea) are smaller green ornamental native grasses with very tall (5-6 feet tall) seed heads on strong, waving, slender stems. Semi-evergreen, these deer-resistant grasses add an airy silvery bloom with oat-like seed heads.

Each of these plants represents the diversity available within the Northwestern United States. These plants have adapted to the environmental conditions of the Northwest and are ready to provide you with unique and exciting features within your landscape!

Supporting Plants in the Northwestern US Climate

How can you help your plants along in these varied ranges of planting conditions? There are quite a few tips and tricks that you can use to give your new plants the best start and keep them growing beautifully.

One good thing about the Northwestern area is the amount of fertile soil and ample moisture access. So ensuring good drainage will be a high priority.

Choosing native plants that grow in your Growing Zone and weather, means they will not require as much care once established. Ensure they can handle the sunlight quality and quantity in your planting area, then find your Hardiness Zone. Then find more information on how to choose Perennials and Shrubs for your area.

caring for plants NW US

The higher rainfall and higher air humidity can sometimes lead to plants struggling with powdery mildew and other fungal problems. So selecting a planting site that gives them plenty of air circulation and has access to the morning sunlight that dries leaves of dew, is vital.

When you can’t plant in your landscape’s soil due to it having poor drainage or being soggy - instead grow up! Raised beds, berms, and large planters allow you to control the soil your plants are in, and pinpoint water the plants without having to water an entire area.

Rain splashing on soil causes dirt to cover leaves and infect them with potential mold and fungal issues. And in the higher humidity and rainfall that is common in the Northwestern US, you need to water at the roots of your plants, spread mulch around their root zone to stop splashing mud, and use the Finger Test method to ensure whether they need moisture or not. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses installed beneath the surface of the soil and mulch layers help save you time!

Speaking of mulch, this 3-4 inch deep layer of shredded bark, compost, and/or arborist mulch will make or break any success you have with your landscaping! Mulch holds moisture in the soil by preventing evaporation, and keeps roots insulated from heat and chill, while slowly breaking down and enriching the soil by adding organic matter to improve soil health.

In the highest of moisture areas, Rain Gardens help capture excess moisture, giving it an area to pool into and drain away from other areas of the garden, slowing water and rain runoff, while giving you a place to plant wetland natives and bring in the beneficial insects galore! That soggy area where the gutters eternally drain can become a landscape feature with some planning. Saving your basement from flooding too by directing excess moisture away from your home.

Using Nature Hills Root Booster when planting helps you and your plant roots harness the power of mycorrhizal fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with feeder roots for the life of the plant! This living support network lives underground and helps roots take up moisture better and break down nutrients faster!

Tough Native Roots & Hardiness

If you live in the Northwestern US and are looking for some low-maintenance native plants, then don’t despair! Nature Hills is here to help find beautiful and rugged plants that are built to thrive in your landscape without acting like a bunch of divas!

Nature Hills ships plants with mature root systems that establish faster in your landscape and pump out bigger and more bountiful blooms year after year!

Search for native plants for your state on the NatureHills.com site, or you can contact your local County Extension Office for more localized information and support in choosing plants for your immediate area! They are a wealth of information at your fingertips!

Happy Planting!

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