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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Landscape

Using Native Plants

You let your lawn die during the drought. A lot of people did. Now the drought is over but you would still like to establish a drought friendly vibe to your new landscape. Spring is around the corner and it’s the perfect time to plan and design a California native garden. Maybe.

While most of them can be ugly, native plants do have a few advantages over some of the non-native plants. They are already adapted to our climate, soils, and insect pests. Another argument is that you’ll save money by reducing your use of water—maybe. Yes, perhaps on a long enough time line you will. But with the way drip systems are set up now and with their highly efficient way of delivering water, one can water 200 plants for a week and still use half the water it takes for a seven-minute shower. So, not much.

It’s true, with native plants you’re unlikely to need fertilizers and pesticides, that most natives need little pruning or other maintenance once they're established. However, this is also true of non-indigenous plants so long as they’re planted properly in the correct location and their growth is allowed for in a planting diagram. There’s also some truth to native plants supporting the local ecology by providing a habitat for birds and other native pollinators. But this is true of several plant varieties.

With the exception of a shrub or two, some grasses and a handful of wildflowers, from an aesthetic point of view a native garden leaves a lot to be desired compared to other assortments or themes. And with native themes, it’s usually the same dozen or so plants that get shifted around. Still, there are some who enjoy the “native” look and lack of maintenance a natural landscape provides.

An overgrown landscape that requires a lot of upkeep has more to do with whether the plants are chosen wisely, not where they originate from.

It’s important to do some research to find the right plant for the right place in your yard. First, analyze the planting site. Not every native plant species will be a good candidate. How cold does it get in winter? How sunny is it? What kind of soil do you have? Is there good drainage? How big is the space? What size should the plant be at maturity? What kind of irrigation is available? Think about the site and the ideal characteristics the plant should have.

In other words, exactly the way you would if you elected to plant non-native plants.

The next step is to find natives that match your site. There are more than 5000 plants native to California, about 2000 of which are used in landscaping. Start local. Some of your neighbors may grow natives; ask about their successes. Visit a public native garden. Phone your local nursery. Learn what works.

Popular in many California native plant gardens is Brandegee’s Sage, or Salvia Brandegei. It’s fast, lush, floriferous, resilient, mostly deer-proof and remarkably drought-tolerant.

When California native plants are less than a year old experiencing their first summer, treat them like any other new plant. If this is the first summer for your California natives, this will be tricky depending on your individual plants. You may lose plants, but these practices may help minimize losses no matter what plants you choose.

· Spread mulch three inches deep throughout the garden; this mitigates the effects of the heat and drought.

· Continue deep watering once per week at dusk.

· Shower plants with a hose briefly to hydrate leaves every few days if possible.

· If a plant is wilting (the leaves have softened up), give it a shower. If it doesn’t perk up in a few hours, deep water it.

· Unlike with other plants, once your natives have been in the ground a year, you won’t have to add water during heat waves. This is surely one of the benefits to using native plants.

Here is a list of some of the native plants regularly used:














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