Western Montana Homesteader

Page 28

Photo courtesy of Native Ideals Seed Farm

Expert Essay:

Wild by nature

Gardening made easy with water-wise native plants by Bryce Christiaens and Rebecca Shoemaker

In the last decade, freshwater use for keeping lawns green in the arid West has exceeded water use for food production. An alternative to a green lawn and an important way you can cut down on your water footprint is to have water-wise landscaping with drought-tolerant native plants. If you live in the valleys of western Montana, look no further than the North Hills ridge trail for inspiration in your own yard. Its masses of fuzzy-tongued penstemon, Missoula phlox, houndstooth groundsel, cushion buckwheats, shooting stars, bitterroots and bunchgrasses not 28

Missoula Independent

only look amazing, but they also don’t require any extra water, fertilizers, pesticides or other soil amendments to keep them happy. That’s because many of our native wildflower species spend the first year of their life growing a root system that allows them to flourish in the dry valleys of western Montana and show off their colors for years to come. What we’re saying is, you can have a yard that looks like a prairie wildflower field and you don’t have to water, fertilize or mow. So is it really that easy? Short answer: Yes, but you do have to start looking at

Homesteader 2012

your yard a little differently. The best thing you can do is follow nature’s lead. Native plants have adapted to the harsh conditions nature throws at them, so don’t try to baby them too much or you will just end up smothering them to death. For native seeds, that means spreading them onto the surface of the soil in the fall without covering them. This works so well because it is exactly how seed germination and recruitment happens in the wild. Seeds drop from plants in late summer or early fall, then germinate the following spring and sometimes as early as

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