Getting Greener

April 15, 2016

Deschutes National Forest


Arbor Day is coming up. Outside of elementary school planting parties, I doubt I’d ever “celebrated” this “holiday”. I do not have a green thumb. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of patience, knowledge, or equipment, but issues often develop after I try to plant something. When we lived up in Olympia, we planted quite a few deciduous trees to complement the giant evergreens our yard backed up against. They grew nice and tall, with big leafy foliage. All was well in our little backyard oasis.


Unfortunately, a few years later, one of the trees had grown so tall that it was just entirely out of control. It was pretty apparent that we should have been regularly pruning those big upper branches. Fast-forward to a winter storm, and the entire thing blew right over. I guess we didn’t plant it deep enough either.


Another tree, a pretty maple, flat out died on us, seemingly without cause. We noticed one spring that the leaves just never came back. Lazily, we just left it there, as if it would somehow spring back to life the following year. It didn’t. It just sat there in the dirt like a sunken ship’s decaying mast in the sea.


We did have some success, though. Hydrangeas, blueberries, rhododendrons, ferns, and a few other varieties thrived in our wet Pacific Northwest yard. Were we more diligent to fertilize these fellas? Nope. Did we carefully and lovingly prune them? With the exception of one hacking to the hydrangeas during winter, never. The difference was that the habitat that these species needed for proper growth was especially agreeable to the conditions in our backyard.


Since then, we’ve been big proponents of planting trees and shrubs that are natural to the area. Luckily, our friendly Forest Service makes this incredibly easy. Did you know you can get a permit to transplant native plants and trees into your own backyard? For free? You can! Availability probably varies depending on the area, but this awesome program still exists within the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests.


A few weeks ago, we headed into our local forest service office and got our permit. The free permit is good for a three-month period and allows for the holder to collect up to 16 plants – four trees and 12 shrubs. Should you need more than your permit allows, you can pay extra for a supplementary permit that allows for additional quantities. Commercial use requires a separate fee.



This little manzanita is the perfect size for transplanting. And don’t judge us…it’s not a real phone.

The Forest Service will give you a handy brochure with all the rules and regulations regarding native plant collection, but here are the basics:


  • Obey posted signs. Almost the entire forest is fair game, except for recreation areas.
  • Collect at least 100 feet from roads and bodies of water.
  • Stay on main roads.
  • Only collect from species listed in the brochure.
  • Trees must be seedlings under four feet tall, while shrubs need to be under two feet tall.
  • Fill in holes and make the area look natural after digging.
  • Update your permit quantities and keep it with you while collecting and transporting.


When you’re ready to start plant hunting, grab all your supplies, including your Deschutes National Forest map. Bring burlap and twine to wrap each plant so the roots don’t dry up in transit. As you start digging, refrain from getting over-zealous. With almost every plant we moved, roots were much deeper than we thought. Stick to the height restrictions outlined in the brochure – you’ll be way more successful with both digging them up and getting them established in their new home.


In Central Oregon, the landscape’s lineup is severely desert-like. High elevations, harsh winters, and less rain means plenty of green and brown plants and fewer colorful flowers. We split our hunting up into a few different trips, exploring different locations within the Deschutes National Forest to try to snag different types of species. We found a cute little juniper tree seedling, a couple of pine trees, Manzanita, and grasses.


To supplement our new desert landscape, we went to a gardening store and picked up a big bag of wildflower seed. They’re super easy to plant, and it’s an extremely natural looking and economic way to add blooms to your yard. I have no idea if the varieties in this bag are supposed to grow here or not. I guess we’ll see. The bottom line is that if you stick to native plants, you’ll be giving your yard a head start on successful growth. You might even convince others that you have a green thumb.

Have fun bringing a little more nature into your backyard! Happy Arbor Day.


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