Planting California Natives

Why California Native Plants are beneficial to your garden

You may have heard that using plants native to California might be beneficial to your garden, but did you know why? Plants native to California, and more specifically, plants native to the Bay Area, evolved over thousands of years to survive and thrive in the dry, hot summers and low nutrient soils that make up California’s unique environment. California native plants generally need 60-85% less water to survive and grow than plants commonly used for lawns and landscaping, a bonus in this time of drought and water restriction! Non-native plants also tend to require a richer soil than typically found in our area, whereas the California native is generally happy with the existing soil, saving time and money on fertilizers and soil amendments. 

In addition, birds and other wildlife that evolved alongside the native plants have been shown to prefer the natives over imports.  Native birds, small reptiles, and beneficial insects, tend to be attracted in greater numbers to gardens featuring native plants than to non-native gardens. For those with vegetable gardens, the presence of native pollinators will improve production while native birds, reptiles, and beneficial insects will assist with management of pests such as mosquitos and aphids.

How to Start Your California Native Garden

Start small, and start in the fall. Choose an area to make over into a native plant garden, and then take some time to select a few plants that interest you and that are suited to the area.  As you make your selections, keep in mind that a California native that thrives in the redwoods or along the north coast might not do well in the warm, dry Tri-Cities area.

Make the planning process a chance to learn more about your area and the plants that evolved here. Select a good anchor tree or scrub to build around such as toyon or a manzanita, then add in smaller plants with varying flowering times that do well together.  For example, bluewitch nightshade, which flowers in the winter and spring, might be a good companion plant for the summer and fall blooming California aster.  The California Native Plant Society has a great online tool, the Bay Area Garden Planner, that will help you identify plants that will work well together in your area. 

Once you have your garden planned, seek out nurseries that carry the natives you want.  But do not plant now! Planting season for wildflowers and other California natives begins in October. Planting in the fall allows the plants and seeds to settle in over the relatively moist winters and build up strength to face the summer ahead. Some watering will be needed as the plants establish themselves initially and onward through the summer to maintain some fire resistance. 

Remember — native plants do not need the water or rich soils that so many non-natives need, and may indeed be harmed by excessive watering and/or fertilizer. Provide only the water and care needed to establish the garden and to keep it hydrated through the summer, then enjoy.  

To learn more about California Native Plants: