Channel Islands Chapter
Horticulture: Fall is Time for Planting Natives
Created: 5 October 2008; Last updated: 5 October 2008

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Fall is Time for Planting Natives, by Patt McDaniel (originally published in the Ventura County Star in November 2007)

Native plants placed in your garden now will thrive and send down roots with the fall and winter rains (or your watering if there is none).   Plants from local natural areas enhance the habitat value of your garden and attract a wider variety of birds and beneficial insects, including some of our lovely local butterflies.

As with other garden plants, the key to success is grouping the plantings by preferences for water regime, soil and exposure to sun.   Some of the favorite and easiest to grow of natives are those that can be mixed in gardens with common low water use landscape plants.   These are often the same plants that dwell along canyons and streamsides where there is water deep in the ground and some protection from the harshest dry summers.   Some of these such as Toyon (California Christmasberry - Heteromeles arbutifolia), Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) and some of the sages have been used horticulturally for decades.   Some Channel islands shrubs do well in here also, such as Galvesia, an attractive low growing mound of lush green color and cheery red tubular flowers or the Catalina Current (Ribes viburnifolium) one of the most civilized appearing natives.   Many herbaceous flowering plants such as Lupine, Monkeyflower, the ground-hugging lavender Seaside Daisy, Coral Bells, Blue-eyed Grass, Peninsular Onion, the showy Clarkias and the ever favored California Poppy will combine well here.   For both flowers and a mellow minty aroma, Monardella is a winning herbaceous plant.

To create a garden with real California flavor, go a little dryer.   You will be rewarded with rich golds, rusts, and grays, and the aroma of the chaparral.   Favored for flower color in dryer areas would be the California Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica) or low growing Zauschneria, sometimes called California Fuschia because of its abundant red flowers.   Many Buckwheat species add interest.   The Giant Buckwheat has large flower umbels that are showy and curious.   Smaller buckwheats add unique color such as the sulfur flowers of Conejo Buckwheat and rose to rust flowers of our local Buckwheat (Eriogonum faciculatum) varieties.   For grey foliage from white gray to dark gray green, look to the Sages.   There are several that form low mats such as Terra Seca and Pt. Sal.   The local Purple Sage and its San Diegan cousin Cleveland Sage are known for their wonderful fragrance that will fill the garden, especially on spring and summer mornings and evenings.

The Manzanitas have twisted mahogany branches and often gray green or leaves tinged with reds or yellows, charming bunches of small urn-shaped flowers and showy berries.   These also come in low growing mat, or large or small shrub forms.

All plants need watering until the roots become established and natives are no exception.   Since natives are adapted to a rainless summer, it works best to get some of those roots established during the rainy season.   Plants that are used to moist canyons will do better with summer watering if it is applied outside the “drip line” but plants for dryer areas will need a few supplemental waterings through the first summer or two.   If you keep in mind what a good rain year is like in California and where the plant is naturally found, you will know what kind of watering the plant needs once established.

Many of these plants will be available at the California Native Plant Society Annual Fall Plant Sale at Plaza Park in Ventura.   Check the link or go to the Calendar of Events page on this website for the date of the next plant sale.

Special thanks to Carlin Moyer for the beautiful illustration of Toyon on this page.

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