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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Arcata Community Center Native Plant and Wildlife Garden

Arcata Community Center Native Plant and Wildlife Garden

By Pete Haggard • Garden Chair, CNPS-North Coast Chapter

Garraya eliptica.

Garraya eliptica.

One of the great pleasures of observing a native plant garden grow up over the years is seeing an increase in plant and wildlife diversity. The efforts of volunteers at the Arcata Community Center Native Plant and Wildlife Garden in Humboldt County did just that-adding 29 species of native plants. This diversity also included four species of amphibians, four species of mammals, 16 species of butterflies, and nine genera of bees including the establishment of a thriving nesting site for hundreds of Halictus tripartatus, a native bee.

The Arcata Garden was established on February 27, 1999 when volunteers from the California Native Plant Society-North Coast Chapter (CNPS-NCC) planted various species of native plants in an 0.1 acre waste field near the Arcata Community Center. This planting emerged from an agreement between the City of Arcata, represented by Dan Diemer, Parks Superintendent, and CNPS-NCC, represented by Pete Haggard, Garden Chair. The agreement stipulated that the City of Arcata provide the site and planting stock for the initial planting, and the CNPS-NCC provide volunteers for planting and ongoing maintenance of the site.

Grindelia stricta.

Grindelia stricta.

After 17 years Arcata now has a beautiful, stable natural area that requires no water, fertilizer, or mowing and very little physical maintenance by employees. As a committed CNPSer, I have enjoyed these years of tending the garden and seeing blossom into fruition.

Since the garden is located in an area with heavy pedestrian traffic, including college and high school students and people visiting the Arcata Community Center, it is an excellent place to further one of CNPS-NCC’s goals-to educate the public on the value of a biodiverse native landscape in urban areas.

As the garden matures and creates more niches in the landscape, I look forward to seeing more wildlife and native plants utilizing this site.
Both the City and CNPS-NCC have benefited from this agreement, which has provided the public with a permanent garden with natural beauty and an educational tool for the CNPS-NCC. For more information on the garden, the plants and animals that live there, or a tour of the garden, contact me!

phaggard@suddenlink.net
http://www.northcoastcnps.org

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.

San Diego Garden Tour with Calscape Creator Dennis Mudd

The hills and canyons around San Diego are tough,  dry terrain, but hundreds of amazing native plant species thrive nonetheless. Although rugged, these hills are home to delicate flowers like Weed’s mariposa lilymission manzanita, and great horned owls. Dennis Mudd, founder of MusicMatch and Slacker Radio, wanted to recreate this same natural beauty on his six-acre property — a desire that ultimately ignited his passion to help Californians restore nature one garden at a time.

A California native plant oasis

Located in Poway, Mudd’s garden is an inspiring example of a California native garden at its best. With more than 120 types of plants, simulated creeks, rain water catchbasins, the Mudd property is not only a beautiful oasis for humans, it’s also home to many types of pollinators and more than 40 species of birds, including a resident family of Great Horned Owls.

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But it wasn’t easy at first. Like many drought-conscious Californians, Mudd launched his landscape project 12 years ago using commonly sold low-water imports like rock rose, butterfly bush, and kangaroo pods. Yet those didn’t get him any closer to the native landscapes he saw while mountain biking on the trails near his home. He then invested in a wide range of California natives, but within five years, many were dead.

Think Locally

Although Mudd was on the right track , most of the California natives he initially used weren’t native to his location. And that was Mudd’s light bulb moment.

In a state as biologically and geologically diverse as California, locality matters. What grows in the loamy soil of the Sacramento River Delta is bound to be vastly different than the arid hillsides of Southern California. And yet, many gardening enthusiasts make the same mistake — planting California natives that may be totally inappropriate to a specific region.

It was this understanding that inspired Mudd to create Calscape, a powerful garden-planning tool for laypeople and professionals alike that lets users discover which plants are truly native to where they live.  Using Calscape, people can search multiple criteria to build plant lists for their gardens, see which nurseries carry those plants and get tips for growing and cultivation. The site features a database of nearly 7,000 California native plant species with maps based on more than 2 million GPS field observations from the Consortium of California Herbaria.

Making it Easy to Grow Native

With a fresh round of recent updates, Calscape is more powerful and easy-to-use than ever:

  • Advanced Search — This new feature allows you to search by multiple criteria at once, layering in queries for location, plant type, water needs, size, fragrance, flower color and more! You can even select specific nurseries to quickly see where your plants are available.
  • “Quick Shop” — Now, you can add plants to your list without opening a new page. Build a plant list in less than two minutes!
  • Mobile Friendly — Calscape is now as easy to use by phone and tablet as on your desktop. Use it to look up plants at the nursery or reference your plant list while you shop.
  • Climate Modeling on Range Maps — Bringing more data to the tool, plant ranges are based on the actual observations for each plant, as well as the annual rainfall range, summer rainfall, coldest month temperature and hottest month temperature ranges for each plant in each Jepson bioregion.
  • Sign and Label Printing — Print with QR codes for any Calscape plant list with easy spreadsheet export functionality. Let’s you easily makes sign for each plant in the plant list, as well as comprehensive plant list.

 

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Share Your Story!
Have you used Calscape for your garden? We’d love to hear your story! Contact us at cnps@cnps.org.

Creating a Native Wildflower Meadow

By Greg Rubin

A small portion of a 1.5 acre wildflower meadow created by the author in Fallbrook in 2011. Flowers include Tidy Tips, California poppies, Desert bluebells, Owl’s clover, and Chinese houses. Photo by Greg Rubin.

A small portion of a 1.5 acre wildflower meadow created by the author in Fallbrook in 2011. Flowers include Tidy Tips, California poppies, Desert bluebells, Owl’s clover, and Chinese houses. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Few things evoke magical memories like spring wildflowers. Whether it is a desire to recapture a serendipitous discovery of a color-laden flower field from our past, or simply re-living that scene from the “Wizard of Oz”, nothing stirs our passion for nature like a beautiful field of flowers. California was once celebrated for its annual floral shows; unfortunately, these delightful events are becoming a thing of the past.  The great Kate Sessions lamented that wildflowers were disappearing from San Diego’s foothills by the early 1900s. Even her attempts to include wildflower displays at Balboa Park repeatedly failed. Why?

The answer is that European settlement in California altered our delicate ecology so profoundly that it was lost at all levels. Nothing is quite so fragile as a wildflower meadow. These annuals serve as pioneers that help re-establish ecology should a disturbance wipe out climax shrubs and trees. Being so low in lignin, they disappear after dying, returning all of their nutrients back to the ecology. Additionally, they fill holes not occupied by shrubby plants, and persist in places inhospitable to anything with deep roots, such as in the shallow soils of true native grasslands. What the Europeans brought were non-native weeds: competitive plants unhindered by native bio-controls while putting all of their life energy into reproducing themselves.  These non-native seed banks now reach 10-100,000 dormant seeds per cubic foot! The wildflowers never stood a chance.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Fortunately, knowledge is the best tool, and we have ways to turn back the clock. Eliminating weeds is foremost. It is usually not sufficient to clear a space and drop seed, as Ms. Sessions learned. Instead, the seed bank must be addressed, either through repeated watering and killing of emerged weeds, or the use of chemicals called pre-emergents that kill seed in the soil when watered in. This must be done months in advance of planting. Solarization with clear plastic can also be used, but the effect is usually temporary. After treatment, seeds can be spread and either gently raked in or covered lightly in decomposed granite (this avoids disturbance and deters birds). Wildflower seeds can be purchased at most garden centers and online; however, be sure that the word “NATIVE” is somewhere in the title, and that the species are native to your locale, or you will end up with a mix of weedy introduced flowers, the worst being Alyssum. (ED note: You can check the local appropriateness of your chosen seed mix ingredients by entering your address in CNPS’s Calscape app, available at calscape.org or on CNPS’s homepage.) Common native mixes include California Poppies, Lupines, Goldfields, Desert Bluebells, Gilia, Baby Blue Eyes, Tidy Tips, and Farewell-to-Spring. You can add Owls Clover, Five Spot, and Thistle Sage if available. Keep the plot lightly moist until germination, continue watering twice a week if rainfall is lacking, and CONTROL WEEDS! The outcome will be thrilling!

CNPS Member Greg Rubin is the founder and owner of California’s Own Landscape Design, Inc. (www.calown.com) and a popular speaker. A specialist in the use of native plants in the landscape, he is responsible for over 700 native landscapes in San Diego County and co-authored (with Lucy Warren) two books on native landscaping: The California Native Landscape: the Homeowner’s Design Guide to Restoring its Beauty and Balance and The Drought Defying California Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-water Landscape, both on Timber Press.

UC Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium Joins Forces with CNPS on Calscape

CNPS is excited to announce a strategic partnership with the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley to cooperatively develop Calscape, re-launching the site to showcase its many great resources. Calscape now includes plant profiles for all recognized native California plant species, approximately 7000 in total.  Nearly every plant includes a detailed geographic distribution map, built using algorithms based on over 2 million GPS specimen records from the California Consortia of Herbaria, along with detailed elevation profiles across each of the 36 Jepson geographic subdivisions. The plant maps are integrated into Google maps so that users simply type in any California address, city, or GPS location to find out which plants would grow naturally in that spot.

calscape screenshot

Screenshot of Calscape

At its core, planting a native plant garden is nature restoration work, reducing water use and helping to reestablish ecological habitats. “We’re pleased to be working with CNPS and Calscape to help facilitate nature restoration at the local level. Small changes have the potential to make a big impact on the landscape and can help combat the effects of global climate change and degradation of natural systems. Through this partnership, we have combined powerful sources of information to develop a user-friendly interface that will inspire more Californians to include native plants in their gardens and make it easy to choose and purchase native plants from local nurseries,” said Staci Markos, Assistant Director at UC Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium. The partnership will be ongoing, which means Calscape will provide up-to-date and scientifically-accurate information on distributions from now on into the future.

Plant recommendations are ordered by landscaping popularity, and cross-referenced against Calscape’s nursery database.  In depth plant profiles include photos, plant descriptions, moisture, sun and soil requirements, and landscaping tips to help people choose which plants they want and how to grow them.

After users identify their plant selections they can create an account and save the customized plant list for future reference as well as locate the nearest native plant nursery by going to the Calscape nursery page. The nursery page maps the locations of nurseries throughout California that offer native plant inventory, many of which have integrated their current availability into the database allowing users to view plant inventory through a Calscape ‘plant list’.  This feature not only aims to help users source nearby native plant material but promotes nurseries that have a shared mission in making native plants widely available and routinely incorporated.

calscape nursery screenshotCNPS and the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley hope to use this resource to help bring native plants back to the developed part of the state, along with the birds, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on them.  With the ongoing destruction of habitat, the California drought, and the growing impacts of climate change, it has never been more important to choose native plants for our landscapes. Calscape makes choosing the appropriate native plants for any location easier than ever, giving Californian’s the tools to restore nature one garden at a time. Please help us spread the word!