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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Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Imagine if you could do something simple to beautify your community and help keep Earth habitable. Planting a tree is one way to do it.

If you have access to a shovel or even a garden trowel, you can plant a tree seedling in your yard or somewhere else, that needs a tree like a park, community open space, or a forest. You can obtain a tree seedling from a nursery, botanical garden or native plant sale, or a nonprofit organization that grows trees.

Mother Nature does a lot of tree planting ably aided by the wind, rain, and critters, both feathered and furry. However, she would probably appreciate some assistance from us, humans. Mother Nature is unlikely to come knocking on your door asking you to plant trees, but I think she is wily and employs a variety of methods to get the word out. If you are not listening, she may give you a nudge or two. That is what happened to me.

Cambria in the Pines

Before moving to live among Monterey pine trees in the small town of Cambria on the California Central Coast, I had never lived this close to the rest of nature. Our town motto is “Cambria in the Pines.”

My spouse and I share a tiny piece of land with Monterey pine and oak trees, native plants, mule deer, wild turkeys, voles, lizards, and a wide variety of birds. I am acquainted with each tree in our mostly wild yard. Whenever a tree dies, I feel bereft. Then I will notice a new tree seedling in our yard and feel hope.

Our Monterey pine forest is one of the few remaining native stands of Monterey pine trees in the world. It is precious, irreplaceable, and struggling to survive. Drought, rising temperatures, and disease have taken a toll on the forest. Thousands of trees have been lost. Mother Nature and people have planted new tree seedlings, but not enough, not nearly enough. We are in danger of becoming “Cambria in the Pine.”

Over the years, to supplement Mother Nature’s efforts, I have attempted to buy Monterey pine seedlings at our local nursery, but they never have any in stock (I think this is weird). I admit that I did not look elsewhere for seedlings. Perhaps Mother Nature sensed that I needed a nudge to propel me to action so she gave me not one but two gentle nudges.

We Meet a Tree Hugger

Near the end of December, I saw a notice in the local newspaper The Cambrian that the Cambria Forest Committee was hosting a talk by a guy named Rick Hawley from Greenspace, a local nonprofit land trust. The subject was Monterey pine trees. I was interested but what really caught my attention was a sentence that said Greenspace grows Monterey pine seedlings for sale to the public. I thought, “You are kidding me. Why do I not know about this?”

A week or so later, on a cold evening in January, my spouse and I bundled up and walked down to the community room at the Rabobank to hear Rick speak and to find out how we could obtain some tree seedlings.

Rack Holding Tiny Monterey Pine Seedlings at Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019
A rack holding tiny Monterey pine seedlings at the Cambria Forest Committee meeting – January 9, 2019. This photo and the one below courtesy of the Cambria Forest Committee.

As soon as we entered the room, I saw a rack of tiny Monterey pine seedlings nestled in little plastic sleeves sitting on a table. I coveted them.

Rick gave an impassioned talk about Monterey pine trees and discussed the importance of replacing trees that have been lost due to drought, disease, or age. Planting trees helps forests stay healthy and resilient.

One thing I discovered during the meeting is that I am not quite the law-abiding citizen that I thought I was. Apparently, you are supposed to obtain a permit before removing a tree over a certain size (including dead trees) and are required to plant replacement tree seedlings.

You know assuming is dangerous, right? Well, I had assumed that the tree service we hired from time to time to remove our dead trees had a permit or something so we did not need one. I did know about replacement tree requirements but fortunately, we have had more than enough tree seedlings volunteer in our yard to replace the dead trees (whew). Okay, now I know.

Rick Hawley and Linda Poppenheimer Talking after the Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019

At the close of the meeting, I approached Rick to thank him for his inspiring talk and to volunteer to grow seedlings. When I asked him where I could obtain seedlings to plant in our yard, he gave me his business card and told me to call to make arrangements.

Mother Nature Throws down the Gauntlet

Two weeks later, Rick’s business card was still sitting on my desk.

Then, one day my spouse walked into our home office and said, “A Monterey pine tree just threw a seed at me.” This had occurred outside of our kitchen when a pinecone made a loud cracking noise as it burst open and then a single papery-winged seed drifted down onto the deck. I had never seen a Monterey pine seed.

I took this as a sign from Mother Nature.

After locating Rick’s card, I called and left a message that I was interested in buying some Monterey pine seedlings.

We are still in the rainy season so I thought the seedlings would have a good chance of settling in before the dry summer and fall months. I figured I could probably keep track of and care for twenty seedlings. This means keeping the wild grasses from overrunning them and carrying water to their locations if needed.

Rick called back and said he would bring the seedlings to the Greenspace office for me to pick up.

When I arrived at the office, Rick introduced me to Mary Webb, the current president of the board of directors. The three of us had a delightful conversation about Greenspace and Monterey pine trees. Greenspace began as a land trust in 1988 and has been instrumental in preserving natural areas, restoring the Santa Rosa Creek watershed, caring for the Monterey pine forest, leading educational forest excursions for middle school students, and advocating for local environmental issues.

Mary Webb and Rick Hawley Holding Greenspace 2001 Arbor Day Foundation Award and Two Monterey Pine Seedlings
Mary Webb and Rick Hawley standing outside the Greenspace office in Cambria, CA holding Greenspace’s 2001 Arbor Day Foundation award and two Monterey pine seedlings that would soon find a home in my yard – January 24, 2019.

Greenspace sells Monterey pine seedlings in one-gallon pots for $10 each. I think this is a good deal. If everyone in town invested just $10 for one tree seedling for their own yard or for a community open space, we could plant about 6,000 trees.

Planting Monterey Pine Tree Seedlings

When I got home, my spouse helped me unload the seedlings from my car and we lined them up on the edge of the driveway so I could take a group photo before we dispersed the trees to their planting locations (top phot0).

We decided to plant the seedlings that weekend before the next rainstorm.

Linda Poppenheimer Holding a Monterey Pine Seedling with Shovel, Bucket, and Watering Can
This is me decked out in a California Native Plant Society t-shirt, jeans, boots, gloves, and a hat ready to plant some Monterey pine seedlings.

In addition to typical tree planting concerns like not planting too close to the house and avoiding locations beneath power lines, we also needed to consider deer trails and vole highways. Deer cruising through the yard could easily crush a 12” seedling and voles tunneling underground dig up anything in their path and toss it aside.

We decided to plant the seedlings in groups spaced far enough apart so that they can grow into mature trees but close enough that they would have buddies nearby. In some cases, we planted the seedlings near decaying tree stumps in hopes that this will protect them from trampling by deer or even wild turkeys.

One thing I realized almost immediately is that I will need to put some kind of marker near the tree groupings because as soon as the grasses grow to more than a foot tall, it will be hard for me to locate them so I can check on their progress. In the past week, we have had several inches of rain and the tree seedlings seem happy, so far so good.

I am looking forward to Rick’s class on propagating Monterey pine seedlings from seeds. I have a spot picked out next to my pots of native plant seeds.

You Can Plant Trees, Too

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Even though it is winter, there are many places where planting trees now make sense. If you live in one of these milder climates, please consider taking action by planting a tree seedling or several seedlings. If you are hunkering down in a cold and snowy place, perhaps you could select the type of tree you would like to plant in the spring and put a photo of it on your refrigerator.

If you do not have a yard or do not want to plant a tree in your yard that is okay, there are plenty of other places that need trees such as playgrounds, parks, common areas, city streets, community open spaces, and forests. Find a tree planting opportunity in your area and go plant some trees.

You can still help even if you are not able to plant a tree or do not want to do it. Consider making a financial donation to a tree related nonprofit, offer to help organize a tree-planting event, or volunteer to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the people planting trees.

Fortunately, you do not need to wait for Mother Nature to toss a seed at you to get your attention. If you are reading this, she already has your attention so go plant a tree.

Featured Image at Top: Twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in pots lined up on the curb of our driveway awaiting planting.

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