Fall is the time for planting native shrubs in your yard. Until recently, it was very difficult to plant native shrubs in one's yard, because they were not available for sale. With the increased interest in the use of native plants in yards and city landscapes, some species are becoming more available. Most of our native shrubs do not require irrigation. Their use can reduce the need for irrigation water. Given that we live in the shrub-steppe, we do have a variety of shrubs to consider. I will describe a number of native shrubs that can be planted this fall (November), giving you time to consider the possibilities.
Gray rabbit-brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) is very common, occurring throughout our area, but is most common in sandy soils where it can be found in pure stands. Gray rabbit-brush is starting to bloom now with bright yellow flowers. The flowers are in clusters of small heads at the top of the shrub. Gray rabbit-brush is gray because it is densely covered with white or gray woolly hairs on leaves and stems. Leaves are long and very narrow. This shrub is usually only two to three feet tall. It also has a strong and less than pleasant smell when the leaves are crushed.
Green rabbit-brush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) will occur with gray rabbitbrush, but is less common. It also has bright golden yellow flowers and is starting to bloom now. Green rabbit-brush is green because it lacks hairs on the leaves and stem. The stems and flowers are somewhat sticky to the touch. Green rabbitbrush is a nice addition to the yard because of its bright green foliage in the summer when other native shrubs are generally gray-green in color. It is also two to three feet tall. Some varieties can be taller.
Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is the most common shrub in our area. Plants are usually less than three feet tall, but can be up to ten feet tall near water. Sagebrush is in flower now, although they are not much to look at. The flowers are very small, yellow, and located on dense flowering stalks at the top of the shrub. Seeds will drop in the fall and early winter. Sagebrush is evergreen with gray-green leaves that have three lobes at the tip. The leaves are gray-green because of dense gray hairs on the leaves. The leaves contain oils that will produce a distinctive aroma when crushed between the fingers. Sagebrush will grow in any soil type in our area.
One of our most attractive flowering shrubs is bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), a member of the rose family. It has yellow flowers in the spring. Bitterbrush can be over six feet tall and nearly as wide as it is tall. This shrub has dark green leaves that have three lobes at the tip of each leaf, which is why its species name is tridentata. It is deciduous, meaning that it drops its leaves in the fall. Bitterbrush is a favorite browse for deer and antelope. It is also known as antelope brush. Bitterbrush does best in sandy soils.
Purple sage (Salvia dorii) deserves to be in your yard. It is a mint and is adorned with elegant and fragrant blue-purple flowers. The floral display will turn practically the entire shrub light purple in the spring to early summer. This plant will do well in sandy to rocky soils. It can be up to three feet tall.
The shrubs described above can be planted in the fall or early spring and given some water through the spring just to get them established. They will not need water after that. Given that municipal water is expensive and potentially less available in the future, these shrubs are worth considering. These shrubs are colorful and will be a pleasant addition to your yard.
These and other native shrubs can be obtained through Plants of the Wild at 509-284-2848 or locally, through Wildlands, Inc. at 509-375-4177. You can learn more about these shrubs and other native plants for your yard by attending the monthly meeting of the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society. Call or e-mail me for details.
Dr. Link is a member of the Biology faculty at the Washington State University Tri-Cities Branch Campus, and president of the Columbia Basin chapter of WNPS. He can be reached at 509-372-1526 and by e-mail at email@example.com.