ILWACO — There is really no better time than fall for planting trees and shrubs. As the days shorten, temperatures begin to fall, and rainfall is on the rise, conditions are ideal for the low-stress acclimation and establishment of your garden’s new inhabitants.
In contrast to spring or summer planting, which can stress fully leafed-out plants with small root systems — meaning frequent watering — fall-planted trees and shrubs experience cooling air temperatures and increasing soil moisture. And don’t be fooled, when the plants have lost their leaves or otherwise appear to have stopped growing, don’t think that all growth has stopped. Beneath the soil surface the plant’s roots are actively claiming new ground, building a root system able to amply support next year’s top growth.
This fall I will be adding to the growing collection of native trees and shrubs in the garden. I’ve chosen to “go native,” not only because it suits my interests, but because of their simple beauty and ease of care. Since our local native plants have evolved in our local soils, our unique climate, and they are relatively resistant to disease and pests (think deer), they require little or no fertilizer, supplemental watering, or pesticide applications.
Among the natives that thrive in my garden is serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), also known as Saskatoon or Juneberry. Serviceberry is a graceful shrub or small tree that, when planted in full sun, grows from 5- to 15-feet tall. In early spring, it blooms in a profusion of small white flowers on a background of beautiful green and blue-green leaves. In addition to being an early source of nectar and pollen for our local pollinators, each flower gives rise to a small fruit that ripen in colors of deep red to purple. If you are lucky enough to have a good crop, serviceberries make fine pies, jams, and jellies, or let them dry and eat them like raisins. If fruit production is lean, I leave them for a variety of birds that populate the yard.
A tree for all seasons: in addition to its spring and summer color, form, and bird life, its fall foliage explodes in bright reds, oranges and yellows—in stark contrast to the graying days of autumn. Its “handsome winter habit” is enhanced as its buds swell early in the winter.
Serviceberry is an old favorite of mine, having known it from the mountain slopes of Nevada, the north slopes of eastern Oregon, and the hillsides of eastern Washington. It is known to occur in every county in Washington. I often puzzled over its name until I finally did a little research. Serviceberry, an early spring bloomer, got its name, some references report, from the fact that its blossoming indicated to the people of the high plains and Canadian prairies that the ground had thawed and grave digging could resume and it was time to hold burial services for those who departed in the frigid days of winter. But that’s how stories get started.
Hugh Barrett, a retired Rangeland Ecologist, is the president of the Master Foundation of Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties and lives with his Border Collie “Suki” on the Long Beach Peninsula.
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