Plants of the West or Pacific coast vary from the hot arid South, North to Alaska and every point in between. The Pacific coast is long strip from the crest of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges in the East, to the Pacific Ocean in the West. North, from the Alaska coastline all the way South to Baja, California.
This defined region embraces extremes in climate and length of growing seasons. What other region offers extreme winters and cold temperatures, to Mediterranean and sub tropical conditions.
In the dry South, Xeriscaping may be in order and plants may be from the desert southwest or natives that require less water and enjoy the heat. Plantings like Sages, Manzanita and Toyon.
As you head North, dry heat gives way to cooler temperatures and rain. Temperate rain forests follow the coastline from northern California, through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.
What is amazing about the region is many of the same shrubs that grow in California are native to coastal Alaska and Canada. Though summers are short in Alaska and Canada, the warmer Pacific waters keep the coastal temperatures at a moderate level where Hardiness zones 5 and 6 are the norm.
Though I will mention a handful of shrubs, many if not all of them can grow throughout most of the Pacific coast region and all are natives.
California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica)
California coffeeberries are shrubs that can be found and grow throughout the region.
- These easy to grow densely branched evergreen bushes are found on wind swept coastal areas where they may be only a foot tall, to inland shrubs that may be over 10 feet tall.
- Zone hardy from Z5 to Z10, Coffeeberry’s water requirements are low and it prefers a sandy well drained soil.
- It grows in full sun to light shade making it ideal for most coastal area gardens.
- The attractive fruits will bring several fruit-eating birds to your native garden. Cedar waxwings, American robins, Black headed grosbeaks and others will enjoy your offerings.
- Pollinators, like hover flies, bees and other insects will enjoy the small flowers in late spring.
- The dense branches provide cover for birds and small mammals.
- Pale swallowtail butterflies also lay their eggs on the leaves of California coffeeberry.
California lilac (Ceanothus ssp.)
Hardy to zone 7 California lilac blooms in June and the seeds ripen from August to October. It can fix Nitrogen. The plant prefers sandy or medium soils and requires well-drained soil.
- Deciduous bushes growing to 12 plus feet.
- The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.
- California lilac does well in dry or moist soil and does well in a woods edge garden where it can receive full sun or light to partial shade.
Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Currants shrubs are loved by people, several insects and birds as well as some animals. Not just for the fruits, but the flowers as well.
- Certainly one of the most beloved and showy of native northwest shrubs, the brilliant display of carmine red flowers in spring are welcomed by gardeners and hummingbirds alike.
- Currants are found all along the Pacific coast from South California to Anchorage, Alaska.
- Red currant does best in rocky, well drained soil in sunny locations and less well in heavy soils and shade.
- It is very upright, to six feet, in habit and should be used in the middle or back of a border bed. It also works well in mass plantings in open forests and on slopes.
- Zone hardy from Z-6 to Z-10, currants require low to medium water and are great in a dry garden and do well in moist conditions if the soil is well drained.
- There are several varieties of currant growing native and in nurseries. At least one is sure to be a hit in your wildlife gardens.
- Hummingbirds and insects enjoy the nectar in April and May when Currants are in bloom.
- The fruits ripen from August through October and fruit eating birds like Yellow rumped warblers, Thrashers and others will enjoy the fruits.
- Small mammals appreciate a berry or two as well.
- Currants are ideal for a woods edge garden, some varieties do better in sun while others prefer light shade.
Mountain or Rosy spirea (Spirea densiflora)
In its natural habitat 2,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level, Mountain spirea shrubs will bloom in June and July, but at or near sea level it may Bloom in May. Spirea will rebloom freely if you prune off the old heads.
- The fuzzy pink floret clusters attract butterflies and other pollinating insects.
- Later in fall and winter the tiny seeds offer food for Finches, Siskins and other seed eating birds.
- Mountain spirea grows throughout the region and East into northern Idaho and western Montana.
- Zone hardy from Z-5 to Z-9, Spireas are attractive shrubs that can be pruned to keep a compact shape or let them grow naturally.
- Spireas require little water and thrive in full sun to partial shade.
- Just about any soil will do for this hardy native of the Pacific coast region.
- Ideal for a woodland garden.
- In warmer zones, Spireas will give you a bonus with an extended bloom period.
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
Thimbleberries aren’t really shrubs, but they are in that classification for some reason. I like Thimbleberries, not only are they natives of the Pacific Coast and mountain regions, they are native to Michigan’s upper peninsula along the Lake Superior coastline.
- The berries and the preserves made from them are considered quite a delicacy.
- Thimbleberries blossom from May to July offering nectar and pollen for a multitude of insects.
- The real treat comes with the red berries.
- The juicy raspberry type fruits are craved by fruit eating birds, mammals and of course people.
- Thimbleberries make wonderful preserves and pies. As tourist to Michigan’s upper peninsula, Thimbleberry jam is a must to take back home with us.
- Zone hardy from Z-3 to Z-10, Thimbleberries can be invasive and are best to let grow in a wild garden or wooded area.
- They can grow from 4 to 10 feet long with fruits produced on old growth.
- They prefer a well drained slightly acid soil in a shady location.
- Water requirements are low to moderate.
- Deer may munch on the tender new growth.
- Be sure to plant enough for you and your wildlife.
Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
There are different varieties of Oregon grape shrubs, this is a bit of information on Tall Oregon grape.
- Adapted to dry, open, more rocky habitats, the Tall Oregon grape has fewer leaflets (5-9) than its cousin, Low Oregon Grape (9-19). It also handles shade and moisture as well.
- More rugged in appearance, it is looks best planted with shorter plants around it. The holly-like leaves make it an excellent barrier hedge.
- Bright yellow clustered flowers in January to May are followed by purple fruits in August to September.
- Evergreen shrubs that can grow to 6′ tall and 4′ to 5′ wide.
- It is hardy to zone 5, the scented flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by Insects.
- The plant does well in most soil conditions and can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or full sun.
- Once it is established, it does well in dry or moist soil.
- The stiff holly like foliage offers protection for small birds and mammals.
- Pollinators appreciate the flowers and the purple berries offer food for several species of birds.
Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinum ovatum)
Your garden isn’t complete without a grouping of Huckleberry shrubs.
- The short to medium sized evergreen bushes grow between 4′ to 10′ and are a favorite understory planting in coniferous forests.
- In mid to late Spring, the branches are laden with pale pink to white bell shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
- By summer, the branches carry tasty, dark purple to pale blue berries.
- Hardy in zones 7 to 10, Evergreen huckleberry grows best in light to medium shade and in most soil conditions, but prefer acid soil.
- Moderate water is required for this shade loving plant.
- Be sure to plant these shrubs in the shade as a well established evergreen or an open woods or shady woods edge.
- Plant several of these evergreen beauties as they attract several fruit eating birds like Western tanager and Orange-crowned warblers.
- Chipmunks, squirrels and if you live in bears (if you live in country) will appreciate your efforts as well.
Salal (Gaulthetria shallon)
The zig-zaggy stems of evergreen Salal weave intricate shrubberies and hedges along the edge of coastal woodlands. They will do likewise in your garden, enlarging their territory if left unchecked.
- In June to July, modest clusters of white to pale pink bell shaped flowers appear offering nectar for hummingbirds and insects.
- By late July through September, large black berries appear offering food for several fruit eating birds, small mammals and bears if they are in your area.
- These evergreen jewels are hardy in zones 7 – 10, require moderate sun to full shade.
- Water requirements are rather high, so be sure to plant with plants that have like needs.
- They do best in acid soil and appreciate being planted under large conifers like Douglas fir.
The ecology of native shrubs in the Pacific Northwest is fascinating. They have adapted to the region’s climate and soils, and play an important role in the local ecosystem. Native shrubs provide habitat for wildlife, help to keep soil in place, and play a role in the region’s landscape. This book has explored the ecology, natural history, and cultivation of native shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. It has been geared toward both professional and amateur gardeners and has included information on selecting, planting, and caring for native shrubs.