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Common reasons why some plants don’t thrive in eastern Idaho

In the Garden

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Lance Ellis |

We live in an arid, high altitude desert, and as part of that, we have high diurnal temperature swings, meaning the days get hot and the nights get cold. This is hard on plants that are not native to the area or that were planted within the last 15 years.

There are many reason plants don’t make it, and I think it would be good to explain some of the most common issues plants deal with in eastern Idaho.

A common example is the very popular Autumn Blaze maple. It will live for roughly eight to 15 years after planting but ultimately die a premature and slow death. It is a hybrid between a Red maple and Silver maple, neither of which are recommended for this area. A typical Red maple normally dies within a few years of planting and becomes very chlorotic and sick looking along the way, until it just gives up the ghost. Silver maples also struggle, (although I have seen a handful survive), but those particular trees were given special treatment that contributed to their success. Sugar maples also die, but even quicker than Red or Silver maples, so avoid them.

Courtesy Steve Love

If you are maple tree shopping, online or in a nursery, do a double check to make sure whatever maple tree you are considering is not one of these three types of maples. The most successful maples in our area are the Norway maples, and there are many beautiful cultivars that can survive here. But, it’s just easier to grow natives such as the rocky mountain maple. The drawback is the plant may not have all the beauty and desirable characteristics the other ones offer.

To help you get started with exploring the wide variety of native plants that have been documented and researched in eastern Idaho, the University of Idaho Extension has been doing research for many years collecting seeds and test trialing them for use in home landscapes. The website offers a wide variety of resources for gardening in Idaho, including one section on landscaping and a subsection on native plants. You can find a list of the recommended native plants for Idaho and where to buy them.

Lastly, I want to talk about the flip side of bringing plants into your yard that are borderline survivable if they originate from a colder or higher altitude than the Snake River Valley. Our climate is too hot or the soils aren’t right, even though they may thrive in Island Park or up in the forest. A good example is the wild huckleberries in the surrounding mountains. They do not grow in the valley for two reasons. First, it’s too warm for them, and secondly, they like a slightly more acidic to neutral soil than what we have in the valley floor.

In conclusion, there are many native plants that have good characteristics and can enhance local landscapes with their attributes such as wind tolerance, soil tolerance, cold hardiness, summertime blooming, and fall color.

For further questions, contact Lance at (208) 624-3102.

Courtesy Steve Love