Native Plants Add Beauty and Habitat to Your Yard

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” —Janet Kilburn Phillips

This spring give the birds, bees, and butterflies places to live, dine, and hang out by adding native plants to your garden and making it a pesticide-free zone.

About two weeks ago, a newsletter from the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) arrived in my email inbox informing me that April 13-21 is Native Plant Week here in California.

I decided to use Native Plant Week as an opportunity to encourage other native plant novices, like me, to embrace native plants. When you give native plants a place in your yard or garden, you will attract native wildlife and signal to those who are just passing through that this is a good place to pause and take a break.

Ever since my spouse and I moved from Southern California to the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast about twelve years ago, we have been on a mission to restore our tiny piece of land. After years of invasive plant removal and spreading literally tons of wood chips to revive the parched soil, I realized I needed to learn about native plants.

I joined the CNPS chapter in San Luis Obispo. At my first meeting in October 2017, I met Marti and became interested in trying to grow native plants from seeds. You can meet the first plant I ever grew from a seed in the post, entitled Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun and if you are interested in the environmental benefits of native plants, I covered that topic in Native Plants are Good for the Environment.

6 Pots with Seedlings Grown from Native Plant Seeds - Apr 2019
Seedlings sprouted from seeds I obtained at the CNPS San Luis Obispo seed in exchange in October 2018 shown in April 2019 (left to right) – thrift seapink, coast bush lupine, coyote mint, purple needlegrass, purple sage, arroyo lupine.

The joy of growing native plants mostly occurs during the journey from seed to mature plant, but even the mishaps can be fun. My yard is mostly wild and your yard will be different from mine anyway, but perhaps you have had some similar experiences.

Native Plant Novice

To keep things simple I opted to experiment with growing native plant seeds using the tools and resources a non-expert might have on hand like a garden trowel, plastic pots from nursery plants, potting soil, a watering can, and something to use for plant markers. I planted my second batch of seeds in November 2018 without any special preparation.

This year I have been keeping a handwritten journal of what I observe happening with the seeds and a few small plants, we planted in our yard.

Becky the Buckwheat has a Birthday

I am one of those people who anthropomorphize animals and trees. It helps me connect with my non-human neighbors, but if you do not like it, I understand.

The very first plant I ever grew from seed was California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciulatum). Out of a handful of seeds, it was the only one that germinated. After about nine months in a pot on the deck outside of our dining room, I decided that Becky was ready for the yard. Mindful of the deer that frequent our yard, I planted Becky in a small fenced in section.

I do not know Becky’s exact age, but I planted the seeds in January 2018 and the tiny seedling popped its head above the soil in March or April of that year. Becky went to live in the yard during October 2018 and now in April 2019, Becky is at least a year old and thriving.

Someone Stole My Daisies

For years, I have been admiring the lavender flowered seaside daisies (Erigeron glaucus) that grow on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near my house. Last November, when I spotted a variety of seaside daisies at the CNPS San Luis Obispo plant sale, I bought six small plants.

Because the daisies looked like potential deer food to me, they became Becky’s neighbors. The plants seemed happy and I could see them from a window in our stairwell. One day I looked out and sensed something was wrong so I went outside to investigate.

Four of the six plants were completely gone (not eaten) disappeared. It was the voles. I could tell by the little holes backfilled with loose dirt. The voles would not come out to discuss the situation so I can only surmise that seaside daisies are much sought after as bedding material or food for voles.

That afternoon I dashed over to the local nursery to purchase some flexible mesh gopher cages. My spouse helped me dig up the two remaining plants and replant their roots inside the cages. That ended the carnage. The plants made it through the winter but I would say they look more as if they are just surviving versus thriving.

Plant Hide-and-Seek

In November 2018, feeling extra ambitious I expanded the number of varieties of seeds I would attempt to grow and decided to carefully plant a few in my yard along with a couple of plants that I had purchased at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden plant sale in October.

I carefully weeded a five-foot circle, planted a small Hearst ceanothus (Ceanothus hearstiorum) and three groupings of seeds marked with plant markers I made from an old sign.

The deer or someone was probably laughing as I did this. Within days, the ceanothus had been eaten down to a nub, so we fenced in the area. Months later, the wild grasses took over and any tiny seedlings trying to make a go of it have either been outcompeted, eaten as soon as they popped up their heads, or are in there somewhere that I just cannot see.

Group Insurance

In the past, I have often purchased one plant to try out in a particular area. Last fall, I thought maybe it would be helpful to plant two or three of the same type of plant in the same area.

At the November CNPS plant sale, along with the ill-fated seaside daisies, I purchased six tiny California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) seedlings grown by Clearwater Color Wholesale Nursery in Los Osos. The plants were about 3” tall when I planted them in pots and set them outside our dining room window.

They seemed happy and grew steadily. After the seedlings reached about 6” tall, I decided they might enjoy going to live in the yard.

Unsure about whether deer have a taste for California fuchsia or not, I decided to plant one plant and see what happened. The deer completely ignored it for a couple of weeks so I decided it was safe to plant the others.

Outside our office window, we have a grouping of three and a grouping of two. I planted the remaining plant near the seaside daisies as an insurance measure in case the deer suddenly develop a taste for California fuchsia.

Getting a Grip

The native plant enthusiasts I meet in our county seem enamored with dudleyas so I purchased three chalk dudleya (Dudleya pulverulenta) at the October Botanical Garden Sale.

I read up about them on Calscape, an online California native plant resource guide, and learned that dudleyas like to be planted at an angle so moisture does not pool around them and they enjoy living with rocks.

We have a small rocky section next to our driveway so I planted the three dudleyas in a triangle and hoped for the best. Periodically, I hand weed around them and they seem to be well established now.

My action for California Native Plant Week was to write this post. I hope you enjoyed the above plant stories and laughed at least once. Now, it is your turn to take action.

California Native Plant Week Actions

  • Share your own native plant stories and/or expertise.
  • Learn about native plants by going on a native plant garden tour or visiting a botanical garden.
  • Sign up for a native plant walk in your area.
  • Locate a nursery that sells native plants, pick one to try, and plant three of them in your yard or garden.
  • Join your local native plant society. The American Horticulture Society lists every state on their website.

“Native plants are the foundation of ecosystems, supporting pollinators, birds, and the natural resources we all need for survival.”

Liv O’Keeffe, California Native Plant Society

Featured Image at Top: I think these are coyote mint (Monardella villosa) plants that sprouted from seeds I scattered in the yard.

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The Day before Christmas Donation

Think globally, give locally.

This year spread some holiday cheer in your own community by donating to a local nonprofit, volunteering your time, or better yet both.

Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled Day after Christmas Donation in hopes of encouraging readers to join me in wrapping up our holiday seasons by making a charitable donation or committing to volunteer with a nonprofit or faith-based organization. For 2018, I decided to dust off the idea but change it to the day before Christmas.

In as little as five or ten minutes, you can make an online donation, write a check and put it in an envelope, or send an email with an offer to volunteer in the future.

I realize that December 24th could be an overly busy day for you. If so, I hope you will take 15 seconds to write a note on your calendar or enter a reminder in your smartphone for a day when you will have time between now and the end of the year.

There are many national and international nonprofit organizations worthy of your money and your time, but I propose that this year we give to a nonprofit in our own communities, towns, or counties.

Think Globally, Give Locally

On this day 50 years ago, the NASA Apollo 8 crew took the now iconic photo of Earth rising behind the moon shown at the top of this post. This image clearly shows that we live on a sphere with air, water, and the land connecting us to each other. What we do to the environment we do to ourselves and all the other living things on Earth. Our fate is interwoven.

By caring for our own tiny patch of the planet, we can contribute to the overall wellbeing of Earth. Local nonprofits act as sort of a multiplier helping us do this collectively.

Like a for-profit business, nonprofit organizations need both money and people to fulfill their missions. Everyone has something to give whether it is money, time, or both (a little or a lot).

Nonprofit organizations need volunteers to solicit donations, create websites, prepare grant applications, man booths, bake cookies, call people, write newsletters, post on social media, conduct research, attend public meetings, play music, plan events, wash dishes, pull weeds, track volunteer hours, paint signs, write letters to the editor, film activities, greet people at events, write press releases, take photographs, manage membership lists, track budgets, put up tables and chairs, hand out flyers, create marketing materials, serve food, stuff envelopes, write blog posts, answer phones, do presentations, round up speakers, act as docents, plant trees, build things, take out the trash, coordinate with other groups, prepare reports, run programs, do public relations, emcee events, fix equipment, shop for supplies, and write thank you notes.

Chances are there is a nonprofit in your community doing work you feel is important and that could use your help. My interests tend to lean towards organizations doing environmental-related work because my children, your children, and everyone else’s children need a habitable planet to live on now and in the future.

Here is what I am doing for my day before Christmas donation.

Volunteering – Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is a public open space on the edge of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the small town my spouse and I moved to about eleven years ago. We enjoy walking on the bluff path almost daily. Yet in all the years we have lived here, I had never volunteered to help take care of this beautiful place until last May.

Part of Volunteer Group in Front of One Pile of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018
Part of the Volunteer Group in Front of One of the Piles of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018 – Photo Credit Holly Sletteland

I thought I had signed up my spouse and me to volunteer at a wildflower show but we ended up at the Ranch pulling up three-foot long lengths of ice plant, which is considered an invasive plant here because it chokes out everything else. Removing invasive plants is good for the environment because it allows native plants a chance to thrive. Native plants play nice with others, use water wisely, and provide habit for local winged, scaly, and furry denizens.

That day it hit home that each one of us is responsible for caring for our community parks, open spaces, and gardens and that they need us.

We completed our third ice plant removal activity two weeks ago. Now I am on the “likes to remove ice plant” email list.

Donating – San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

I am a fan of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in our county. Their mission “to honor and preserve our connection with nature” dovetails with my own mission to convince others and myself to live more lightly on Earth.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA on February 3, 2018 – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Besides having a wonderful display of the plant life of Mediterranean climate zones, the Garden grows and sells plants, hosts activities for kids, and provides fun and educational events for people of all ages. I have attended several events at the Garden, shopped for native plants at their plant sales, and been a regular visitor who enjoys wandering through this special place.

Today I am making a financial donation to help the Garden fulfill their mission.

Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, today, I hope you will join me in donating money to a local nonprofit, committing to volunteering your time, or both. It all adds up.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Earthrise – Photo Credit U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft.

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