By Van Bobbitt, Seattle Audubon Garden Committee
Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed April, 2023, as Native Plant Appreciation Month. Each year, the Washington Native Plant Society sponsors Native Plant Appreciation Month to highlight the importance of native plants and healthy native plant ecosystems.
Here are some reasons you should care about native plants:
- Native plant ecosystems protect our watersheds by recharging aquifers, modulating stream flows, filtering water, and reducing erosion and flooding.
- Healthy and diverse native plant ecosystems sequester carbon and provide environmental resilience in the face of a changing climate.
- Preserving native plant ecosystems is critical for supporting wildlife, such as birds, fish, and pollinating insects.
“Planting for Tomorrow” is the theme of this year’s Native Plant Appreciation Month. This can apply to large ecological restoration projects, landscaping a yard with native plants, or even growing a few Oregon-grape plants in containers to provide nectar for hummingbirds.
Oregon Grape flowering by Olga Murina, Canva
Habitat loss is a major threat to biodiversity. Entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of the award-winning book “Bringing Nature Home”, says “My central message is that unless we restore native plants to our suburban ecosystems, the future of biodiversity in the United States is dim.” In another one of Dr. Tallamy’s books, “Nature’s Best Hope”, he provides a blueprint for people to turn their outdoor spaces into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitat.
The Seattle Audubon garden can serve as a model for creating bird habitat. It was designed with three major goals:
- Create habitat for wildlife, especially birds.
- Screen the building from the street.
- Provide a demonstration garden to educate the public about gardening with native plants to create habitat for birds and other wildlife.
If you want to enhance your garden’s habitat value, what lessons can the garden offer?
Emphasize Layers of Vegetation
“They (birds) need food, shelter and water, but they also need a layered landscape from big trees all the way down to ground cover,” according to Keith Geller, who led the volunteer team that created the garden. Different birds favor different heights of trees and shrubs. More on this in Seattle Audubon‘s “Gardening for Life” guide found HERE.
Russell Link, author of “Landscaping for Wildlife”, says: “…concentrate on providing structure in the landscape from the ground covers to small shrubs to larger shrubs to mid-sized trees to larger trees. Birds and other wildlife are oftentimes attracted to structure as much as they are the plants themselves or the flowers they provide.” The full interview with Russell Link on BirdNote can be found HERE.
Emphasize Native Plants
The designers of the garden “consciously built the garden around native plants, but it isn’t a strict regime.” Native plants evolved here and are adapted to our climate, and native wildlife evolved alongside our native plants. But non-native plants may provide habitat value as well. It would be a shame to remove a large, well-established non-native tree that already provides shelter and food for birds. You don’t need to be a purist.
For a quick guide to which native plants will provide habitat value for specific bird species, see the handout “Pacific Northwest Plants and the Birds that Use Them”.
The Seattle Audubon garden uses layers of vegetation and native plants including trees, shrubs, and ground cover, to build habitat for wildlife.
Value Dead or Dying Trees
A dead snag of a large Douglas-fir tree has been standing in front of the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop for years, and that is intentional. Wildlife biologist Russell Link said in a BirdNote interview, “Interestingly, when people ask me what are my top ten plants, I oftentimes will include dead or dying trees … because they’re so important to a wide variety of birds.” There is an excellent article by Stuart Niven on the habitat-value of dead and dying trees in the Spring 2022 edition of Earth Care Northwest, published by Seattle Audubon.
For more details on how to create a habitat garden, Russell Link’s book, “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest”, is a good place to start. A number of gardening and habitat enhancement books are sold at The Nature Shop.
Dead snag standing at The Nature Shop to attract wildlife, including woodpeckers by Carol Roll
Native Plant Appreciation Month Events
Shop for Wildlife-supporting Native Plants
The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and Seattle Audubon are teaming up to celebrate Earth Month this April. Join us on the Upper Meadow at Cal Anderson Park on April 16, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a plant sale and seed exchange. Shop for wildlife-supporting native plants from local farming collective, bring your favorite seeds to swap, or take some to sow from our free seed inventory.
Click HERE for more information.
Native Plant & Habitat Garden Tour
Come tour the Seattle Audubon garden to learn about native plants and how they can enhance habitat for birds and wildlife. This event will be led by our Garden Committee members Shannon Bailey and Van Bobbitt on Friday, April 21, 2023, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop & Garden
Register using this LINK
Webinars from the Washington Native Plant Society
- “The Legacy of Dr. Art Kruckeberg” by Dr. Richard Olmstead. March 31, 7:00 p.m.
- “Gardening with Native Plants for the Future” by Marcia Rivers Smith. April 6, 7:00 p.m.
- “Gardening Under Native Trees” by Christina Pfeiffer. April 12, 7:00 p.m.
- “The Heritage Garden Program” by Heather Wendt, Kelsey Kelmel, Dinah Rouleau, Elizabeth Jackson, and Wendy Mee. April 18, 7:00 p.m.
- “Underground Allies: Tiny Yet Mighty” by Dr. David R. Montgomery & Anne Biklé. April 24, 7:00 p.m.
- “Resilient Gardens for Uncertain Futures” by Clay Antieau. Apr 27, 7:00 p.m.
To register, go to https://www.wnps.org/wnps-annual-events/npam