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Gardening With Natives

There are over 6000 native plant species in California, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.  Roughly half of those are suitable for gardens, and more and more are finding their way into commercial nurseries.  Many native plants from one region of California can be grown in another, but local native communities are the best places to look for inspiration and potential plant choices.  California’s native communities include forest, woodland, grassland, chaparral, coastal scrub, desert scrub and alpine.  Knowing the dominant plant community in your area will help you understand what plants naturally grow well there, but also what other native plants, with similar requirements, might be suited for your site.  

The key to successful native gardening is matching their natural growing conditions to your site.  While many are drought tolerant, plants that naturally grow in shady streambeds will have different needs from chaparral plants that naturally occur in dry, sunny, exposed sites.  The same applies to plants that have frost intolerances that grow well in Southern California or mild winter areas, but are not good choices for planting in areas with hard freezes.  Most natives need good drainage and benefit when planted on mounds or in raised beds.  All need water to get established, some may need occasional deep watering the first or second year, or longer.  The best time to plant natives is in the fall or winter, as the winter rains encourage the deep roots natives need to survive during the long summer droughts.  Native plants should not be fertilized and heavy mulching is not necessary.  Allow leaf litter to accumulate under native trees and shrubs, just as it would in natural conditions.  

Summer is the quiet time for natives.  There is a great contrast between California summer natives, and lush green landscapes of the eastern half of the country where summer rains are ongoing.  Yes, there are many native perennials such as asters, mints, California fuchsias, that flower all summer, but the glory season for California native plants is the spring.  The native spring starts in late winter and extends well into summer.  Then in the fall when the same trees and shrubs are no longer blooming they are feeding birds and other creatures with nuts, berries, seeds and fruit.  Summer is not the time to water naturally dormant plants.

Remember, September 8th Tuolumne County Master Gardeners will be having another, ever so popular, plant sale at our Open Garden day at the Demonstration Garden located at Cassina High School.  Also, on October 14th, the day of our fabulous annual garden tour event, we will again have our giant annual giant annual ‘Garden Tour’ Plant Sale, also at the Demonstration Garden at Cassina High School.

Wendy Weidenman is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.
UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or go to: http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=7269 to fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire. Check out our website at: http://cecentralsierra.ucanr.edu/Master_Gardeners/ You can also find us on Facebook or pick up the local UCCE Master Gardener book “Sharing the Knowledge: Gardening in the Mother Lode” at Mountain Books or the UCCE Office both in Sonora, CA