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

Imagine if Everyone Planted One Tree

Connect with your inner tree hugger.

The seemingly small act of planting a tree can help heal our planet and the people living on it. Collectively we have the power to reforest the Earth.

A wonderful aspect of tree planting is that it enables you to do something positive with lasting value using your own two hands. If you can safely operate a shovel and a watering can, you can plant a tree.

“The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’”

John F. Kennedy

This post is a continuation of a tree planting story that began on a cold winter evening last January in the community room of the Rabobank down the street from our house.

My spouse and I had walked to the Cambria Forest Committee meeting to hear Rick Hawley from Greenspace talk about Monterey pine trees (we live in a Monterey pine forest).

Six months later, I am caring for 18 Monterey pine seedlings that we planted in our yard and 78 Monterey pine sprouts that I grew from seeds for a tree-planting project in our public forest.

If you are interested in catching up from the beginning of the story, read the posts Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees and Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees. Or just pick up the thread here.

Caring for Tree Seedlings

My original plan had been to plant 40 Monterey pine tree seedlings in our yard as part of a larger effort to restore our small patch of land.

Fortunately, I came to my senses before buying 40 seedlings.

I was already watching over about twenty pots that I had planted with native plant seeds and a dozen or so plant seedlings growing in our yard. It occurred to me that perhaps trying to keep track of 40 tiny tree seedlings would be a bit daunting.

I decided to buy 20 seedlings and called Rick Hawley to arrange to pick them up at Greenspace’s office.

On a sunny day at the end of January, my spouse and I carefully scouted locations in our yard and planted the 12” tall Monterey pine tree seedlings.

Almost immediately, I realized I would need some kind of markers or I would not be able to find the seedlings as the wild grasses surrounding them continued growing up to 4-6 feet tall.

Walking around the yard installing the markers we discovered that one seedling had had an accident and died and one seedling was never found. That left us with 18.

The first two months or so we continued to have rain so the seedlings did not require supplemental watering. I weed-whacked paths leading to the areas where the seedlings were growing so I could check on them periodically.

Who Needs Water Next?

I knew the rain would stop at some point and that the seedlings would need to be watered during the dry season to help them become established in their new homes.

Our yard does not have irrigation so that meant watering by hand with my 2-gallon watering can.

We had kept a few plants and Rosie our venerable climbing rose bush alive during the drought with the watering can and buckets so this seemed reasonable to me. Besides, I would be able to keep a close eye on what was going on with the seedlings.

Boy was I naive.

When it was only native plants in the yard, pots on the deck, and some house plants needing watering, I could easily keep an informal watering rotation schedule in my head. But, after the first month of watering the 18 tree seedlings, I could not keep track of who needed to be watered next.

Using a spreadsheet program I created a simple schedule and posted it on our refrigerator. At the end of each watering day, I check off what I have watered. Sometimes I do not have time to water on a specific day so I mark the day that I did water. I do not water the plants every week, but I do water the Monterey pine tree seedlings once a week.

Monterey Pine Seedling 10 after 6 Months - August 4, 2019
At about 23″ tall Monterey pine seedling 10 has doubled in height since it was planted in our yard 6 months ago – August 4, 2019.
Time Crunch

Hiking around the yard carrying 16 pounds of water sloshing around in a watering can is good exercise. I enjoyed visiting the tree seedlings to see how they were doing and felt happy that they looked well.

California Poppy Growing in Our Yard - May 1, 2019

This constant traipsing through the yard also enabled me to spot wildflowers here and there and even an occasional California poppy before a mule deer cruising through the yard spotted it and ate it.

Unfortunately, all that watering was more time consuming than I had anticipated. As much as I love being outside in the yard, like most people, I have many other commitments so I needed a way to make watering take less time.

Using hoses seemed like an obvious and simple solution so my spouse and I headed to the local hardware store where we purchased two hoses and two brass nozzles. We attached the hoses to spigots on the exterior of our house.

About half the seedlings cannot be reached by either hose. In this case, I drag a hose as far as I can and then fill up the watering can from that location reducing the distance I need to walk back and forth refilling the can.

Problem solved.

Next, we will look in on the progress of the Monterey pine tree sprouts that germinated from the seeds I planted for the forest tree-planting project.

Growing Trees from Seeds

Rick Hawley Helping People Plant Monterey Pine Seeds at Earth Day on April 21, 2019
Rick Hawley (blue shirt) from Greenspace helping tree enthusiasts plant Monterey pine seeds at Earth Day on April 21, 2019 – photo courtesy of Greenspace.

When my spouse and I arrived at the Greenspace Earth Day festival on April 21, I was excited to see Rick Hawley at his Monterey pine seed booth. He handed me a rack of 98 tubes mostly filled with soil and a plastic bag containing 100 seeds.

Linda Poppenheimer Planting Monterey Pine Seeds at Earth Day - April 21, 2019
This is me sitting in the shade of a tree planting Monterey pine seeds in a rack containing 98 tubes at Earth Day on April 21, 2019.

When we arrived home with our precious cargo, we discussed possible locations for placing the rack where it would get sun and a bit of shade. The deck outside our kitchen and dining room seemed an ideal location so we put two small slatted wooden tables together and set the rack on it.

Mindful of what Rick had said about birds grabbing the seed casing attached to the top of sprouts and then “accidentally” ripping the sprout out, I asked my handy spouse to make a cover for the seedling rack. Several days later, I placed a removable chicken wire box over the rack.

I watered the seed tubes weekly and waited.

It Takes Many Seeds to Grow a Tree
Monterey Pine Seed Rack First Sprout - May 13, 2019

On May 13th I was thrilled to spot two sprouts. The seed casings were still attached so I was glad for the protective cover. By mid-June, 16 tree sprouts were visible growing above the rims of the tubes.

To me, this seemed low considering that I had planted 98 seeds.

I felt like a loser like I had done something wrong but I had no idea what. Would the seeds have done better in a different location or with more or less water?

Hmm, perhaps my feeling of failure was a holdover from the decades I had spent working in corporate America where performance metrics are used to determine your value and measure you against other employees.

When I thought about it some more, I realized that a Monterey pine tree produces pine cones with thousands of seeds in the hope that at least one will make it to maturity.

I contacted Rick and asked him if I could have more seeds. Of course, he said yes.

On June 18, I carefully planted 82 seeds in the empty tubes. By July 11, there were a total of 49 sprouts growing in the rack. A couple of days later, I planted the remaining seeds in the empty tubes.

As of yesterday, I am tending 78 Monterey pine tree seedlings of various ages.

Monterey Pine Seed Rack with Cover - August 4, 2019
This is the chicken wire cover my spouse made to protect our Monterey pine sprouts. In the sixth tube from the left in the front row you can see a seed casing attached to a new sprout – August 4, 2019.

Every morning, I walk out onto the deck greeting the seedlings and asking them how they are doing. Yes, I am one of those people who talks to plants. I also converse with the birds, deer, and other animals who visit our yard.

Come November, I am looking forward to meeting and talking with the other tree growers and planting our trees.

Imagine if you, I, and everyone else who is old enough to use a shovel planted just one tree. We would have billions of additional trees generating oxygen, being beautiful, sequestering carbon dioxide, giving shade, and helping heal our planet—and us.

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”

Wangari Maathai

Featured Image at Top: This is my rack of Monterey pine sprouts on August 4, 2019.

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