Why Plant a Native Habitat Garden?

Written and compiled by Tony Baker, 10/2020

This article explores some of the ideas and plants that have been successful in my coastal California native plant garden.  A habitat garden could also be called a backyard restoration because if we implement some specific design elements into our home landscape, we can create a beautiful and welcoming environment for our native wildlife. A naturalistic native wildlife garden can not only be beautiful and fragrant, but can attract and benefit birds, bugs, butterflies, bees, lizards, and other wildlife. Besides attracting wildlife, why else should we plant California native plants?

  • Conserving water with native plants is important in our drought prone Southern California and can save the homeowner money when it comes time to pay the water bill.
  • Using natives eliminates the need for pesticides, herbicides, amendments, and fertilizers which would be counter to our goal of attracting wildlife.
  • Seasonality: A native landscape is likely to have high seasonality, something that imported plants often lack.
  • A sense of place: Native landscapes are beautiful and represent our natural heritage.
  • Exploration and experience are heightened for children and adults if we plant locally native species due to the conjunction elements noted above.


Some elements to maximize the attraction of a habitat garden:

Structural plant design is an important consideration when planning your habitat garden after the hardscape such as paths and circulation have been decided upon. Tall trees, small trees and large shrubs, dense and open shrubs down to ground covers and border plants present a wide variety of opportunities for any number of critters. Plan to leave some open bare soil to encourage ground nesting native bees and wasps.
A diversity of native plants will not only attract a diversity of wildlife but will provide an interesting garden of beauty and habitat value all year long. Bush Sunflowers may have finished flowering in May and making seed for birds in June and July, but the Coastal Buckwheat is just starting to bloom and providing nectar for butterflies and later in September, the California Fuchsia will be blooming for hummingbirds. The diverse plant palette will supply nectar, pollen, seed, fruit, nesting material, cover, and prey for predators.
A water feature in the home landscape is irresistible to many birds seeking a bath or drink but is also valuable to many insects and other critters. This could be an elaborate pond if one has the will to build and maintain it or a simple shallow dish that you would put under a planting pot will suffice. I set up a drip line to a hanging bird bath and within seconds of turning the drip on, a Black Phoebe was taking a bath.
I recommend that the home gardener not be fastidious in pruning, raking and cleaning. For instance, our native Purple Sage blooms with beautiful lavender flower whorls in April and June, but after the flowers have withered, edible seeds are picked out of the stalks by birds like Gold Finches and Bushtits will find bugs in the empty pods. Later, garden spiders will spin their webs between the stems.
Consider replacing a lawn with a meadow of native wildflowers, bulbs, native grasses and perennial groundcovers not only for a profusion of color in spring, but an abundance of wildlife. A meadow is difficult to create and manage, but worth the effort if successful.
And finally, create a space in the garden where you can sit down with family and/or friends to watch the activity and enjoy the fruits of your efforts.


Perennial Herbs and Ground covers Height x Width

*Asterisk denotes plants that are locally native to our CNPS South Coast Chapter area

  • Common Yarrow Achillea millefolium 1’ x 3’
    • White flowers for butterflies and other insects
  • Red Columbine Aquilegia Formosa 1’ x 1’
    • Nectar for hummingbirds in partial shade
  • Narrow-leaf Milkweed Asclepius fascicularis* 3’ x 3’+
    • Larval food for Monarch Butterfly and nectar for all
  • California Aster Aster chilensis 1’ x 3’+
    • Excellent nectar source for insects
  • Rattlepod/Milk Vetch Astragalus trichopodus* 2’ x 3’
    • Pea flowers provide nectar and larval food for P.V. Blue
  • Beach Primrose Camissoniopsis cheiranthfolia* 1’ x 3’
    • Good local nectar plant for sandy soils
  • Island Dudleya Dudleya virens spp. Insularis* 1’ x 2-3’
    • Local succulent for seaside gardens
  • California Fuchsia Epilobium canum* 1-2’ x 3’+
    • Late summer/fall nectar for hummingbirds
  • Seaside Daisy Erigeron glaucus 1’ x 3’
    • Good nectar plant for the seaside
  • Coastal California Poppy Eschscholtzia maritima* 1’ x 3’+
    –Coastal yellow perennial provides pollen for bumblebees
  • Island Coral Bells Heuchera maxima 1’ x 2’
    • Hummingbird plant for the shade from Catalina Island
  • Sea Dahlia Leptosyne maritima* 2’ x 3’
    • Bright yellow coreopsis flowers attract for nectar and seeds
  • Hummingbird Sage Salvia spathacea 2’ x 3’+
    • Magenta flower spikes loved by hummingbirds

Low/Small Shrubs

  • Deer Vetch Acmispon glaber* 3’ x 3’
    • Yellow nectar flowers and likes sandy soils
  • Centennial Ceanothus Ceanothus hybrid 1’ x 5’
    • Dark blue flowers attract bees and butterflies
  • Conejo Buckwheat Eriogonum crocatum 1’ x 2’
    • Sulphur yellow flowers attract nectar seekers
  • Coastal Buckwheat Eriogonum parvifolium * 2’ x 3’
    • Larval food for the El Segundo Blue Butterfly
  • Compact Island Snapdragon Gambelia ‘Firecracker’ 2’ x 3’
    • Tubular red flowers for hummers
  • Lilac Verbena Verbena lilacina 3’ x 3’
    • Lavender flowers for nectar seeking insects

Medium Shrubs

  • Howard McMinn Manzanita Arctostaphylos densiflora 4’ x 6 ‘
    • Pink flowers for nectar followed by edible fruit
  • Sunset Manzanita Arctostaphylos hybrid 4’ x 5’
    • Another one of many species and hybrids for habitat
  • Oregon Grape Berberis aquifolium 5’ x 5’
    • Yellow nectar flowers and blue edible berries
  • California Brickellbush Brickellia californica 4’ x 4’
    • Sweetly fragrant night blooming flowers attract moths
  • Baja Fairy Duster Calliandra californica 4’x 4’
    • Showy red flowers irresistible to hummingbirds
  • Yankee Point Ceanothus Ceanothus horizontalis 3’ x 8’+
    • Low spreading groundcover with nectar rich blue flowers
  • Concha Ceanothus Ceanothus hybrid 5’ x 6’
    • Cobalt blue flowers on one of many species and hybrids
  • Catalina Silver Lace Constancia nevinii 3’ x 4’+
    • Dusty Miller type foliage with yellow nectar rich flowers
  • California Bush Sunflower Encelia californica* 3’ x 4’
    • Great nectar source and seeds enjoyed by birds
  • Island Buckwheat Eriogonum arborescens 3’ x 3’
    • Light pink flowers and open structure
  • Ashy Leaf Buckwheat Eriogonum cinereum* 3’ x 6’
    • Pink flower heads attract a wide range of critters
  • California Buckwheat Eriogonum fasciculatum* 4’ x 4’+
    • Nectar for all insects—low varieties available
  • St Catherine’s Lace Eriogonum giganteum 6’ x 6’
    • Showy white/beige flowers great for insect life
  • Giant Coreopsis Leposyne gigantea 4’ x 2’
    • Summer dormant with ‘daisy’ flowers for nectar and seeds
  • Showy Penstemon Penstemon spectabilis 3’ x 3’
    • Tubular purple flowers adapted to hummingbirds
  • White Sage Salvia apiana 3’ x 4’
    • Apiana means bee as in bumblebee
  • Purple Sage Salvia leucophylla* 4’ x 6’
    • Lavender bee/hummer flowers followed by edible seeds
  • Black Sage Salvia mellifera* 4’ x 5’
    • Light blue flowers for bees and seeds for birds
  • Pink Flowering Currant Ribes sanguineum 6’ x 6’
    • Showy hummer flowers and edible fruits
  • Fuchsia Flowering Gooseberry Ribes speciosum 5’ x 5’
    • Hummers love the flowers and other birds love the berries

Large Shrubs

  • Lester Rountree Manzanita Arctostaphylos hybrid 10’ x 10’+
    • Attracts birds for flowers and fruit—other varieties available
  • Coast Saltbush/Quail Bush Atriplex lentiformis* 8’ x 15’+
    • Wildlife cover and larval food for Pygmy Blue Butterflies
  • Coyote Bush Baccharis pilularis* 8’ x 8’
    • Small flowers but a lot of insect activity
  • Mule Fat Baccharis salicifolia* 10’ x 10’
    • Insects and nesting materials for birds
  • Ray Hartman Ceanothus Ceanothus hybrid 15’ x 12’
    • One of several large Ceanothus with lots of habitat value
  • Summer Holly Comarostaphylis diversifolia 8’ x 8’
    • Handsome small tree with white flowers and red fruits
  • California Flannel Bush Fremontodendron californicum 15’ x 15’
    • Needs no summer water and has large yellow flowers
  • Toyon/Christmas Berry Heteromeles arbutifolia* 15’ x 15’
    • Small tree with white nectar flowers and red berries for birds
  • Lemonadeberry Rhus integrifolia* 8’+ x 10’+
    • Pink flowers and flavorful sour berries
  • Sugar Bush Rhus ovata* 8’+ x 10’+
    • Similar to Lemonadeberry with glossy oval leaves
  • Matilija Poppy Romneya coulteri 6’ x 10’++
    • Large ‘fried egg’ flowers attract pollinators
  • Blue Elderberry Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea* 15’ x 15’
    • Great habitat tree with creamy flowers and blue berries


  • Island Pink Morning Glory Calystegia macrostsegia
    • Climbs, can be aggressive. Large vine with big flowers that attract insects
  • Virgin’s Bower Clematis ligusticifolia* Climbs
    • Pollinated by many insects and hummingbirds
  • Island Snapdragon Gambelia speciosa Arches
    • Attractive red flowers sought by hummingbirds
  • Climbing Penstemon Keckiella cordifolia* Arches
    • Brick red hummer flowers on drought deciduous shrub
  • California Honeysuckle Lonicera subspicata* Arches
    • Hummingbird flowers and edible fruits
  • California Blackberry Rubus ursinus* Arches
    • White nectar rich flowers followed by delicious fruits
  • California Wild Grape Vitis californica Climbs
    • Large vine with tasty small fruits that attract birds and mammals

The bulbs and annual natives listed below require a dry garden with no summer water to match our natural Mediterranean habitat. The bulbs need the summer dormant resting period and are best planted out as a bulb. The annuals are ideally planted as seed and will naturally reseed themselves. The seed can remain dormant in the soil until the winter rainfall and cool temperatures awaken them to germinate and go through their natural cycle. Of course birds and other animals will try to eat the buffet, so rake the seed in just before the rains.


  • Red Skin Onion Allium haematochiton
    • White flower heads
  • Golden Stars Bloomeria crocea*
    • Yellow star bursts
  • Harvest Brodiaea Brodiaea jolonensis*
    • Blue star flowers in umbels
  • Island Mariposa Lily Calochortus catalinae*
    • Cupped flowers with purple
  • Soap Plant Chlorogalum pomeridum
    • White night flowers for moths
  • Wild Hyacinth/Blue Dicks Dichelostemma capitatum*
    • Violet clustered flowers


  • Common Fiddleneck Amsinckia intermedia* 3’ x 3’
    • Yellow/orange flowers on a coiled ‘scorpioid’ head
  • Red Maids Calandrinia menziesii* 2’ x 2’
    • Bright red flowers and edible seeds
  • Farewell to Spring Clarkia purpurea* 3’ x 1’
    • Lavender cup with purple center reseeds easily
  • Slender Tarweed Deinandra fasciculata* 4’ x 3’
    • Small yellow flowers and seeds for birds
  • Globe Gilia Gilia capitata* 1’ x 1’
    • Blue clustered heads easy to grow
  • Annual Sunflower Helianthus annuus* 8’+ x 6’+
    • Many bright sunflower heads – seeds loved by gold finches
  • Tidy Tips Layia platyglossa* 2’ x 2’
    • Yellow flowers with white tipped fringe
  • Arroyo Lupine Lupinus succulentus* 3’ x 3’
    • Blue flowers loved by bees
  • Tansy Leaf Phacelia Phacelia tanacetifolia* 3+’ x 3’
    • Blue coiled ‘fiddleneck flowers’ also attracts bees
  • Caterpillar Phacelia Phacelia cicutaria* 2’ x 3’
    • Light blue fowers
  • Chia Sage Salvia columbarae* 2’ x 2’
    • Whorled flower heads with edible seeds

*Asterisk denotes plants that are locally native to our CNPS South Coast Chapter area

This article was written by Tony Baker, October 2020.  Thanks, Tony!

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