We had over an inch of rain the last sto…
Here you will find native garden resources, with a special emphasis on the climate and growing conditions of the channel islands, Los Angeles coast, and inland areas of Los Angeles. A good starting point for information beyond this page is Bloom! California.
Why plant a native garden?
We love native gardens. They have high habitat value and provide islands of plenty for critters that visit your area. They conserve water, particularly when they replace turf grass and they can survive our hot, dry summers with minimum care. They are beautiful, with a sense of place rooted in California. They stand out from “usual” gardens that have their design philosophy rooted in English thought patterns of water and seasons. Their sense of place is unique since California is unique in the world, and we celebrate that in our native gardens. As a practical matter, native gardens can be lower maintenance. Read more in a blog post titled, “Why Native Plants?”
Know your growing conditions
Whether you are a gardening beginner or an seasoned hand, it is easiest to skip ideas about planting zones, whether Sunset (zones 22, 23, and 24) or USDA (10a, 10b, and 11). I can’t ever recall seeing a native plant being sold for a “zone 11b” garden – focus on plant communities and microclimates relevant to your garden. Forget about the majestic redwood forest and its delightful understory plants that you saw while road tripping to northern California – they often won’t thrive in southern California and won’t serve the environment as well as better-adapted plants. Get really specific: If there were no development around, what would grow there? What microclimates surround your house: Does a large tree provided by a previous owner or neighbor provide enough shade that you can use shade-loving plants in an area normally associated with coastal sage scrub? Are the neighbor’s lawn sprinklers giving you moister soil in the area of your garden adjacent to their lawn? Does the cool north side of your house resemble a deep canyon in the local mountains? Choose your plants accordingly, and they will have the best chance of thriving. Some plant-choosing databases will let you enter your zip code and give you a list of locally-adapted plants which can be a good starting point.
Choosing your plants
It is recommended to use an online garden planner or database designed specifically for California. Calscape currently hosts a good one, with wide applicability. Once you know a bit more it may be useful to search native plant providers who have extensive online notes and information: Theodore Payne Foundation, Tree of Life Nursery, and California Botanical Garden are three larger local organizations where you can get information and purchase plants. Look for plants or plant communities that are native your specific area as a safe starting point for what might grow easily. Forget about the redwood forest and its delightful understory plants that you saw while road tripping to northern California – they often won’t thrive in southern California. If there were no development around, what would grow there? What microclimates surround your house: Does a large tree provided by a previous owner or neighbor provide enough shade that you can use shade-loving plants in an area normally associated with coastal sage scrub? Are the neighbor’s lawn sprinklers giving you moister soil in the area of your garden adjacent to their lawn? Does the cool north side of your house resemble a deep canyon in the local mountains? Choose accordingly, and your plants will have the best chance of thriving.
Know when and how to plant
There is one basic guideline for maximum success: Plant in fall (usually November) after the first good rain. You can continue planting all the way until the weather starts to warm and dry too much, and this can be location and weather dependent. Generally avoid planting in late spring through the start of the next planting season. It’s tempting to plant in April (because it’s spring and native plant week is in April! Isn’t that when we plant? Actually, no, in southern California native plant week is usually too late.). Of course, there are plenty of unmentioned exceptions and nuances to this guidance, but you won’t generally go wrong following it. Need to plant at a non-optimum time? Go ahead – you can still be successful.
Here’s good information on how to plant individual plants. Caution is urged when planning how many to plant since it’s an easy mistake to plant too closely, fearing those petite plants would never grow or wanting a more filled-in look. Look at the mature sizes of the plants you’ve purchased and plant accordingly. Your garden may look “naked” the first year. That’s OK, since you will avoid the double work of planting in year one and removing plants in year three. Take into account self-seeding of natives: maybe you only need two or three poppies this year since next year you’ll have 30-300 if all the seeds set and grow.
Set your expectations correctly
Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts, which means that you may not have instant success. Be patient and keep attentive. First year growth of your garden may try your patience. Keep in mind the saying, “First it sleeps, then it creeps, then it leaps.” referring to the yearly progression of growth in native plants. Established natives in their comfort zone can be robust growers and self-seeders – In year 3 you may have to remove plant material from your garden.
Gardening Information From Our Blog
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General Meeting – Sep 13, 2021