Advice for a New Native Gardener

Transforming your yard into a native plant oasis need not be a daunting task! Here’s an example of a small front yard’s native landscaping by Pete Veilleux of East Bay Wilds.

 

This article has been adapted from the CNPS- Orange County Chapter‘s “Native Gardener’s Corner – Member’s Tips, Tricks, and Techniques” newsletter column, which offers chapter members and local experts a chance to share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The tips that follow were given in response to the question, “What advice regarding installing a new native plant would you give to a new native gardener?”

Have a Plan

Designing your CA native garden is a fun and rewarding experience!  Start by asking yourself a few questions, such as “How will I use this space?” or “What does this space mean to me?”  Once you realize the potential of your yard, you can really get creative!  Plan out your pathways, seating areas, and rain capture swales first so that you know how much space you have for plants, and what types of plants will be fit best in your landscape!

Check out the CNPS article, “Have Space, Dirt, Water – Now What?” for a crash course in landscape design. 

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Annual Wildflower Tests Challenge Conventional Wisdom

Lee Gordon, CNPS San Diego Gardening Committee

Wildflower seeds sown in June 2016 and left uncovered produced a nice bloom of wildflowers in April 2017: Eschscholzia californica (poppies), blue Gilia capatita, yellow Camissoniopsis bistorta (sun cups), and white Cryptantha intermedia (popcorn flower).

Conventional wisdom says that the best time to sow annual wildflower seeds is in the fall, just before the rains, and that seeds should be covered with a thin layer of soil to protect them from predation. This conventional wisdom may be wrong. Tests in Scripps Ranch and Poway (San Diego County) suggest that it is better to sow wildflower seeds months in advance of the fall rain, and that covering seeds may actually prevent them from germinating.

The first test was in my friend Bob’s back yard in Poway. I mixed packets of seeds, and he sowed them in three adjacent areas in July, September and early November. He covered half of each area with a thin layer of soil and left the other half uncovered. The worst results were in the November area covered with soil. The best were from the half of the September sowing that was left uncovered.

I tried a similar test in a small Scripps Ranch open space, dubbed the “Canyonito” by CNPS member Sarah. I sowed seeds in three adjacent areas in June, September and November, leaving them uncovered. Workmen later covered the last two areas with a thick mulch to suppress weeds. No wildflowers grew in these areas at all. However, the area sown in June was left alone, and this area had a beautiful spring bloom. This test shows that you can get good results from sowing seeds early.

In a third less formal test, I sowed wildflowers on a hillside brush management zone in Scripps Ranch in October. This is an area of trimmed chaparral with considerable bare dirt. Two of the species behaved differently here compared with how they grow in the wild. While some plants grew to a normal size, many more grew late and stunted. Plants that grow stunted like these are uncommon in the wild.

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Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Update: the CNPS De-Extinction Project

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Our L.A. de-extinction search rewarded other rare plant citings as well:  here is a beautiful Plummer’s mariposa lily (Calochortus plummerae— CRPR 4.2) growing amidst Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) in the Jarupa Hills.

In early May, a team from the Rare Plant Program went down into the urban wilds of the greater Los Angeles area in search of plants presumed to be extinct. Amidst the piles of trash, stealthy homeless encampments, fields of invasive weeds, cookie-cutter stucco houses, and mining lands, it could seem like a search for a needle in an inhospitable haystack. Yet, the CNPS De-extinction Project is far from that.

Conceived in 2015, the goal of the De-extinction Project is to locate populations of plants that have not been seen in many years, whose habitats may have been significantly altered or destroyed, and now have been given a California Rare Plant Rank of 1A in the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory (Plants Presumed Extirpated in California and either Rare or Extinct Elsewhere). These plants are only presumed to be extinct, as some factors— such as the viability span of the seed bank for a particular plant and the vicissitudes of weather patterns over time—contribute to the possibility of regrowth and thus, rediscovery. There is also simply a lot of ground to cover to effectively search for these plants in possible habitats so that locating these plants can become an issue of sheer person power available for the search, as well as good old-fashioned luck!

CNPS is no stranger to rediscovery. In 2009, our Executive Director Dan Gluesencamp rediscovered the Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) on a traffic island near the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2016, Steve Schoenig, currently a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt (RPTH) volunteer and former Coordinator of the RPTH, rediscovered the Serpentine Canyon monkeyflower (Erythranthe pericaulis) deep in the heart of the Plumas National Forest. In the early days of the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory, rediscoveries were more common as the Inventory itself helped catalog which plants most needed searching for. Over the years, as more habitat has been destroyed, rediscovery has become less common and the need to fine tune our searches more essential. Once a species is rediscovered, our state has another chance to conserve and protect it, and the plant will often be given a ranking of 1B.1—rare in all of its range and still vulnerable to the highest degree of threats.

In order to enhance our chances of locating these plants, CNPS Rare Plant Botanist Aaron Sims did extensive research on the historical occurrences of all 1A plants in the Inventory as of 2015. He did analyses of which plants were the most likely to be found, based on factors including intactness of habitat near or around historical occurrences as well as dates last seen, and created a prioritized list of targets for rediscovery. With each plant target, Sims also generated exact locations around which to centralize our search, concentrating our resources to focus on the greatest possibility of success.

With this data in hand and more than just a little hopefulness, Rare Plant Program botanists scoured several sites in the greater L.A. area for two 1A plants the second week of May. We can’t divulge details of the outcome just yet, but the hunt was successful in many ways. Several areas of semi-intact habitat were found for these species, despite the ubiquitous sprawl. We will report back as soon as we know more.

The CNPS De-extinction Project is currently seeking out other 1A plants in other areas of the state. We also hope to return to the L.A. area throughout the summer to continue our search for these plants and deepen our search to include other elusive plants presumed to be gone in this densely-developed place. Interested to join in the hunt? Let us know by sending us an email!

Catherine Curley, Assistant Botanist/Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Coordinator

Watering Native Plants

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Example of a water ring around a small manzanita

We have had the benefit of a wonderful rain year, and watering may be the furthest thing from our minds.  But knowing when and how to water native plant gardens is a key to success.

A new Tree of Life Nursery publication, Watering Native Plants, by nursery co-owner Mike Evans, covers important factors to keep in mind while planning – particularly for rain capture, and for decisions about irrigation methods. Mike is an advocate for bringing back the human factor in watering gardens and in irrigation of commercial landscapes. The concepts and practical recommendations in this guide apply equally to commercial landscapes and home gardens.

The guide covers the essentials of watering a healthy, natural garden, including the why, when, how much, how frequently, and how to water, both new and established gardens. For those ready to plant, the book also includes helpful instructions and an illustrated guide to creating a secondary watering ring. (For more information on planting natives and initial watering, check out the related video tutorial.)

Click here to download a free copy of Watering Native Plants.

Article and photos by Laura Camp.

20 Years of Gothic Gardening – Cultivating Native Plants in a Historic Cemetery

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Sacramento Valley Chapter’s California Native Plant Demonstration Garden in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery – Photos by Cassandra Nguyen Musto

On a cloudy and chilly Sunday morning in January 1997, a hardy group of citizens came together and sowed native wildflower seeds in ten, long-neglected plots within the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery. This group was composed of a few members of the Sacramento Valley Chapter, Sacramento City and County staff, and folks from the community who answered the call in the local newspaper for garden volunteers. Before this group started their work that morning, the irrigation system was non-existent and weeds and scraggly ornamentals grew in crumbling plots.

redbud - mustoToday, there is still no irrigation system (other than the hose bibs distributed throughout the garden), and crumbling plots are still being repaired. However, thousands of hours of laboring later, those ten plots have expanded to over 100 plots covering 3/4 of an acre containing 125 different species of California native plants. This gothic garden now pulses and hums with life from the numerous species of songbirds, native bees, and other pollinators that seek cover and food. I like to think that our historic residents appreciate the work we have done for their resting places as we tidy up their monuments and repair their beds, as well as the hundreds of living human visitors who have also enjoyed this native plant sanctuary in the middle of the city.

As one of the garden co-founders and now the primary garden coordinator, volunteering in the garden for most of its twenty years has been immensely satisfying. I continue to meet wonderful people who come to volunteer or happen to stop by to visit the garden. I particularly enjoy helping visitors visualize a water-wise home garden that showcases California’s rich botanic history and supports our songbirds and beneficial insects.

2016-0628_LHSFbee-sneezeweed.jpgWhat might the next twenty years hold? Our hardy little group of volunteers will continue our core mission of educating the public about the benefits and beauty of native plants. We’ll do this by refining the garden layout and design, adding more plant species to the garden, hosting more garden tours, and adding workshops for the public. If you would like a tour of the garden or would like to find out how to volunteer to help us reach our goals, feel free to contact me!


Cassandra Nguyen Musto

CA Native Plant Demonstration Garden Chair
CNPS – Sacramento Valley Chapter

Cassandra is a native Californian, landscape architect, restoration ecologist, and watercolor painter. She became a CNPS member of the Sacramento Valley chapter in Fall 1996 after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and moving to Sacramento. When she’s not landscaping, restoring, or painting, you might find her flower peeping during a desert Super Bloom, stand-up paddleboarding, native plant shopping, or skiing.

Important Plant Areas – Promoting Plant Species and Communities on Maps for Conservation in California

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Fremont’s tidy tip-blow wife vernal pool alliance, a rare vegetation type found at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Gary Zahm.

Over the 2016-2017 winter, the Conservation, Rare Plant, and Vegetation programs have initiated an effort to map Important Plan Areas (IPA) throughout California. With its diversity and endemism, the flora of California is unlike any other in the world, and CNPS is being proactive to protect and preserve its natural beauty and resources. The IPA initiative will produce tools that will aid and support decisions for local, regional, and statewide conservation planning.

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Goldfields blooming in an Alkali habitat at Semitropic Ridge, Kern County. Photo by Jennifer Buck-Diaz.

The Rare Plant and Vegetation programs are gathering data available through past survey efforts and fine-scale vegetation maps – including GIS map data that are publicly available, and survey data that are currently being compiled in a statewide dataset by CNPS and California Department of Fish & Wildlife. We are consolidating this baseline botanical knowledge for California, and will present it through digital maps that highlight the locations of rare plant species and vegetation that have high priority for protection. However, in order to have a comprehensive map we need help from local experts and citizen scientists who know their local areas best.

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Valley Oak Woodland at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, Stanislaus County. Photo by Gary Zahm.

California is such a large state and we have a lot of ground to cover. To start, we are focusing our efforts on regions where conservation planning is currently taking place, such as the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. Our first pilot region is the southern San Joaquin Valley. Although much of this region has been urbanized or converted to agriculture, there are remaining natural areas that are unique or rare, including vernal pools and riparian and alkaline habitats. Identifying these areas is important so we can advocate for their preservation during conservation planning.

A map of the southern San Joaquin Valley, our pilot area for the Important Plant Area Initiative.

A map of the southern San Joaquin Valley, our pilot area for the Important Plant Area Initiative.

To gather additional knowledge for the southern San Joaquin Valley, we hosted an IPA workshop in Bakersfield this month. This workshop brought together a group of individuals to help contribute knowledge of rare and special plants and communities in that region. We will add the new knowledge gained during this workshop to the existing information we have to better define IPAs for the region. Next, we will then expand our efforts to other regions of California starting with the remaining areas of the Great Valley and ultimately reaching our goal of a map of IPAs for all of California.

The Important Plant Area initiative, funded in part by the Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation and an anonymous donor, is fundamental to what CNPS has always done. We put together what we know about California’s flora, share the information with others, and protect places through science-based advocacy and our passion for plants and their natural habitats.

Watering Strategies from South Bay Botanic Garden

by Susan Krzywicki

Eddie Munguia, Horticultural Lab Technician South Bay Botanic Garden

Eddie Munguia, Horticultural Lab Technician South Bay Botanic Garden – Photo by Susan Krzywicki

After so much debate about how to water native plant gardens, you’d think it had all been said. Let me add some tips and techniques from Eddie Munguia, who is the Horticultural Lab Technician at the South Bay Botanic Garden, located on the campus of Southwestern College in Chula Vista. Eddie installed a native garden over four years ago and one of the key objectives of the botanic garden is to do just this sort of closely observed research and analysis.

Split Cycle Watering – preventing root zone waterlogging
Last July, after attending a professional workshop, Eddie decided to experiment with split cycling – taking the duration of watering proposed, and dividing it into two segments with a two hour gap in between. For example, instead of running a sprinkler zone for 10 minutes, he runs the zone for 5 minutes, in the early morning hours. This allows for absorption by the soil, while avoiding swamping the plant, which can lead to disease and plant death. Eddie has decided that his clear mandate is to “imitate rainfall” by providing supplemental irrigation that looks more like our natural pattern: gentle, sparse summer rains, not heavy storms. During Santa Anas, he recommends 2 minute spritz to cool the plants off. If the plant is suffering from summer stress, he doesn’t dump a lot of water on it, he just refreshes it.

The garden, which is well over 5,000 square feet, is mostly Diablo clay with native hybrid species originating in San Diego county and the Channel Islands.

A view of South Bay Botanic Garden

A view of South Bay Botanic Garden – Photo by Susan Krzywicki

Results: longer bloom times, good growth
Within two weeks of implementing this strategy in July, everything was flourishing. Coast sunflower (Encelia californica) now blooms two months longer. Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea) now produces flower for him all year round. Showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis) is blooming later in the year. Bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) species doubled in size. The garden stay a little greener into summer. And Eddie even observed a third flowering cycle for San Miguel Island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens).

Advice: Experiment and adjust
Eddie says, “Don’t be afraid to experiment with your watering cycles. As long as you are not bogging them down, or the root zone is getting drenched, they will do OK.” He says he got lucky on the first try with his split-cycle low-impact changes. So, if you follow his method, note garden changes over at least a month, then adjust again.

Would you consider this for your native garden? Please let us know your thoughts, and, if you try this method, please do keep us up-to-date with your progress and observations.

This article was first published in the San Diego Horticultural Society October 2016 newsletter.

Susan Krzywicki is a native plant landscape designer in San Diego. She has been the first Horticulture Program Director for the California Native Plant Society, as well as chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee, and is on the Port of San Diego BCDC for the Chula Vista Bayfront.