Channel Islands Chapter
Horticulture: Plant Natives for Earth Day
Created: 5 October 2008; Last updated: 5 October 2008

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PLANT NATIVES FOR EARTH DAY, by Patt McDaniel (originally published in the Ventura County Star in March 2008)

This is the time of year we love to get out in the garden, dig in the fresh soil and see what new plants and flowers we can bring into our life and our garden.   Planting local native plants can bring an element to your garden that will encourage local butterflies and birds to frequent your garden.   You can look for the more ornamental forms or the pure locals and both can be found at local native plant sales this month.

Cultivating plants that naturally grow in the Ventura River watershed is one of the most environmentally friendly things a gardener can do!   A border of Black, Purple, and White Sages, California Sagebrush, Coyote Brush, and Bush Sunflower will look wild, no doubt, but will smell great and attract birds and butterflies.   Other locals such as Sugar Bush (Rhus integrifolia) and Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) look very neat and trim and have been used horticulturally for years.   You can also make your wild border look a little more like a cultivated border buy putting a row of lower growing species in front like California Buckwheat, Bush Monkeyflower, California Poppy, Golden Yarrow, and Hummingbird Sage.   A fall pruning can create a more cultivated appearance.   Removal of deadwood and old blossoms reduce habitat value but can sometimes improve visual appeal.

If your garden is anywhere near a natural area, purely local natives are desirable because the cross pollination of local and nonlocal natives can sometimes be detrimental to the wild populations.   In the most urban areas, such as the inner and coastal areas of Ventura and Oxnard, the yearning for a more landscaped look can be indulged without as much concern.   Some of the horticultural selections and hybrids might be planted, such as Ceanothus "Joyce Coulter" with rich blue flowers and neat habit, or "Dark Star" with mysteriously dark blue flowers and small dark green convoluted leaves.   Salvia "Alan Chickering" is a hybrid sage that blends the vigor of Purple Sage with the bright blue flowers of Cleveland Sage.   You can create a low growing carpet of wonderfully green foliage with Arctostaphylos "Emerald Carpet" (a manzanita) and delight in the rusty stems and bronzy new growth.

If you have space, the ultimate native to plant is the Matilija Poppy.   It needs space because its underground runners will boldly go where no structure can inhibit it, but its classic huge white crinkly flowers will brighten even the gloomiest heart.

Another high value, space-requiring plant is the Oak tree.   The Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) or the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) are most commonly available and the Valley Oak population, particularly, needs to be replenished in Ventura County.

Many of these plants will be available at the California Native Plant Society Semi-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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