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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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.

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.

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.

“The Good Guys”

by Nancy Bauer

Salvia leucophylla 'Pt. Sal' in Nancy Bauer's garden - Photo by Nancy Bauer

Salvia leucophylla ‘Pt. Sal’ in the garden – Photo by Nancy Bauer

We have so many reasons to love our native plants—their beauty, the way they make gardening so easy and so rewarding, how make themselves so at home in our gardens. They are the plants that are thriving without summer water, the ones I don’t have to maintain, and can just enjoy. And they bring a great deal of pleasure to the birds and insects that are also part of my garden landscape.

I am always amazed at the variety of insects that hover around the buckwheats in my garden (Eriogonum latifolium and E. grande var. rubescens). I’ve seen many tiny native bees, honeybees, and other pollinators, plus at least a half dozen of the smaller butterfly species. Buckwheats are also caterpillar food plants for the Acmon Blue, the Blue Copper, and other butterflies.

One of the most sought after nectar plants in my garden from mid-summer into fall is California aster (A. chilensis ‘Pt. St. George’). It gets barely any water at all, forms a low-growing carpet, and blooms for months with small lavender flowers that feed a host of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. In early spring, the whorls of flowers on the native salvias—brandegee sage (S. brandegei), black sage (S. mellifera), and purple sage (S. leucophylla ‘Pt. Sal’)—are a welcome sight to native bees that have just emerged, Anna’s hummingbirds, and the early butterflies. They, too, receive no summer water.

Birds forage not only on seeds and fruit, but on the many insects our California natives attract. One outstanding example is coyote bush (Baccharis piluaris), which attracts over 200 insects, which in turn feed many songbirds, bats, and other creatures. White-crowned sparrows, finches, and other seed-eating birds feast on the seeds, though they too supplement their diet with insects when seeds are in short supply. If you don’t have room for the shrubs, the prostrate form B. pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’ makes a neat bright green carpet only one foot high but up to six feet wide. Plant it in full sun or part shade with occasional water if needed.

Honeybee on Asclepias speciosa photo by Harmina Mansur

Honeybee on Asclepias speciosa photo by Harmina Mansur

Our native milkweeds are not only caterpillar food plants for the monarch butterfly and a nectar source, they also provide seeds for small mammals and birds. Ladybird beetles and the larvae of lacewings and other beneficial insects hunt the orange oleander aphids associated with milkweeds. Two species of beetles and two species of true bugs are milkweed specialists.

Douglas Tallamy (author of Bringing Nature Home) discovered in his own garden that many of our native insects “cannot or will not use alien plants.” “So many animals depend partially or entirely on insect protein for food,” he points out, “that a land without insects is a land without most forms of higher life.” Our native plants are not just pretty faces; they, as Tallamy so aptly states, “have the critical role of sustaining, directly or indirectly, all of the animals with which we share our living spaces.”

Nancy Bauer is a wildlife habitat gardener and author of The California Wildlife Habitat Garden (UC Press, 2012) and The Habitat Garden Book: Wildlife Landscaping for the San Francisco Bay Region (2001, 2008). She has been teaching and writing about wildlife habitat gardens for over 10 years.