For most of the country fall is the ideal time to plant all kinds of things from cool-season veggies, turf grasses and perennials to both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. Yet, strangely, when it comes to planting many of us only think of spring. And not many of us horse owners realize how helpful native trees and shrubs can be on a horse property.

At Sweet Pepper Ranch we have a hedgerows of native plants as a wind and dust barriers and as an attractive visual boundary.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

I am a huge fan of using native plants on horse properties. People, wildlife, horses, and the environment all benefit from a landscape of native plants. Native plants are those 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, insects, 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, farming, ranching and development have led to a tremendous loss of native vegetation and, as a result, a loss of critical wildlife habitat. Enhancing our horse properties with native plants not only promotes native wildlife, it also helps to control erosion, provides a visual buffer and filter chemicals and nutrients.

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

  • Plant hedgerows of native plants as an alternative to or along with fencing. Hedgerows act as wind or dust barriers and provide an attractive visual boundary between neighboring uses. (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).
  • Plant native plants as mud managers alongside paddocks and confinement areas help 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).
  • Plant native 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).
  • Plant native plants as decorative landscape features near your house, barn 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, and Oregon grape).

Basically, the ideal period for fall planting is roughly six weeks before the first hard frost. In northern areas of the country the ideal planting period might even be late summer. In general, the window of opportunity for most folks is during September and October.

Why is fall planting so good? In the fall, the warm soil encourages root growth. Roots continue to grow through the winter until the ground freezes --in areas with mild winters roots may continue to grow. In early spring roots begin new growth or continue to develop at a faster rate and begin top growth. While the same plant planted in spring gets a slow start due to cool soils, the fall-planted plants are becoming well established.

When summer finally arrives, the fall-planted plant is far better equipped to deal with heat and drought, largely due to its well-established root system. Of course, there are plenty of other good reasons to plant in the fall, such as dependable rainfall, cooler weather and fewer pest and disease problems. In addition, many plants are on sale at nurseries which makes fall planting particularly attractive!

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.