Living With the Natives
The Sandpiper, October 2005

Plants native to California have a place in all of our gardens. These plants offer a sense of where in the world we are; they are a good source of food and shelter for the wildlife that calls Del Mar home; they have evolved in this climate and can thrive with very little if any supplemental water and nutrients. 

October is the best month to plant California natives in your garden. The days have cooled and are shorter and the rain, which will help them to develop a good root system, is, hopefully, just around the corner.

When planting natives, dig the hole twice as wide and deep as the plant's container. Good drainage is especially important for natives so water the hole to be sure that it drains well and set the plant's ‘crown' a little above the surrounding soil. Make a berm with the backfill so that the plant has a basin in which to collect water. Finally, a 2” layer of coarse organic mulch around the plant will help the soil to retain moisture; it will also keep down competition from weeds. Be sure to keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant.

Some natives are much easier to establish in a residential garden than others. Those in the following list are the ones with which I've had most success. Unless otherwise mentioned, they'll thrive in full sun to part shade.

Pinus torreyana , Torrey Pine—common (and protected!) in Del Mar and La Jolla, rare in the rest of the world. Open and picturesque, it easily grows to 50', so be careful where you plant it.

Cercis occidentalis, Western Redbud—small deciduous tree with lovely Spring flowers. Stays under 20'. There is one on each side of the stairway in front of our library.

Rhus integrifolia, Lemonade Berry—evergreen shrub with berries much-loved by birds. Grows to about 8' high and 10' wide. Makes a good hedge. Its cousins, Rhus laurina and Rhus ovata, are equally attractive and easy to grow.

Heteromeles arbutifolia, Toyon—another beautiful evergreen shrub (or small tree) with bright red berries. Grows to about 15' tall and wide and is quite open in maturity.

Ceanothus varieties, especially ‘Concha' and ‘Yankee Point' , California Lilac -- Ceanothus comes in many shapes and sizes from wide-spreading low shrubby groundcovers to dense mounding shrubs and even small, open trees. All have beautiful blue flowers in early Spring.


to top of second column

Arctostaphylos ‘refugioensis' , Refugio Manzanita—Large shrub with reddish new growth and pink flowers. Grows to 8' tall and 10' wide.

Salvia clevelandii , especially the variety ‘Winifred Gilman' , Cleveland Sage—woody perennial with highly aromatic grey leaves and sapphire blue flowers. Much loved by hummingbirds.

Zauschneria californica , California Fuchsia—Herbaceous perennial with grey-green leaves and stunning bright red-orange flowers.

Trichostemma lanatum , Woolly Blue Curls—Woody perennial with glossy green leaves and profuse purple flowers.

Sisyrinchium bellum , Blue-eyed Grass—Clumping perennial with grassy foliage and dainty blue-purple flowers. It will re-seed and naturalize.

Penstemon spectabilis and heterophylla , Foothill and showy penstemon—herbaceous perennial with bright green leaves and spikes of tubular flowers in shades of purple.

Limonium californicum, Coastal Statice—Perennial with large basal leaves and papery purple and white flowers.

Heuchera maxima , Island Alum Root—Perennial with large round leaves, pinkish-white flowers. Heuchera tolerates full shade.

Most of the above plants are available locally at Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach. All are available at Tree of Life Nursery (the largest supplier of native plants inCalifornia) in San Juan Capistrano. Tree of Life has a highly-informative website: . It's a lovely place to visit, but hours are limited, so check their website before going. Finally, Torrey Pines State Reserve, Crest Canyon and the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens are gorgeous parks where you can see the plants ‘at home'.