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It’s Time to Plant California Natives!

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If you haven’t planted California native plants before or if you are new to the Sierra Nevada foothills, autumn is the best time to add these great plants to your garden. This coming weekend is the time to buy those natives at the Fall Plant Sale of the Sierra Foothills Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. The sale will be held Saturday, October 16th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Rocca Park in Jamestown. There will be so many beautiful natives to choose from that you might just have a difficult time deciding what to take home.

There will be ferns, grasses, perennials, shrubs, trees, vines, bulbs and seeds. And for the thrifty gardener there will be plants in almost every category that will be on sale!

Here’s a few of my all time favorites:
Aristolochia californica – California Dutchman’s Pipe Vine: A unique deciduous vine that is a food plant for the beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. Before the leaves arrive, the vine produces small pipe pitcher-type flowers in the spring. It requires sun to shade and some summer water. It can be used as a ground cover.

Rhododendron occidentale – Western Azalea: We hope to have this beautiful shrub, but at the time of this article, it’s still an ‘iffy’ proposition. Due to the heat, our grower is not sure if it will be ready for the fall sale. This plant requires some shade and regular water. Has beautiful, fragrant white to pink blooms. Needs acid soil.

Chilopsis lineraris – Desert Willow: Deciduous tree with pink or burgundy trumpet flowers. Moderate water in summer. Full sun.

Calycanthus occidentalis – Western Spice Bush: Deciduous shrub. Grows 5′ to 8′. Has wine colored flowers. Flowers and leaves have spicy odor of wine cellar when crushed. Sun to shade, water in summer.

Cercis occidentalis – Western Redbud: Deciduous larege shrub or tree. Covered in pea-like pink blooms in late winter to early spring. Drought tolerant when established.
Cornus nuttallii – Mountain Dogwood: Deciduous tree from 12′ to 75′. Showy white saucer flowers. Needs moist soil and dappled or light shade.

Salvia clevelandii – Cleveland Sage ‘Bee’s Bliss’: Evergreen ground cover sage. Grey leaves with blue flowers. Will spread 12′. Full sun.

Salvia apiana – White Sage: Evergreen shrub. Can grow 2′ to 3′ tall. Bold silvery-white foliage with lavender tinged flowers in the spring. Very dramatic plant when mixed with green leafed salvias. Virtually pest free.

Penstemon heterophyllus – Foothill Penstemon ‘Margaret BOP’: Perennial that blooms profusely for several months. Flowers are blue tinged with lavender.

Zauschneria species – California Fuchsias: One of my most favorites. Drought tolerant, full sun. Red to orange small tubular to funnel shaped flowers that hummingbirds love. Blooms in late summer right into fall.

For a truly bold statement in your garden, then look no further than the Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron). This large evergreen shrub requires full sun, needs no summer water and flowers with yellow to orange flowers that make an absolutely stunning display. In my garden a Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica ssp. tomentella) has grown to be a spectacular specimen with no summer water. With its gray-green leaves it makes a nice contrast to the oaks and cedars.

And don’t forget the grasses. Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is a stunning grass with its tall spike-like flowering stems held stiffly vertical. I have a hillside dotted with this grass and it is really lovely. Also, why not try Pacific Reedgrass (Calamagrotis nutkaensis), purple needle grass (Naesella pulchra) and California fescue (Festuca californica).

There will also be native bulbs available. Like the lovely Mariposa lily (Calochortus), Indian hyacinth (Camassia quamash) and the deer proof trout lily (Erythronium pagoda). If you like to intersperse wildflowers throughout your garden or create a wildflower meadow, a nice variety of seeds will be on hand.

In the Mother Lode, fall is the absolute best time to plant natives. Your plants will have an opportunity to settle into the warm soil, put down roots, enjoy our rainy season and get ready to put on a show in the spring. Just remember, there are native plants that will work in every garden and for every gardener in the foothills.

See you in Jamestown at Rocca Park On Saturday, October 16th. Be early for the best selections.

Carolee James is a UC Cooperative Extension Tuolumne County Master Gardener who also chairs the plant sale for the Sierra Foothill Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

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