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Penny's native plant picks for Los Angeles

Plant choices can sometimes be overwhelming so here are some ideas. This list is for Los Angeles but I'll try to make a list for other major cities too, when I get a chance. These are plants native in Los Angeles County. So a few are from the islands but all should be able to survive under most circumstances without supplemental water after they're established. Of course, there are some extreme micro-climates and exposures so use common sense. If you made a giant mound of sand on top of your old patio and have a south facing exposure, in inland LA County some of these may struggle. So the idea is...
-local plants have higher value for local wildlife. Birds and butterflies can use the plant they co-evolved with.
-These plants grow in the wild with around 15 inches of rainfall, same as LA. So once they are established they are good to go.
-Locally native plants grow in the local soil, so no amendments necessary.
Pretty simple!
Anna's Hummingbird on Penstemon Margarita BOP in a Southern California wildflower garden

Small landscape trees... more for effect than shade.

Chilopsis linearis, Desert Willow.
 This one is kind of a cheat. I wanted to make this list locally native. This is actually not native in Los Angeles county but it is in Riverside County, so close by.&nbsp. I love this tree. It is fast growing but needs no water after it is established. Water it more, though, and it will grow faster. It has an elegant form and dainty little orchid-like flowers that attract hummingbirds. Desert Willow flowers through most of the summer and the flowers have a delicate fragrance.  Place it next to a high-use summer area like an outdoor entertaining area or a patio. Full sun and more heat means more flowers.

Arctostaphylos glauca, Blue Manzanita
  a small tree, or large shrub if you don't prune it up, that has bold, beautiful structure. The luster of the reddish brown bark contrasts strikingly with the blue-silver foliage. White flowers appear in winter when nectar sources are few and far between. Great for hummingbirds. Looks great all year. Slower growing than the other two options. Full sun to part shade.

Ceanothus arboreus Tree Lilac
This fast growing evergreen tree has pretty, light blue flowers in spring. Not a large canopy, more columnar in form. This is a good one for hiding a window from the street. A central, more upright plant for the front yard. Full sun.

Screening and privacy hedge plants

Ceanothus leucodermis  'LT Blue' White Bark California Lilac
Ceanothus leucodermis is the wild species that grows around Los Angeles. However, it is hard to find in cultivation and is harder to grow in the landscape. This cultivar, 'L.T. Blue' is a lot less prone to death. It has white bark and lush- looking green, glossy leaves. Flowers are light blue and fragrant. Use this Ceanothus as a fast screen or to break up a long wall or fence. Plant 5 feet apart for a screen. Full sun.

Cercocarpus betuloides Mountain Mahogany

This one is good if you need some screening but don't have a lot of width available. It can get tall, 12 ft or more, but can pretty easily be kept 3 or 4 feet wide. So, it's great for those narrow spaces, like between neighboring driveways or along narrow sidewalks along the side of the house. Plant every 3 feet for a nice dense hedge. Plant in part shade to full sun.

Heteromeles arbutifolia,Toyon or Rhus ovata, Sugar Bush; these two are both fatter choices. They can be 6 or 8 feet wide. So they are great if you have a lot of space and need to cover a lot of ground but probably not as good for small yards. More bang for your buck, but only if you have the space. Great for birds. Of the two, Toyon can tolerate more shade. Both will also work in full sun.


Taller shrubs for specimens or accents..

 Ribes indecorum,  White Chaparral Currant or Ribes malvaceum, Pink Chaparral currant
These guys are very similar. Both are attractive dryland currant species. They both don't appreciate a lot of water. They have pretty flowers in winter. The R. indecorum is white, and the R. malvaceum is pink. They also have very interesting-smelling leaves, sort of foresty. These are good for hummingbirds in the winter and berry eating birds like California thrasher, in the summer. R. indecorum can take more shade. Both favor a little afternoon shade. Don't get these confused with R. sanguineum glutinosum, which is commonly available in pink and white. That currant grows in creeks naturally and needs a lot more water than these two species.
Malacothamnus fasciculatus, Bush mallow 
A tall upright shrub with silver-gray, soft foliage and pink flowers. Plant in full sun but tucked behind other plants.

Low shrubs

Encelia californica, Bush Sunflower or Helianthus
gracilentus
, Slender Sunflower
Encelia is the more evergreen of the two. But I think Helianthus is a little prettier when it is flowering. Neither of these looks supper tidy all the time so don't use a ton of them in your front yard. A patch of 3 is nice though mixed in with sages and buckwheats.
full sun

Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum, California Buckwheat 
The baby's breath of your landscape arrangement. This guy has white flowers that then turn chocolate in the fall. It makes a great filler. Full sun.


Salvia leucophylla, Purple Sage  'Salvia Pozo Blue'
or
Trichostema lanatum, Woolly Blue Curls

I would pick one or the other of these in your landscape. As both of them in a small yard might be a bit cluttered. Salvia leucophylla is the locally native species but I listed the 'Pozo Blue' hybrid because we introduced it and I really like it. It can tolerate a lot of different conditions. It has an extended flowering period, and it has darker-colored flowers. The birds and butterflies seem to like it, too. But if you want to stay local, go with a cultivar like S. leucophylla 'Point Sal'.

The Woolly Blue Curls is a stunning plant and locally native. However, it is more finicky. If you can get it to work it is gorgeous but a lot of people have trouble with it. Be careful not to over water it. Just give it enough to get it established and don't water it in the summer, especially if you have heavy soil. It has large purple flower spikes and will flower repeatedly in the spring and summer if you dead-head-it. Full sun for both.

Salvia apiana, White sage
White sage has a great fragrance and white foliage. This looks great contrasted with the woolly blue curls.

Flowery perennials

Colorful plants for along pathways or fronting high visual areas or just for patches of low color. Use alternately on another side of the path to the front door. Perfect symmetrical rows look too contrived. Do six staggered on the right side of the path then 6 staggered on the left and then six back on the right again etc. Change the size of these groups based on the length and size of the path,so they are to scale. So, for a short, small entry walk use only 3 per group.
Zauschneria cana 'Hollywood Flame' California Fuchsia
A great late summer flower, good for hummingbirds. Cut back to a few inches above the ground in the winter when it dies back. Great for summer color. full sun to part shade.

Penstemon heterophyllus or 'Margarita BOP'
The locally native species is P. heterophyllus but it is harder to find and more finicky than BOP. I also like Margarita BOP because it is our most popular introduction. It is even being grown in Europe now. It can take more irrigation than the wild species, yet is almost as drought tolerant. Margarita BOP has a much longer flowering period than the wild type and it is more tidy and compact. Some landscapers like to mix Zauschneria and Penstemon together. I think it is too jarring. Sort of like eating ice cream and cookies together. The wild species seems to take a little afternoon shade okay but both flower better in the sun.
Eriophyllum confertiflorum Golden Yarrow (the worst common name ever. This is NOT yarrow)
I think this guy works well with either the Zauschneria or the Penstemon, if you want to mix things up. This little compact perennial is extremely drought tolerant and is a good insect nectary. Full sun

Taller showy flowers for spots of color or use in mass for an English garden effect; plant in clumps of 3, 5 or 9 etc.

Penstemon centranthifolius, Scarlet Bugler and or P. spectabalis Showy Penstemon
Showy Penstemon is more tolerant of wet clay than the Penstemon centranthifolius. If you are a chronic waterer and have heavy soil pick P. spectabilis. If you have well draining soil or don't plan to water, you can use Scarlet Bugler.

Clump with boulders

Diplacus aurantiacus, Yellow Sticky Monkey flower
and/or Diplacus rutilus Red Santa Susana Monkey flower.

These aren't just pick-your-favorite-color plants. There are some nuances to these two guys. The yellow Sticky Monkey tolerates clay soil better and coastal climates well. The red prefers more well- drained soil and likes some heat. Both can take a little shade but prefer sun. Plant them on the east face of a rock for maximum flowering and plant happiness. Trim back in the fall for a tidier plant in the spring

Ground covers...UHG!

 Most low plants fry in LA. Most low plants have adapted their short stature to deal with salt spray or high winds along coastal bluffs or to handle snow at high elevations. So low and creeping usually means the plants came from area with high humidity and precipitation. Not LA., although I guess sometimes the humidity fits the bill. So without water they usually look ratty and brown or just shrivel up and die. There are a few native exceptions that seem to work okay.

Iva hayesiana, Hayes iva.
Iva doesn't do anything but be green. Good for the weed slope behind your house that you can't really see most of the time but is a weed patch you don't want the neighbors to keep staring at. Throw in some Pozo blue or buckwheat to add some pizazz if you are doing a large area.

Salvia Gracias, Creeping sage
 This low silver sage covers 8 by 8 ft areas. Use in front of taller shrubs and break up with patches of Penstemon or rock outcroppings with monkey flowers. Use to create continuity and tie your landscape together.

I want to also include in here my pet peeves for southern California. Arctostaphlyos edmundsii or uva-ursi. These guys grow in the wild in areas of double or triple the rainfall of LA. Don't get me wrong, I love both of them. They are beautiful but “drought tolerant' or “California native” doesn't mean appropriate for any location in California. I'll have to rant on about that in another blog. If you use these guys, expect to water a lot more. High humidity or fog can go along way with low rainfall but inland LA is not a good place for northern California coastal plants.

Part/full shade plants for under oaks or the north side of the house, fence etc.

Taller back drop plants or specimens
Lepechinia fragrans, Wallace's Pitcher Plant.
Fragrant foliage and large fat purple flowers.
Ribes speciosum, Fuchsia-Flowering Gooseberry
The deep red fuchsia flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds. Dark glossy green leaves are a lovely addition to a shade garden, this plant will go deciduous when the soil gets dry. So don't pull it out in August when you think it died. Just wait for the first rain when leaves will reemerge. This guy is really thorny so don't plant it near a path or some place that needs maintenance. Although in some areas of LA it is great for under the windows. He he he...
 

Low ground covers

Ribes viburnifolium, Catalina Perfume.
Salvia spathacea, Hummingbird Sage

place the Salvia in front of the taller Ribes.
Plant in mass for best effect.

Green filler.
Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus, Snow berry
 Plant in mass. Beautiful lacy green leaves in summer and naked stems with white berries in winter.

a splash of yellow?
Venegasia carpesioides Canyon Sunflower
Stick a few in the corner for color.

Grasses or grass-like meadow things

 People like to create a meadow with these guys. Not my favorite idea as this isn't the Sierras We have weedy cow pastures in California or denuded hills of mustard and oats...not really something I would want to emulate, but if you must. These three species do occur together in the wild. The meadow is the place that will look like a weed patch off season. It will be as pretty as it will be ugly. A small patch looks pretty cool. Throw in some annual wildflowers to make a really stunning show.
Sisyrinchium bellum, Blue-Eyed Grass
 Sidalcea malvaeflora, Checkerbloom
Stipa (Nassella) pulchra, Purple Needle Grass


Best bird plants

Place these bird magnets in a back corner of the yard where you can see them from the the kitchen window or patio. So you can enjoy watching who comes to dine!
Mahonia nevinii, Nevin's Barberry
Poky leaves but evergreen and attractive; yellow flowers and red berries that brings the birds in droves in the summer. .
Sambucus mexicana, Mexican elderberry
Summer deciduous if dry. Fragrant flowers and berries for birds in summer.

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