Go to a Native Plant Society Plant Sale

You will be glad you did.

If you live in a temperate climate, a fall native plant society sales event is an ideal place to shop for native plants and obtain free expert advice. For readers living in other climates, there is sure to be an event for you sometime during the year.

On the California Central Coast, where I reside, a good time to plant native plants is in November before the rainy season begins. This gives the plants a chance to become established in their new homes well ahead of dry summertime conditions.

Why should you plant native plants in your yard or garden? The short answer is because they are beautiful, good for the environment, and connect you to the place where you live.

A few additional reasons for growing native plants are because it is fun, rewarding, and good for your wellbeing.

This post contains three examples that illustrate the wonderfulness of native plants.

A Tale of Three California Native Plants

The first of the three California native plants described below is one that I grew from a seed I obtained at a California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo (CNPS-SLO) chapter seed exchange. The second I grew from a tiny seedling I bought at last year’s CNPS-SLO native plant sale (this year’s sale is coming up on Saturday, November 2). The third volunteered to grow in our yard, meaning we did not purposefully plant it.

California Buckwheat

Regular readers will recognize Becky the California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) in the top photo above as this individual plant has been featured in other stories I have written about native plants. For new readers here is a brief recap.

As an amateur native plant enthusiast wanting to learn about native plants, I joined CNPS-SLO in October 2017. The first meeting I ever attended coincided with the chapter’s annual seed exchange where I selected seeds for five California native plants I wanted to try growing, including California buckwheat.

Of the California buckwheat seeds I planted, only one germinated and grew into a plant. Once it seemed big enough to try to make of go of it in our mostly wild yard, I named the plant Becky and transplanted it into a carefully selected spot where I hoped it would receive enough sun and would have adequate room to grow.

I decided to provide supplemental water during Becky’s first year living in the yard. It was thrilling to watch the plant double in size. I was astonished when Becky had spread out to cover a space with about a five-foot radius. The plant looked happy but I wondered if it would ever bloom and attract bees.

In early July, I spotted the first buds forming and waited in anticipation for flowers to appear. At first, there were just a few flower clusters and then more and then many more.

Recently, when I was taking photos of Becky, I just stood there for a minute admiring this magnificent plant that I had grown from a tiny seed.

California Fuchsia

Before last year’s CNPS-SLO native plant sale in November, I had made a list of plants I wanted to try growing in our yard. California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) was one of the plants on my list that I was able to buy at the event. I bought six of the small seedlings (about 2-3” tall) to try in various places in our yard.

When we got home, I planted the seedlings in 1-gallon pots and placed them on a landing for the stairs that lead up to our front door. Apparently, raccoons (or someone else) discovered the pots and decided to dig for bugs leaving the seedlings overturned.

Fortunately, I noticed the mishap the following morning. After repotting the seedlings, I moved them to a safer area on the deck outside of our dining room.

With regular watering, the seedlings soon grew taller and continued to grow and fill out the pots.

In February of this year, I deemed the plants were ready to try living in the yard so I transplanted one to see if the deer would eat it or not. They did not so in March I planted the remaining five plants. For insurance, I planted one California fuchsia within the small fenced-in area of our yard near Becky.

All the plants seemed like they were doing okay at first, but after a few months, I noticed that there was a large variance in growth. I have been giving them supplemental watering and as far as I can tell the plants are not being eaten by the deer. Perhaps the variation is due to the amount of sun they receive, the soil conditions, or something I have yet to discover.

California Fuchsia Blooming - October 2019
I did not expect the plants to bloom during the first year, but this California fuchsia that lives in the fenced-in area of our yard gave me a lovely surprise – October 2019.
Coast Live Oak

Our home is on a tiny piece of land in the midst of a native stand of Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) forest where Monterey pines and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) trees live together. The oaks in our yard volunteered to grow in various locations from acorns dropped by neighborhood oak trees or by the squirrels and birds that collect and store them.

During the first several years that we lived here, I observed the various trees, plants, and wildlife sharing our yard with us. I knew that oaks are generally slow-growing and long-lived trees but our oak trees seemed exceptionally slow growing.

On a spring day in 2013, I found out why. I had gotten up from my desk to stretch and walked over to look out one of our home office windows. You cannot imagine my amazement to see a mule deer buck munching on the leaves of one of the tiny oak trees.

I was used to seeing deer cruise through our yard eating various things but I had never seen a deer eat anything on an oak tree. I had just assumed that they did not like to eat the spiky edged leaves. That day I learned that deer do eat oak leaves and that they had been doing it for years when we were not looking. Who knew deer were so sneaky.

The oak trees living in our yard were not exceedingly slow-growing. They were stunted from years of deer grazing.

Of course, getting rid of the deer was not an option nor would my spouse and I want it to be. Our neighbor’s fenced-in yard has several mature oak trees (which I have now witnessed being pruned by deer) so we deduced that maybe if the oak trees in our yard could be protected until some of the branches grew taller than the deer can reach then maybe they could coexist with the deer.

We decided to try providing a few oak trees with protective fencing and see what happened. After a few years, all the protected trees had at least doubled in height so we surveyed our yard and then enclosed more trees.

We now have seventeen oak trees of various heights living in wire enclosures. The first tree we enclosed in 2013 is about eight feet tall so in a year or so we will remove the fencing and let it spread out however it wishes. As the other trees grow beyond deer height they will have a chance to live un-fenced, too.

Coast live oak trees are an important part of the history, beauty, and biodiversity of this area so it gladdens our hearts that we can help the trees and the deer occupy the land together.

Shopping for Native Plants

Native plants are sometimes available at nurseries and big box store garden centers. However, I prefer buying native plants at a botanical garden or native plant society plant sale because you can find plants suitable for where you live and obtain free expert advice on how to care for them.

The California fuchsia described above is just one of the native plants and trees I have purchased at botanical garden and native plant society plant sales over the past several years.

Hiking around our hilly yard to observe and tend our native plants is good exercise and a continuous learning experience that brings joy into my life.

Add beauty to your own yard or garden and contribute to your wellbeing by planting native plants, grasses, and trees. Search the web for a native plant society plant sale where you live and then go to it.

Next year, you will be admiring the native plants that you bought this year that have now settled into their locations in your yard or garden.

Featured Image at Top: This is Becky the California buckwheat who has been blooming in our yard and attracting bees for that past four months – October 2019.

Related Posts

  1. Adopt a Native Plant
  2. Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun (resources and book list)
  3. Imagine if Everyone Planted One Tree
  4. Life after Cancer – Gardening
  5. Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees
  6. Native Plants Add Beauty and Habitat to Your Yard
  7. Native Plants are Good for the Environment
  8. The American Lawn – Our Obsession with Turf Grass
  9. The Landscaping Ideas of Jays – Book Review
  10. Why You Should Volunteer to Collect Native Plant Seeds

Toilet Paper – Green Alternatives

Sometimes change is easy.

Reasonably priced environmentally-friendly toilet paper not made from cut down trees is widely available. Anyone, meaning you and me, can choose to buy it.

Toilet paper has been on my mind recently. This is probably because I had been pondering and writing last week’s post about why your individual climate actions matter in which I suggested that even seemingly inconsequential actions are important.

Changing to an eco-friendly toilet paper or another option is one of those small choices that matter.

But if you had not thought about it, I understand.

Unless your roommate, kids, or spouse leave an empty cardboard tube or nothing on the toilet paper holder in the bathroom you probably do not give much thought to toilet paper and neither does anyone else. Chances are you buy the same brand of toilet paper you have been buying for years, the brand your parents bought when you were a kid, or perhaps whatever is on sale.

Are you thinking something like “So, what?” or “Why should I expend any mental energy thinking about toilet paper?”

The simple answer is that toilet paper made from trees (virgin wood) is contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests which are essential ecosystems that both people and non-humans rely on for life.

This post will provide a brief overview of toilet paper’s environmental impact and then we will discuss greener alternatives to virgin wood toilet paper.

Environmental Impact of Toilet Paper

Americans managed to get along without toilet paper until 1857 when Joseph Gayetty began selling boxes of individual toilet paper sheets. A major advancement occurred in the late 1870s when Seth Wheeler began making and marketing rolled toilet paper with perforated sheets.

150 years later we are still using basically the same product and cutting down trees to make it.

Forests are Important

Besides being beautiful trees absorb CO2, produce oxygen, influence rainfall, filter water, manage stormwater, keep soil intact and feed it, provide habitat, and give us food, medicine, and wood.

Trees are major constituents of the world’s forests which house about 80% of the biodiversity that exists on land. Hundreds of millions of people live in forests (including me).

Forest Degradation

Clear cutting trees degrade forests by leaving dead zones in the midst of them or along their edges. This wipes out what was once healthy, functioning forest ecosystems.

Technically, trees are considered a renewable resource meaning that one or more tree seedlings can be planted for every tree that is cut down. Even if that was being done, which it is not, trees are slow-growing taking decades to reach maturity.

Sometimes cleared forests are replaced with tree plantations consisting of rows and rows of a single species of tree, in other words, a monocrop. A plantation cannot replace a forest.

Making Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is made of lightweight paper called tissue paper. Other tissue paper products include facial tissues, napkins, paper towels, wipes, and hygiene products.

Converting a tree into wood pulp and then tissue paper products is an industrial process that uses an enormous amount of water. That is why paper mills are located beside lakes and rivers.

This short video from the Idaho Forest Products Commission provides a good overview of what happens at a plant that makes toilet paper from trees (the greenwashing is pretty mild).

Fortunately, some manufacturers produce toilet paper made with recycled paper and other materials besides wood.

Our Toilet Paper Study

Back in early 2015, I set out to try to understand why so many Americans seem intent on buying toilet paper made from virgin wood even though toilet paper made from recycled paper is widely available. Was it because virgin wood toilet paper was less expensive or performed better or what?

I roped my spouse into participating in an informal test of virgin wood toilet paper versus toilet paper made from recycled paper. We tested the toilet papers shown below and rated attributes like tearability, flushability, cleanliness, softness, and purchase price.

Toilet Paper Rolls Stacked in a Tower

Overall we found that all the toilet paper we tested performed adequately. Some of the virgin wood brands were the softest and most expensive.

I did not start the toilet paper post I had planned on writing because I learned that I had breast cancer. All my energy was diverted to surviving treatment. I am very grateful that I did survive.

Four years later, when I decided to take up the topic of toilet paper again, I discovered that a few additional products had come on the market and I realized that some of my data was outdated. However, the toilet paper industry remains relatively unchanged.

Toilet paper companies spend tens of millions of dollars each year trying to convince Americans that toilet paper must be bright white and pillowy soft.

Trees and water are cheap and the cost of environmental harm is not included in the price you pay at the checkout counter so many if not most major toilet paper manufacturers are just continuing with business as usual.

This is ridiculous.

Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper and Other Options

There are green alternatives to toilet paper made from virgin wood pulp. Let’s look at a few examples.

Recycled Paper

A somewhat better option than toilet paper made directly from a tree is toilet paper that is made with recycled paper that has performed another use since it was a tree. There are a number of brands of toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper (the higher the post-consumer content the better).

We buy Natural Value toilet paper made with 100% recycled paper (80% post-consumer) by the case from SLO Food Co-Op. Each cardboard box contains 12 plastic-wrapped 4-packs. I keep a small squirt bottle filled with water next to my toilet.

With so many reasonably priced, effective, and more environmentally-friendly options available in stores and online, I cannot imagine why any person would continue to buy toilet paper made from virgin wood pulp.

Water

One option is to skip using toilet paper or to use very little of it by either installing a bidet in your bathroom, retrofitting your existing toilet with a bidet component, or attaching a specialized spray wand next to the toilet.

You use water to clean yourself and then dry off with a small amount of toilet paper or better yet a reusable washable towel (like after a shower).

Several years ago, during the height of the most recent California drought, we replaced our old toilets with new high-efficiency toilets. I did not even consider a bidet component because we were trying to reduce water usage in our home.

Now, I think that was short-sighted as the increase in water usage would have been slight and we could have hugely reduced the amount of toilet paper we use and maybe even eliminated it.

We are toying with the idea of installing a spray wand to try out.

Bamboo and Other Materials

Treeless toilet paper is possible.

Bamboo is a grass that can be harvested after five years and then will quickly grow again. It can be used in place of wood for many products and can be made into pulp for toilet paper and other tissue paper items. Toilet paper made from bamboo is readily available for a reasonable price.

The thing is, for those of us living in the United States, bamboo toilet paper comes from China or other countries overseas. Shipping rolls of toilet paper across the ocean on hugely polluting container ships detracts substantially from its eco-friendly attributes.

Other potential sources of fiber for treeless toilet paper include agricultural residues left after harvesting crops like sugarcane and wheat. I have yet to find a brand in any of our local stores but it may be available online (skip the 2-day shipping on an airplane).

The idea of treeless toilet paper appeals to me warranting further investigation of these options.

If you change, the toilet paper manufacturers will change, too.

Featured Image at Top: Toilet paper roll character pushing a shopping cart – photo credit iStock/Talaj.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

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