While California’s native plants have graced gardens worldwide for over a century very few of the landscapes designed in our home and business gardens do not reflect the natural splendor for which California is famous. By gardening with native plants, you can bring the beauty of California into your own landscape while also receiving numerous benefits.
Here’s the dirt to grow your knowledge and get started on going green… Keep it simple and sustainable with native plants.
Like all living things, native plants grow best under natural and familiar conditions, also known as biotic communities. Common California plant communities include northern and southern oak woodland, valley grassland, chaparral, desert, coastal sage scrub and bluff, mixed evergreen, and redwood forest. Choosing plants that are native to your landscape’s community will help ensure their optimum health and performance. Southern California and specifically San Diego would be characterized as a coastal sage scrub chaparral eco-system with a slight integration from the Sonoran desert.
Although most California natives can be planted at any time of year, it is best to put them in the ground during the fall and early winter. This gives them time to establish a healthy root system and build the energy for new growth and stunning floral displays in spring and summer.
Many native plants can survive with minimal supplemental water once they have become established (after two to five years). Proper watering can present a challenge when first becoming acquainted with native plants. Underwatering of young native plants is a frequent cause of death, while over-watering can cause root rot and kill more established species. Some native species can maintain a healthy appearance for much of the year while being watered only1–4 times per month. For a garden full of thriving native plants, check plant-specific watering needs from Native Plant Nurseries or come by every third Tuesday of the month to CNPS meetings. They are open to the public and a great way to expand your knowledge and resources on native plants.
Most native plants perform better without any fertilizer. Extra nutrients push plants to grow quickly, sometimes beyond naturally supportable levels, and can shorten their life span. Mulching can be a valuable practice in low-maintenance gardening. A layer of mulch slows water evaporation, discourages weed germination, and creates a favorable environment at the soil interface for beneficial biological bacteria. Adding organic matter to soil may be necessary where development has left an infertile top layer.
While many non-native garden plants are often pruned throughout the year to keep up with their water- and fertilizer-induced growth, for most native plants pruning once per year is sufficient. Check plant-specific pruning tips from your friends, neighbors, nurseries, or CNPS members as plant preferences vary. Give the plants room to grow by properly spacing them in your garden design. Crowded plants need more frequent pruning and care.
PDF guides to get you going on planting plants to set the scenery in the picture perfect post card place we all call San Diego.
(Start on Page 3 of 8 for easy alternatives to common invasive plants in Southern California)