Should I Landscape with Trees Native to Washington State?

Jeana Cadby
January 16, 2020

Hundreds, if not thousands, of fuzzy green dots soften the jagged edges of cold, stone-grey mountain peaks, natures pointillism adding a sense of depth to an overwhelmingly vertical landscape. Yet Washington State’s hardy trees remain rooted in place, enduring the cold swift winter chills, and relishing the rays of sunshine filtering through gaps in the biting cloudline. 

Overlooking one of Washington's beautiful lakes on the Cascade Mountain Range.
Overlooking one of Washington's beautiful lakes on the Cascade Mountain Range.

Native trees are well adapted to local climates, to support native ecosystems and wildlife. With the vast and beautiful topography that Washington State has to offer, landscaping with native trees is a wonderful way to reconnect with nature. Some may wonder, should I landscape with trees native to Washington State?

Adapted to Local Climates

Benefits to planting native trees in the landscape, such as local adaptability, cannot be overlooked. Native plants are easily established in local soils, and remain sturdy throughout the ups and downs of seasonal change over a long lifetime. Some of the most popular native trees of Washington State can even live for hundreds of years. These characteristics are ideal to maintain native habitats, and can help to control erosion by holding the soil with fibrous roots, or reduce flooding by slowing runoff.

Native plants in the right place can perform well as low maintenance landscaping trees, including adding ornamental value. For example, native trees such as the Fringe Tree make exceptional ornamental specimens, with unique characteristics, hardiness, and beautiful pirouetting white spring flowers. For landscapers looking for low maintenance, worry free, and attractive specimens, selected trees that are native to the PNW such as the Ponderosa Pine can also be an excellent option. 

Support Native Fauna

Native trees may also offer habitats for local and native fauna, which can add value to the landscape. The key factors to support diverse wildlife are canopy age and tree species diversity, which can be achieved with both with native trees and non-native trees. 

Learning to identify native trees is also a great way to reconnect with nature. Fortunately, there are plenty of local guides to native plant ID for the PNW, including Western Washington, and regionally. Oregon State also offers a fun way to click your way to PNW plant ID here, and be sure to check out beautiful photography of native PNW trees here

Native trees and plants in the Cascades of Washington State.
Native trees and plants in the Cascades of Washington State.

Professor Milton Mosher, and Former Extension Forestry Specialist Knut Lunnum from the Washington State University “Trees of Washington Guide” suggests, “remember that the same kind of trees often vary greatly. Do not be surprised to find that leaf size, in particular, does not fit the average figures. Sprout growth almost always has extra large leaves, and trees on poor, dry soils often have undersized leaves.”

Careful Planning

Like all landscaping projects, choosing the right tree for the job is critical; take the time to understand the size, maintenance, and placement specifics. Planning is always easier than re-planting, so proper research can save a lot of time and resources in the long run. Trees that are not well adapted to local climates may struggle to thrive, especially without careful planning. Native trees are often well-suited to perform well in local climates, and selected specimens are often worth considering for landscaping projects. 

However, keep in mind, some well-adapted non-native trees might actually be more appropriate to fit in the landscape, especially in urban environments, and will require less care than native species. For example, the Oregon Green Austrian Pine is an excellent option as a slow-growing, low-maintenance tree, well adapted to local Washington State climate conditions. 

Consider the long-term expectations for the tree, including purpose and placement. Pruning large plants to fit a small area can be a lot of work, and may damage the overall health of the tree. Poor location planning can also reduce the chances of surviving deer browsing, or accidental weed–whacking and trampling.

Summary

Native trees symbolize the stunning natural beauty of the State of Washington, and selected trees can add great value to the landscape for many years. Such well-adapted trees can support local wildlife, requiring low maintenance, and providing environmental benefits. However, not all native trees are well-suited to urban conditions, so careful planning is paramount. Understanding the benefits of planting native vs non-native trees can help in making this decision. There are also less dramatic changes to easily update any landscape to be more wildlife friendly. Where is the best place to enjoy native trees in your area?

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