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Choose Natives for Spring Planting

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As I write this article there are six inches of snow covering my gardens and there is likely to be more snow tomorrow. I am not alone in this sea of white, as all other gardeners at 2,500 feet altitude and above are seeing the same picture. But, being gardeners, we are all planning for, and looking forward to, the day we are back in the garden planting. It will just be a little later than usual this year.

So, while your gardens are snowbound, you might start considering what you will plant when the time comes. And, since the Sierra Foothills chapter of the California Native Plant Society is having a spring native plant sale on Saturday, April 9th from 9:00a.m. – 1:00p.m. at Rocca Park in Jamestown, why not consider choosing some natives for your spring planting?

Just recently I wrote a column on native grasses for the garden and most of the ones that I mentioned will be available at the sale. Grasses are an interesting textural element in any garden, so be sure to consider Pacific Reedgrass (Calamagrotis nutkaensis) with its broad, flat green leaves and attractive narrow plume flower stalks. This grass does better with some shade and regular water. There is a place in every garden for any of the fescues. My favorite is Idaho Fescue “Siskiyou Blue” (Festuca idahoensis ‘Siskiyou Blue’). The silver blue leaves make a nice contrast to the many green hues in the garden. Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) makes a bold statement in a garden. This grass looks like a pincushion with its two-foot rodlike flower stalks and thin green leaves. Deer grass loves full sun and is drought tolerant once established.

The sale will have a nice selection of both Ceanothus and Manzanita (Arctostaphylos) species. Both of these native plant species have low-growing, mid-size shrubs and tall shrubs to choose from and each will be represented at the sale. Other shrubs to consider are the currents and gooseberries (Ribes species). The fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) is my favorite. The fuchsia flowers are so lovely hanging under the branches. Don’t be put off by the nasty thorns on the branches – this shrub is a beauty when in blossom. Equally as lovely and without thorns is the chaparral current (Ribes malvaceum). The sale will have the cultivar “Ortega Beauty” which grows 5-8 ft tall with an equal spread and has clusters of deep pink flowers.

Not be forgotten are the ferns and perennials. The lovely, lacy southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) and the upright western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) might look striking when planted together, but don’t be tempted to do that. The maidenhair fern prefers a lime-rich soil found in seeps and along streambeds while the sword fern prefers the acid soil of the forests.

Is there anything better in the garden than perennials? These hard-working plants are really the mainstay of any garden, and our natives are just great for filling this niche in the garden. Two of my favorites are the foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) “Margaret BOP” and California fuchsia (Zauschneria species). “Margaret BOP” blooms all summer with blue-violet flowers that cover the plant completely. As summer begins to wane, the California fuchsias, with orange-red tubular flowers (that the hummers just love!), will stay in bloom until the middle of fall. Both species take full sun and do better with some water. At my 3000-ft. elevation in full sun I water these plants once every two weeks.

Another wonderful perennial that the hummers love, is hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea). This sage begins to bloom in late winter and continues into summer. It has whorls of red flowers held on upright stalks and is considered a reliable groundcover. Give this plant sun to partial shade with room to spread and you will be delighted by its stunning effect in your garden.

There will be many more favorites at the sale. Come and let the knowledgeable native plant folks help you find just the right natives for your garden. Be at Rocca Park in Jamestown at 9:00am for the best selections!

Carolee James, a member of CNPS, encourages the planting of natives in every garden.