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When gardening, think local | Kitsap Week

Mock-orange is a fragrant shrub that smells of sweet citrus. - KENEPEI
Mock-orange is a fragrant shrub that smells of sweet citrus.
— image credit: KENEPEI'S PHOTO

Around here, it may be difficult to grow palm trees and cactus plants in your garden. And you shouldn’t. Instead, try planting native plants.

“Native plants have grown and evolved here for hundreds of thousands of years and are very well adapted to our climate conditions,” said Colleen Miko, horticultural educator  for Washington State University Kitsap Extension Office. Native plants are accustomed to our climate, no matter what nature throws at us, she said.

“Some [non-native] plants that have been introduced here didn’t do too well this wet and cold winter,” she said. “While native plants think, ‘No big deal, I’ve seen this before.’”

Of course, said Miko, it’s important to choose the correct plant for your conditions and space requirements.

If you think that native plants are limited to ferns and cedar trees, think again.

“We have some very beautiful and attractive native plants that are very ornamental,” Miko said.

One of Miko’s favorites is the mock-orange shrub. In the early summer, the plant is covered in beautiful white flowers. The flowers are extremely fragrant, giving off a citrus-like smell. When planting a mock-orange, try to place it near your house so when the windows are open, the sweet smell will drift into your home.

A native bulb to our region is the Camassia. When in bloom, it has a beautiful blue, star-shaped flower. Miko said the bulb has also been a staple of Native American diets since time immemorial. The bulb itself is used as a starchy food source, similar to a sweet potato.

Other edible native plants include blueberry and huckleberry plants, as well as thimbleberries. Miko said thimbleberries have a short shelf-life and are flavorful when you are able to find them. Often, the birds discover the ripe berries before humans do.

Miko recommends viewing gardens with native plants to get an appreciation of the beauty they behold. Manchester State Park in Port Orchard has lovely native plants, with interpretative signs to help you identify the different vegetation.

Our local nurseries in Kitsap have a nice variety of native plants. Most nurseries also have a certified professional horticulturist on staff who can help direct you to the correct native plant for your needs.

Master Gardeners are another great local resource for gardening questions. Master Gardeners complete 12 weeks of hands-on and online training. During their first year, they are required to devote 50 hours of volunteer time to the community. Once certified, Master Gardeners volunteer 35 hours a year at clinics, demonstrations, help maintain public spaces and grow produce for local food banks.

Each week in the spring and summer, Master Gardeners can be found at local farmers markets.They can answer your questions, help identify pests and weeds and provide solutions for challenging gardening situations.

For Master Gardeners, it’s not just about learning. “It’s about training yourself to help the public,” Miko said.

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