If you haven't heard the saying, "April showers bring May flowers," this is especially true in Boise, Idaho. Come Spring, Boise's natural landscapes fill with wildflowers and budding blooms. The rolling foothills burst with color, making for some of the most serene hiking views, and the fragrant smell of flowers fills downtown streets. Spring is undoubtedly one of the best seasons in Boise. It opens up possibilities for outdoor recreation and not to mention the ideal time to start planning that dream garden or finish that landscaping project. Introducing native plants can offer low-cost, sustainable solutions that benefit budgets and the ecosystem. Below are a few ideas to help everyone, from novice graders to local businesses, transform their landscapes into successful waterside, wildlife-friendly, native gardens.
When planning your next project, it's essential to distinguish what type of garden will best suit your needs. The most common is the backyard garden; however, some underrated options may include:
This type of garden is typically found in and around neighborhoods and is cared for by the community or a team of volunteers. Some examples include CABI Community Garden and Boise Downtown Teaching Farm.
A sensory garden is an enclosed area that engages the five basic senses of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Sensory gardens provide unique opportunities to stimulate the senses in ways visitors may not typically encounter. An example of this type of garden is the MK Nature Center.
An educational garden may be a public space or private school created to inform and engage the community to learn about native flora, fauna, and the environment around us. Consider checking out the Boise Urban Garden School, a specialized, inquiry-based education organization that utilizes organic gardening as the foundation for experiential-based learning opportunities. Find lessons and community programs on their website.
Habitat & Pollinator Gardens
A pollinator or habitat garden attracts local pollinators and wildlife by growing specific nectar and pollen-producing plants or setting habitats that provide all different types of animals and plants a place to live. Garden City Pollinator Habitat, Ann Morrison Park, Bernardine Quinn Riverside Park, Boise Urban Garden School, Mariposa Park, Terry Day Park, Warm Springs Park
Landscaping is equally essential when considering local business. Incorporating native plants can provide cost-effective solutions that showcase stunning displays of local flora. Consider visiting the Idaho State Capital Building to get some ideas.
Before embarking on this journey, a plan is the most helpful tool in starting a garden or landscaping. Depending on the size of your space and goals, some key factors that may aid in forming a well-formed plan may include budget, a planting plan taking into consideration implementation not limited to barriers, site preparation, weed barriers, plant calculations ( the distance between plants), or irrigation; maintenance schedule, goals-whether that be habitat, landscaping, food supply, etc., and how much time is available for upkeep. For ideas on where to start, you may consider visiting native gardens in the area, including, but not limited to, the: Idaho Botanical Garden, MK Nature Center, or the BLM Ethnobotany Garden and Sage-grouse Habitat Demonstration Garden.
Top 10 Native Plants
Some of the most common native plants found in the Boise area may include:
Species name: Balsamorhiza sagittata
Other names: Breadroot, Graydock, Spring sunflower
Description: A part of the sunflower family, these beautiful bright yellow flowers are often scattered across the Boise Foothills, lining the miles of trailheads.
Care: This flower can be a gorgeous addition to just about any space due to its low maintenance and tolerant origins. It prefers cold, dry areas of the West from Colorado to the Sierra Nevadas. The plant also has a history of being used as an excellent source of nutrition for various Native American groups and wildlife. The immature flower stems can be peeled and eaten, while the root was used as a coffee alternative and in herbal medicine practices.
Species name: Achillea millefolium
Other names: Milfoil, Thousandleaf, Soldier's woundwort, Bloodwort, Nose bleed, Devil's nettle, Sanguinary, Old-man's-pepper
Description: Common yarrow is a native wildflower that grows up to be about 3+/- feet tall, with no branches aside from the top. The leaves range about 3-5+/- inches long, and flowers can bloom from bright white to pale pink in color. This lovely flower blooms anywhere from late April to early July in southern regions and mid-July to mid-September the further north you go.
Care: This plant prefers medium water, with full sun or part shade, and is highly drought tolerant. Common yarrows make for a great ornamental garden plant and benefit insects.
Species name: Liatris spicata
Other names: Button snakewort, Kansas gay feather
Description: Blazing star is a native perennial that will stand out and leave a lasting impression. At its peak, the Blazing star can grow to 2-6 feet tall and spread around 1-3 feet wide. The plant will form in clumps as it grows and is primarily native to low grounds, marshlands, meadows, or Midwestern ditches. In the summer, it can range in color from purple, lilac, or white flowers. The indistinguishable spiky blooms from this plant are great for attracting birds, bees, and butterflies to your garden.
Species name: Asclepias syriaca
Other names: Butterfly flower, Silkweed, Silky swallow-wort, Virginia silkweed
Description: A vital habitat for monarchs, Milkweed is the only plant female monarchs lay their eggs on and the only plant monarch larvae will feed on as it grows. It can be easily recognized due to its size, rising from 3-8 feet tall. This perennial herb predominantly blooms in the summer from June to August and can be identified by white or purple flowers.
Care: Milkweed prefers full sun and moist soil and should be placed where it can get sun all day.
Species name: Rudbeckia laciniata
Other names: Cutleaf coneflower, Golden glow, Coneflower.
Description: It typically has 6-17 yellow ray flowers surrounding the yellowish-green cone in the center. The rays will droop a little and become more pronounced as it matures. The plant can grow from 3 to 6 feet tall, and the yellow blooms come from July through October.
Care: It prefers acidic soil and low water and can thrive in all types of sun. It brings tremendous value to honeybees.
Queen's cup lily
Species name: Clintonia uniflora
Other names: Bead lily, Bride's bonnet
Description: This perennial flowering plant is in the lily family and is native to mountainous areas. Queen's cup lily is a flowering plant that is "one flowered," which is one characteristic that makes it stand out from other species in the same genus. The bold flower has six white petals and large green leaves in a blade shape. The flowers bloom in spring and summer, attracting songbirds and pollinating insects.
Care: It grows in partial to full shade with rich, moist soil.
Species name: Linum lewisii
Other names: Perennial flax, Lint, Lewis Flax
Description: Blue Flax is a perennial plant that grows about 18-20 inches tall, and it typically leans slightly to one side. It has pale blue flowers with 5 petals each, measuring about 1 to 1 ½ inches across. At the beginning stage, it has a leafy stem and continues to lose leaves as it matures.
Care: The plant prefers full sun, moderate watering, and blooms from March to September.
Species name: Purshia tridentata
Other names: Antelope Bitterbrush, Buckbrush
Description: Apart from the rose family, each flower has five yellow-tinted petals and leaves falling typically less than an inch long.
Care: The Bitterbrush is an abundant desert shrub that evolved to thrive in dry environments with water-loss-resistant leaves.
Species name: Pseudoroegneria spicata
Other names: Agropyron spicatum
Description: Like other types of bunchgrass, this grass grows in a clump and typically maxes out around a height of 4+/- feet. This grass plays an equally vital role in sustaining the ecosystem and serving as a nutritious food source for wildlife in the area.
Care: An excellent filler grass, Bluebunch Wheatgrass is one of the most drought-resistant grasses in the state due to its ability to root in the ground up to 6.6 feet.
Species name: Prunus virginiana
Other names: Bitter-berry, Virginia bird cherry, Western chokecherry
Description: This tree grows to 40+/- feet tall, with long clusters of fragrant white flowers. It also has familiar tart cherries that grow from it, often used for jams, jellies, or syrup.
Care: Chokecherry falls under the family of large shrubs, tolerating a wide range of lighting and soil conditions, meaning there is a lot of flexibility in how you use it in your landscaping or garden.
Boise's Pledge to Pollinators
Over the last half a century, pollinator populations have taken a significant decline in numbers. To put that in perspective, Idaho has over 400+/- pollinator species that are crucial in producing over 300,000+/- plants worldwide, or one 1/3 of every bite of food. In the last year, the mayor of Boise decided to take the National Wildlife Federation's Mayor's Monarch Pledge, and Boise Parks and Recreation continues to prioritize local pollinators. Planting native plants can aid in preserving this beautiful state, even if it's just planting a flower.
Whether you're a first-time gardener or a local business, incorporating native plants can be a beneficial, cost-effective way of transforming your space and preserving the ecosystem.