With snow and frigid temps blanketing a good portion of North America, maybe what we all need right now is a nice break and a chance to think about spring (which Punxsutawney Phil says is not too far off!). I thought a little digression about trees, shrubs, and landscaping on horse property might be good for this week. That's what we are doing on right now at Sweet Pepper Ranch. We are working with a landscaper who understands our land management goals and interests. He's put together a planting plan for us that we can work on implementing in phases.

Checking out a newly planted tree

Matt inspects a recently planted quaking aspen, which will lend summer shade to the round pen area.

January and February are actually great times to plan for and begin planting. Planting plants in the dormant stage helps them better survive the stress of transplanting.

I am a huge fan of using native plants on horse properties. People, wildlife and the environment all benefit from a landscape of native plants. Native plants, also called indigenous plants, are plants that have evolved over thousands of years in a particular region. They have adapted to the geography, hydrology, and climate and have co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes. These plants are the foundation of our natural ecosystems. As a result, a community of native plants provides habitat for a variety of native wildlife species such as songbirds and butterflies.

Logging, agriculture and development have led to a tremendous loss of native vegetation and, as a result, critical wildlife habitat. However, farmers all over the world are becoming wildlife habitat managers. Enhancing the farm landscape with native plants not only promotes native wildlife, it also helps to control erosion, provide a visual buffer and filter pesticides, fertilizers, and nutrients.

Here is a list of ways native plants can work for you to enhance your horse property:

  • In hedgerows (as an alternative to fencing). Hedgerows act as wind barriers and provide an attractive visual boundary. (Species to consider for hedgerows: beaked hazelnut, nootka rose, red flowering currant as well as coniferous and deciduous trees such as Douglas fir, western red cedar, black hawthorn and pacific crabapple).
  • As mud managers alongside paddocks and confinement areas; this helps reduce flows, absorb water and filter sediments and pollutants. (Species to consider for wet areas: red osier dogwood, Pacific willow, black twinberry, salmonberry and pacific ninebark)
  • As buffers along streams and wetlands to protect riparian habitat by improving water quality and reducing erosion. (Species to consider for riparian areas: western red cedar, Oregon ash, black twinberry, pacific ninebark, salmonberry)
  • As decorative landscape features near your house and along the driveway. Many native shrubs and groundcovers exhibit beautiful arrays of colors in flowers and leaves. Choose a variety of evergreen and deciduous plants for year-round coverage. (Species to consider for ornamental value: red flowering currant, mock orange, salal, sword fern, kinnikinnick)
  • Plant native plants instead of lawns to save time and money by reducing or even eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment. (Species to consider for drier areas: Douglas fir, shore pine, nootka rose, big leaf maple, beaked hazelnut, thimbleberry, snowberry, Oregon grape)
  • For wildlife enhancement. The types of plants you choose for food and cover will help determine the wildlife species attracted to your backyard. Planting a variety of native species will ensure that plants will flower and fruit at different times throughout the year.

For help on selecting native plants suited for your specific climate, soil type, location and needs contact your local conservation district, extension office or native plant society. Or check with your local nursery—they often have a supply of natives and are happy to work with you.