Watering Native Plants

Manzanita water ring - camp

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.

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.

California Native Plants on the Op-Ed Pages

By Steven L. Hartman

A photo of the Hartman front yard. "Palo verde trees attract birds such as nesting bushtits, hooded orioles, flycatchers, and mockingbirds...not to mention thousands of insects during blooming season." - Photo by Steve Hartman

Palo verde trees attract birds such as nesting bushtits, hooded orioles, flycatchers, and mockingbirds…not to mention thousands of insects during blooming season. – Photo by Steve Hartman

There has been a flurry of editorials and commentaries in the local Los Angeles newspapers about issues that CNPS has been focusing on for years. A Los Angeles Times main op-ed warned, “Don’t gravelscape L.A.”, with a bold color graphic. The same day, the Daily News trumpeted in their main editorial, “Turf removal programs could do much more,” arguing, “This transformative step to redefine the California landscape with at least half a billion dollars in incentives needs to do more than just eliminate thirsty lawns that gulf up about 50 percent to 70 percent of residential water use. It should help build a natural, native habitat in every yard that will adapt to the soil and feed the butterflies and birds that migrate and live in the region.”

Wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Los Angeles Times said, “Los Angeles would no doubt be better off with less turf. But not if we replace it with gravel or plastic.” This is an important point. A few years ago a friend mentioned that he was going to replace his lawn with plastic grass. Incredulously, I asked why. He said, “Low maintenance, no watering.” I explained that covering his yard with plastic was by no means a benign environmental action. I mentioned the lack of groundwater infiltration, elimination of habitat for native animals, and the reality that the plastic lawn will begin to look tawdry in no time and will have to be replaced- with all that plastic ending up in a landfill.

Marketers have developed the term “California Friendly” to describe xeriscape with drought-tolerant plants. Unfortunately, most of the “California Friendly” plants on sale at the large commercial outlets include Mediterranean or desert plants, and not too many California natives. It is important to remember that our native fauna (in particular, birds and insects) evolved with native plants of California, and that while “Friendly” plants may satisfy the need to reduce water consumption, they don’t necessarily provide food or shelter for our native fauna. There is a big difference between “California Native” and “California Friendly.”

Speaking of the birds and the bees, in an editorial titled, “Don’t give native bees short shrift,” the Los Angeles Times states that, “If the goal [of a proposed beekeeping ordinance] is to strengthen the bee population…the best strategy is to give residents incentives to grow more flowers and avoid treating them with pesticides.” The editorial goes on to state that, “Research has shown that farms would need to make only modest changes to attract healthy numbers and varieties of the local pollinators.” They suggest hedgerows of native plants.

Of course, this strategy works in the residential setting too.

"Gravel-covered yards with a few plants poking out epitomizes the recent spate of lawn conversions. Where is the habitat?"

Gravel-covered yards with a few plants poking out epitomizes the recent spate of lawn conversions. Where is the habitat? – Photo by Steve Hartman

As a Los Angeles resident who has been driving around and seeing the results of various interpretations of “turf replacement”, I am concerned with the cactus gardens and gravel front yards that have only a few plants poking out. Importantly, as Thomas D. Elias in an editorial in the Daily News pointed out: plants help combat climate change by pulling carbon out of the air and facilitate the recharge of ground water.

Further, as pointed out in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, plants act “as air conditioning for LA., which is only getting hotter with climate change. Plants and trees provide shade and transpire moisture to cool the air; gravel and artificial turf don’t. In fact, they create the opposite…fewer plants means more heat, and more heat means faster evaporation from watering.”

With all the newspapers jumping on the band wagon supporting the use of native California plants, it seems that CNPS has won an important battle – native plant landscaping is no longer a fringe activity; indeed it may be one of the important tools that will help Los Angeles cope with drought and climate change. However, the war has not been won until heavily watered lawns and landscapes have been replaced, not with gravel and plastic grass, but with native gardens filled with birds and pollinators.

Steven L. Hartman is a native plant enthusiast, avid gardener, desert fanatic, and President of the California Native Plant Society. He has been a CNPS member since 1974 and a CNPS Fellow since 2005.

Landscaping for Southern California Gardens

Summer-dry, drought tolerant, naturalistic, Mediterranean garden with California native Acer circinatum (Vine Maple). Photo by Saxon Holt.

Summer-dry, drought tolerant, naturalistic, Mediterranean garden with California native Acer circinatum (Vine Maple). Photo by Saxon Holt.

By CNPS and Modernize

The unique environment of Southern California, while often a source of great appeal for its residents, poses distinctive challenges for anyone wishing to develop and maintain the aesthetics of their yard. The dry climate, paired with an increasingly limited water supply, means a lush green space is no longer ecologically viable. However, there are many other possibilities for creating a beautiful outdoor space.   The folks at Modernize, a website devoted to home remodeling inspirations, like to view this landscape challenge as an opportunity to create a uniquely Californian place for outdoor living.  Here, they share two approaches to this challenge- xeriscaping and hardscaping- including along the way some of their favorite California native plants for the garden. Continue reading

CNPS Takes It to the Capitol!

CNPS (1)On September 14, CNPS and partners celebrated the launch of Save Our Water’s “Fix It For Good” public education campaign by breaking ground on the Capitol landscape conversion project with a sheet mulch demonstration on the East Lawn of the Capitol. The event was put on by the California Department of General Services to showcase their commitment to rethinking the landscape on the Capitol grounds by converting lawn and other high water use areas to water-wise landscapes featuring California native plants. The goal of the demonstration is to teach the public about sheet mulching, an environmentally friendly lawn conversion technique that removes your lawn, creates a weed barrier, and fortifies your existing soil all without having to haul material off to the landfill. The demonstration was accompanied by a small water conservation expo where partner organizations hosted educational activities and information booths.

2015-09-14 22.50.15CNPS had a table set up with a beautiful array of native plants, all which were grown by the Sacramento Valley Chapter’s Elderberry Native Plant Nursery, making the table an instant hit by all passersby! People stopped to tell stories about their own landscape projects, asking for tips on gardening with California native plants and local native selections. This was an ideal opportunity to refer them to upcoming CNPS Chapter plant sales. A plethora of resources were distributed to encourage the blooming interest in native plant horticulture and excitement was rallied for the upcoming California native plant gardens.

The launch of the ‘Fix it for Good’ campaign also celebrates CNPS’s partnership with Save Our Water– California’s official statewide water conservation education program. CNPS and Save Our Water are joining forces to teach Californians about the numerous benefits of gardening with California native plants and how they play a critical role in conserving water in the landscape. CNPS developed content for their Gardening with California Native Plants page and wrote a guest blog post on CNPS’s drought resources. This partnership will allow CNPS to reach a wider audience, greatly expanding our outreach efforts on a statewide platform.