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Wildscaping With Native Oak Tree Species

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In a conversation with my photographer son, we marveled at the indigenous and endemic—existing only in this area—plant species in California. He has camped and backpacked through Sequoia/Kings Canyon (Seki) National Park, amazed at the giant trees.

Sequoiadendron giganteum, the largest trees in the world, grow only in a narrow band along the western side of the north/central Sierra Nevada as far south as Tulare County. Coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, grow only in foggy climates along the northern California and Oregon coast, or where there is sufficient summer rain.

So, too, rolling hillsides of oak savanna are characteristic of native California landscapes. Valley oaks, the largest of California oaks, with their graceful branches sweeping the ground, are endemic to California. According to Trees and Shrubs of California, “valley oak is considered an uncommon species, largely because of loss of habitat to agriculture and urbanization.”

Why, then, do we insist on destroying our unique foothill plants, only to replace them with exotics from other places requiring enormous amounts of water, fertilizer, and pesticides?

A growing worldwide movement cherishes and protects remaining native habitat, landscaping our private spaces with native plants blending seamlessly into—not damaging or out-competing—our native flora. This landscape ethic is referred to as wildscaping.

Check out the UC Oaks website: You’ll find ways to identify the oak trees on your property as well as determining whether your oak tree has a disease.

It’s not necessary to plant lawn, vinca major, and ivy under your native oak trees. Not only are Bermuda grass, vinca and ivy invasive, but the required water will someday kill that large oak tree. Consider alternatives such as bare ground or mulch under the oaks, a clump of native grass between two large rocks, or scatters of California poppies that don’t require summer water.

If you prefer the more formal look of a hedge, consider planting one of the smaller Manzanita species. They have beautiful bark, flowers, berries, and branching form, but require no summer water once established.

To look at landscape ideas utilizing native California plants, go on-line to and view their beautiful “Gardening with California Natives” page. This information is provided for Southern California residents, but is appropriate for and can be adapted to other California locations.

The next time you visit friends and family in the southland, consider taking a trip to the California Botanic Garden (formerly the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden) in Claremont. It provides information highlighting native plant species. Some of their ideas will surely work in your garden as well.

Fire Safety Note: Many California native species and non-invasive Mediterranean plants burn readily—adapted to a fire regime. Be vigilant in pruning out the deadwood that accumulates in the center and lower portions of plants like manzanita and rosemary.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or