Native Plant Gardening
Download the expanded, second edition: The Garry Oak Gardener’s Handbook: Nurturing Native Plant Habitat in Garry Oak Communities (2011)
In this second edition, we kept the same great designs for Garry oak meadows, woodlands, rock outcrops and container gardens, and we added tips for attracting pollinators and removing invasive plants. You’ll also find tips on planning your native plant garden, acquiring plants, mulching, caring for Garry oak trees, dealing with deer and more — all with full-colour photos and plan drawings.
“I recently came across the Garry Oak Gardener’s Handbook, and what great timing, as I am in the process of converting my front yard into a native plant garden and was just starting the detailed plan to figure out what to plant where. This book has done most of the work for me. What a fantastic resource!” —Jody Watson, CRD Harbours & Watershed Coordinator
A Short Guide to Native Plant Gardening
For details on planning your garden and working with native plants, see:
- The Garry Oak Gardener’s Handbook (above)
- our Plant Propagation section
- Native Plant Flowering Times
- Native Plant Seed Collection Times
Choose plants whose needs will be satisfied as much as possible by the environmental conditions of your site, and know your plants’ growth requirements and natural habitats as well as your property’s natural features. Grow several different species of native plants, as diversity is essential for healthy Garry oak habitat.
If you have a friend or neighbour who is able to give you a cutting or division of a native plant, this is an ideal way to acquire plants for your Garry oak garden. It is the least expensive, and if the plant comes from a nearby site, this may help to retain the genetic integrity of plants in your area. Divide perennials in late summer/early fall, or take cuttings in late summer or late winter. Trade with your friends and neighbours!
Seed & Plant Supply
There are several reputable suppliers of native plant seeds. This is an inexpensive way to find plants for your garden. Beware of commercially available ‘wildflower mixes’, as they often contain non-native and sometimes invasive species. See our buying native plants section.
In addition, the Native Seed Network is a resource for both the restoration community and the native seed industry, providing powerful search tools and information on aspects of native seed (USA-based).
Restoration plans and invasive plant management prescriptions often recommend mulching. But what is mulch, and how should it be used in Garry Oak and associated ecosystems? Our guidelines answer these questions and provide references for more information: Guidelines for Mulching in Garry Oak and Associated Ecosystems (2013)
Never take plants from local parks or natural areas. Often they do not transplant well, you will be harming the natural environment, and the practice is illegal. Be careful about suppliers of salvaged plants, as illegal plant scavenging is a concern for the future health of natural areas the plants came from.
Local naturalist groups may be aware of legitimate plant salvaging opportunities. When a new road or subdivision is going in, for example, a local group may ask for permission to remove healthy plant material for use elsewhere. Offer to help with these salvaging operations, and you may be able to keep some of the salvaged plants. See our collection guidelines webpage.
Use of rare plants is not recommended. When you are getting native plants for your garden, make sure they are local, common species and not rare ones. The use of rare plant species is a complicated process that needs expert assistance and carefully prepared plans. For further information, see COSEWIC, the BC Conservation Data Centre, or our list of rare and endangered species: Species at Risk list XLS (2010)
Native plants are more useful for attracting butterflies because the flowering of specific plants coincides with the emergence of the adult butterfly, and while feeding on nectar, butteflies assist in the pollination of plants. A number of plants in Garry oak ecosystems provide food for the larval (caterpillar) stages in the life cycle of native butterflies. Large butterflies such as swallowtails prefer to land on flowers with large composite heads because they can rest on them while feeding. Composites include asters, goldenrod, pearly everlasting, and yarrow. Flowers in the carrot family are also popular with swallowtails. Other butterflies are attracted to plants with large numbers of fragrant flowers such as honeysuckles (Lonicera ciliosa and Lonicera hispidula), mock orange, oceanspray, kinnikinnick, red-osier dogwood, columbine, sedum, violets, clovers, wild mint, alliums, and strawberry.
Planting & Watering
Do test plantings in small areas, to see how well the plants establish.
- Water well during the first year. To conserve water, use a soaker hose or drip irrigation and water deeply early in the morning.
- Once they are established, most Garry oak ecosystem species are adapted to summer drought and you can allow the plants to dry out between watering. This will help them grow deep roots and become more drought-tolerant. You may need to water every few weeks in very dry summers.
- Add new plants gradually. Remember that they will spread naturally over time, and small shrubs will become much bigger!
- Plant some acorns or young oak trees, as these will take a long time to establish. This is particularly important if your existing Garry oak trees are old or dying.
- It is best to establish perennials in the spring or early fall in loose, well-drained soil that has been deeply mulched with compost.
Native plants have survived in this area for many hundreds of years. Let nature take its course.
- Continue to remove invasive species as they reoccur.
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides, and use only organic fertilizers.
- Mulch at least once a year (see above).
- Let oak leaves remain around the base of Garry oak trees and elsewhere. The Propertius Duskywing butterfly, a species at risk, over-winters in the leaf litter. Also, leaf cover protects the soil underneath and enriches the soil as it decomposes. If you have to remove leaves from one area, consider spreading them in another or adding them to the garden compost. Remove and throw away any diseased leaves. A low fence can help to keep leaves from blowing onto a neighbour’s property, and can protect the area from human and dog activity.
- Be patient and persistent. Some plants take years to become established, and even longer to bloom. Removing and controlling weeds and invasive plants on your property may also take time.
Other Helpful Publications & Websites
- Native Plants in the Coastal Garden: A Guide for Gardeners in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest; by April Pettinger with Brenda Costanzo
- Propagation of Pacific Northwest Native Plants; by Robin Rose, Caryn E.C. Chachulski, and Diane L. Haase.
- Plants of Coastal British Columbia, including Washington, Oregon & Alaska; by Pojar & MacKinnon
- Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest; by Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson
- Trees, Shrubs & Flowers to Know in British Columbia & Washington; by C.P. Lyons and Bill Merilees
- Indicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia; by K. Klinka, V.J. Krajina, A. Ceska, and A.M. Scagel
- Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary
- Washington Native Plant Society
- The South Puget Sound Prairie Landscape Working Group