Gardening with Native Plants
Gardening with native plants can be very rewarding and save you time and money in the long run. Natives generally require less water and long-term maintenance. These rewards will be greater if your garden replicates conditions similar to their native habitats. Natives grown in "typical" garden conditions may grow very nicely for a few years, but will probably be short-lived, or may "inexplicably" die one day. Natives grown as they are in nature may live happily and healthily with little involvement by you for 3 or 4 times as many years. Index: Cultural Requirements Soil Preparation & Planting When To Plant Deer California Native Plant Society’s web page (cnps.org) where you will find this kind of information and links to its local chapters. In general, the conditions of California’s "Mediterranean" climate dominate the natural cycles of growth and dormancy here. Our growth period correlates with the late autumn – spring rains (winter), and our dormancy time occurs during the annual drought of summer. Plants native to this climate (except riparian communities where plants receive year-round water) are adapted to it and do not require summer water once they are established. Check the annual rainfall requirements in the plant descriptions and adjust any supplemental watering accordingly (if you don’t know your annual rainfall, call your county agricultural commissioner). An important benefit of summer dormancy to natives is that pathogenic soil organisms are kept in check because warmth and water do not tend to occur together here. When you water during warm seasons, the possibility of soil diseases greatly increases, and these plants are not capable of combating them because it’s not normally needed. Native plants also need to be transplanted near the onset of the rainy season as they enter their growth period, so they can establish a root system before the following drought period. Most natives are pretty adaptable to diverse soil conditions, but only if it has good drainage. Before you plant, do a test to check your drainage. Dig a hole 12" deep and fill it with water. If it drains out within a half-hour, the drainage is good-excellent. If it drains out with 1-2 hours, it’s good. Longer, and plants requiring good drainage will not do well. Do not attempt to amend the soil to improve drainage – it never works. Either create a "raised bed", find another location, or switch to a native plant that naturally lives along creeks and rivers in a riparian habitat.