Salal is one of those Northwest natives that I have often heard people talk, but have never been familiar with it myself. In my Plants class this term, we are studying evergreen trees, shrubs and ground covers. We learned all about Salal this week and it is really a fantastic problem-solver in the garden.

The botanical name for this plant is Gaultheria shallon, which is commonly called Salal. This is a broad leaf evergreen ground cover native from Alaska down to California, which hints at the broad zoning range of the plant. It is hardy in Zones 4-7.

Let me explain why this little plant is so awesome. Do you have a pine tree or evergreen tree growing in your yard or a friend’s yard? It’s always so hard to figure out what exactly to grow under there, with all that acidic needle drop. Enter Salal.

Salal loves acidic soil – in fact it prefers it. It also loves deep shade or partial shade. The evergreen leaves are attached to red stems. The topside of the leaves have a reddish hue and green undersides. Because this is evergreen, you get something pretty to look at all year round. It is also deer resistant!

(Photo from One Green World catalog)

But wait – the plot thickens. Come Springtime, this little guy shows off pink-white hanging urn-shaped flowers that later turn into purple berries in the Summer. Native Americans would gather these berries and eat them as a syrup or dried into cakes.

The plant ranges in 2′-4′ in height, although I have seen numbers higher and lower. It can spread above ground up to 20′ in width. It also spreads underground with runners, but is not aggressive enough to be considered a pest. To plant a thick blanket of ground cover, space the plants 3′ apart during planting.

Isn’t this a great plant? Evergreen fat leaves, beautiful foliage and stems, loves acidic soil, loves deep share, flowers in the Spring, edible fruit in the Summer, deer-resistant, and a native plant! Go forth and plant Salal!

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Written by Renee Wilkinson