Landscaping for Wildlife
Obtain Your Trees, Shrubs and Plants
Check first with your local greenhouses to find out which plants, seedlings, cuttings, or seeds you can obtain locally. Strive to use native plants and trees wherever possible. Check with the University of Alaska cooperative Extension Services for a list of green houses and companies that stock native plants. Those plants that can’t be obtained commercially can be obtained from the wild, either by transplanting, or by collecting cuttings or seeds. Contact the specific agency or entity managing the wild area in question for local guidelines and restrictions before collecting.
Cut leafed out branches 3-8” long with 2-6 leaf nodes, during spring or early summer when the plant is growing rapidly. Protect the cutting from sun and drying winds by collecting only on cool, cloudy days, and by loosely wrapping each cutting in wet cloth. As soon as possible, remove the lower leaves and pace the base of the cutting in a wet rooting medium. Until roots are formed, the cutting should be kept moist, warm, and protected from direct sunlight. Once roots are established, the plants should be transferred to soil.
Cut branches 8-10” long when plants are dormant, preferably March or early April. These cutting should include only the current year’s growth and be less than 1/2” in diameter at the base. Cuttings can be rooted inside, then planted as seedlings, or stored and planted when the soil is warm. If you choose to store cuttings, wrap the bases in wet paper towels or cloth, and store in a plastic bag in the freezer. Be sure to keep the soil around a cutting moist throughout the first summer.
Seeds of some native plants can be collected from the wild and planted in fall or spring. Specific collecting methods vary widely among plants. Most amateur gardeners may find the simplest method is to treat the seeds just as nature would. Collect seeds just as they are falling off the adult plant, then spread them on the ground in the area you want the plants to grow. This method will not work for all plants, but a few seeds of most species will germinate. Germination rates will be low, so be sure to collect many more seeds than you need plants. Collect seeds when they are ripe and from or near healthy plants growing in a habitat similar to the area you are landscaping. Most plant seeds ripen in late summer or fall, though some willow, aspen, black cottonwood, and balsam popular ripen in spring. You will probably need to observe the plants in your region to select the best time for seed collection. A few days can make the difference between immature and ripe seeds, and thus affect germination rates. Some seeds require two winters in the soil before germinating; so don’t be discouraged if nothing comes up the first year!
This method is attractive because plants are relatively large when put in place, but be careful to avoid harming wild areas when you are transplanting. Digging up a few small, young plants is less visible and destructive then taking large plants. Also, seedlings less than 3 years old survive transplanting much better than large plants. Check with the Alaska Department of Nature Resources, Forestry Division before digging up an area. Sometimes, this agency has selected areas for seedling thinning and will give permission and directions to a specific area. Areas scheduled for building projects also provide good places to obtain plants, provided the landowner gives permission. Each plant must be replanted the same day it is dug up. You will have more success if you transplant no more than 2 or 3 plants in a single day.