Notes From Native Landscaping Classes

Landscaping with California Native Plants

Landscaping with Natives Workshop

Birds and Butterflies

Incredible Edibles

Sage brush community in Owens Valley, the plants are native Rabbit Brush and Big Basin Sage. - grid24_12
If you came to see what California looks like click here.

A Native plant- a plant that occurs without benefit of man, grows here naturally, BEFORE THE EUROPEANS.

Naturalized-not occurring naturally, not native to an area, but growing and reproducing without man's help (NOT a NATIVE plant). Many new plants are brought into California every year. In the area of origin, these plants had checks to control their growth and population (such as parasites, pests, diseases, herbivores). In California many if not all of those checks are gone. So, a plant that formed a minor part of the landscape in, for example, Europe, comes to California and spreads like wildfire, becoming a large part of the landscape, turning what looked like a pristine parkland into a weedy mess.

Examples of naturalized plants- yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis, C. melitensis) or Brooms (Spartium, Cytisus or Genista). Nothing eats them, or uses them, they reproduce like mad and they burn really well.

This brings us to the Franciscans, who, in 1602 brought hay along with their cattle to California. It is believed that much of the grassy areas on the coast (for instance, Between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay), are the result of the germination and spread of the seeds in this hay. After they burned the "brush", they immediately put cattle on the land, and then spread the hay in the summer to fall months when the feed dried up on the land. (The adobe blocks of all but one of the missions were full of weeds.) These grassy areas are made up mostly of annual grasses from Europe.

A turnaround example- The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is becoming a weed back East and The Matilija Poppy (Romneya Coulteri) is very aggressive and weedy in England. History of Discovery and Cultivation of California Native Plants In 1790, a doctor, Archibald Menzies, with the Vancouver Expedition, discovered coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), California Bay (Umbellularia californica), Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and Madrone (Arbutus menziesii). He sent material back to Europe, but many were lost due to storms, time, unfriendly captains, (threw material overboard), small ships. Many plants were named after him- Madrone, Canyon Gooseberry (Ribes menziesii) , Piggy Back plant (Tolmiea menziesii) are some of the plants.

Most Remembered- David Douglas- introduced many California natives into England made horticultural world sit up and notice California plants- Douglas IrisCalifornia poppy, Oregon Grape, and of course Douglas fir (even though the scientific name went to Menzies, Douglas got the common name because he spread the seeds).

The first Sierra explorer, a German gardener, Theodore Hartweg, worked for Royal Horticultural Society of England, collected 85 new species, sent back Zauschneria californica (Epilobium canum). But RHS was unhappy he didn't procure seeds of Abies bracteata, Bristlecone Fir, the rarest fir tree in the world, guess why? In 1841, severe drought and cold, worse than our 100 year cold in 1990, Santa Barbara had 0 inches of rain that year. The immature cones on the trees were frozen solid on the  coast in the  Big Sur area! Blizzards in Bakersfield?

In the late 1800's Pacific coast and California plants were the rage in Europe and many were in cultivation here and in Europe.

Looking up into the redwood trees. The tallest trees in the world are California native plants. - grid24_12
California has very diverse native plant communities.

Botanic Gardens and books

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara,

California Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden- Claremont, California

Books on California Native Plants- Favorites, good knowledge base and/or good pictures.

California Native Trees and Shrubs for Landscape Use in Southern. California- Lee Lenz & John Dourley

Landscape Plants for Western Regions- Bob Perry

Celeste Wilson up in the Sierras in 2011. Looking at a pine id booklet. Celeste got us into native plants in the early 1970's. - grid24_12
Ceanothus LT Blue  and Desert Mallow in a California Garden, both of these native plants are showy and flower about the same time. - grid24_12
A contrast of Desert Mallow and California lilac is stunning in a native plant garden.

Commercial Uses of California native plants.

Toyon- Christmas Berry (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

Jojoba- (Simmondsia chinensis)oil from seed used as beeswax & whale oil substitute, fruit is nut-like and edible

Most valuable use- landscaping

Landscaping uses- Fragrant Oenothera caespitosa- Evening Primrose- small perennial, large, white flowers, fragrant

Monardella species.- Coyote Mint- leaves w/ strong, minty fragrance, small perennial, flowers attract butterflies

Philadelphus lewisii- CA Mock Orange- medium-sized flowers, w/ sweet, sweet fragrance, like eastern mock orange, grows like lilac

Calycanthus occidentalis- Spice Bush- Deciduous shrubs, near creeks, maroon flowers with wine-like fragrance

Salvias, make a native Sage Garden!

Salvia Clevelandii- Cleveland's Sage- musk like fragrance to the leaves, very popular, showy blue-lavender flowers

Solanum species- perennial to subshrub, sweet, fragrant purple flowers, berries poisonous, fragrance is emitted mostly at dusk

Ceanothus and Desert Mallow can make a handsome pair in a Native Garden.

Landscaping Uses- Edible native plants

Fragaria californica (vesca)- California Wood Strawberry- perennial, small, very fragrant and tasty berries, shady spots along coast mountains, or moist , shady inland

Rosa species-Wild California Rose- edible flowers and hips and fragrant, rose flowers used in cakes, cookies, jellies, and hips used in tea, jam, soup, several species, californica, woodsii, gymnocarpa, etc.

Montia species- Miner's Lettuce- leaves (bracts) edible, fresh or cooked, good!

Satureja douglasii-Yerba Buena- leaves fragrant and used in tea, small trailing perennial, shady spots along coast, moist shady spots inland

Salvia Columbariae- chia- an annual sage, seeds edible and contain much food value, sunny dry spots

Sambucus mexicana- Elderberry- shrub to small tree, leaves and stems poisonous, berries edible cooked, used in jam, jelly and pies, flowers can be fried in batter, grows along intermittent creeks and creeks in California, brings good luck to a garden.

Ribes aureum- Golden Currant- berries yummy, sweet but small, can also be cooked in pies and tarts. Currant- Apple tart very good, grows above intermittent creeks, near oaks, very showy with yellow flowers (sepals the showiest) in the spring, deciduous shrub

California Manzanitas are GREAT!

Landscaping Uses- Most Popular native plants.

Arctostaphylos species- Manzanita- many species from flat ground covers to trees evergreen, very useful in low maintenance landscapes, fit the species to the site, water once, mulch, and voila! Examples- Dr.Hurd, Howard McMinn, Sunset, Carmel Sur

Ceanothus species- California Lilac - many species from flat ground covers to trees- very popular for spring color, evergreen, longer-lived if plant fits the site, and not overwatered Examples-Tassajara Blue, Joyce Coulter, Concha, Julia Phelps

Carpenteria californica, Bush Anemone- large, white fragrant flowers, evergreen shrub, ten most popular,

Fremontodendron californicum- Flannel bush- showy, yellow flowers (sepals), large shrub to small tree, stunning with Ceanothus, best with indirect water,

Romney Coulteri- Matilija Poppy- Queen of the CA wildflowers- very large, white flowers on a grey-green leaved shrub, once established, flourishes, careful in transplanting

Heteromeles arbutifolia-Toyon-Christmas Berry- evergreen shrub to small tree, red berries at Xmas time, good background plant, grows best in grouping of associated plants , Hollywood got its name from this plant

Ribes species- Currants and Gooseberries- grow in woodland and brush, mostly shady, showy flowers, some in large clusters, pink, white, yellow, red, some with fragrant leaves and flowers, useful under and near oaks

Trichostema lanatum- Woolly blue curls- evergreen shrub, lovely fuzzy blue-lavender flowers, showy in summer, sunny, dry spots, popular in San Francisco flower market

Zauschneria ( Epilobium) species- California Fuchsia- spreading perennial, unusual in that flowers emerge in late summer to fall, when not many other flowers are out, hummingbirds rely on these for nectar, beautiful tubular red, pink, white, flowers

Salvia species- Sage- many species from flat ground covers to shrubs, useful in dry, sunny areas, showy flowers in late spring to summer

Examples- Salvia apiana, Salvia spathacea, Salvia leucophylla, Salvia Clevelandii, Salvia sonomensis, or Salvia mellifera

2. Who the native plants grow with ( conifer forest, woodland-scrub, desert).

3. Strategies the native plants use to survive and grow

Most California natives are different. Why?

California plants do not grow naturally with garden flowers, they grow with members of their own community.

If unhybridized, native plants are not used to large amounts of water and fertilizer ( if not water plants).

Many of the native shrubs and trees are long-lived and live in association with underground partners, whereas most garden flowers do not associate much. (Loud, rude, crude and dishonest, wouldn't you associate with them?)

Hybridized CA natives- have lost some of their nativeness, hybridizing impairs their strategies for survival. The plants are showier, larger and more vigorous, and more tolerant of garden conditions, but do NOT live as long as unhybridized plants.

Hybrid California native plants are usually less tolerant of drought and deer!

California natives of coastal origin- many are planted inland, especially the low ground cover types, in these situations they do not live as long and are more susceptible to pests & diseases and herbivores (deer). (Sunset has 45 climate zones for the US, 24 for California, one city block in California may represent a plant community transition as great as two states in the mid-west.)

The flowers of Salvia Dara's Choice, a hybrid of a few native California  sages. - grid24_12
Dudleya lanceolata Liveforever, Erigeron glaucus and  Armeria maritima are native plants on this coastal bluff overlooking the ocean. - grid24_12

What you plant will be a compromise as almost all of California has been modified by man.

Coastal California - clay soil(San Luis Obispo, Goleta, Long Beach, Otay, parts of San Francisco)-Arctostaphylos Carmel Sur, Arctostaphylos hookeri , Ceanothus Hearstiorum, Joyce Coulter

Coastal(Cambria)- Arctostaphylos hookeri francisciana, Arctostaphylos obispoensis , in pines.

on cliff, Erigeron glaucus, Ceanothus maritimus

Beach sand coastal (Los Osos)- Arctostaphylos morroensis, Lupinus chamissonis , Ceanothus ramulosus

Nipomo- sandy soil-Ceanothus gloriosus, Ceanothus impressus nipomoensis, Arctostaphylos purissima

Cambria- desert- coastal bluffs (coastal prairie) everywhere else- woodland/scrubor riparian- constant water

SLO, within this community you decide-sun, shade, clay, sand , serpentine ( high Mg, low calcium, high metals)

NOTE: In an area of no trees, just grasses, find out history, may be very shallow soils or some imbalance, high boron, or high sodium.

Examples- SLO first part of Orcutt road, Rhigetti road,high boron grassland (There are similar soils around Davis)

Cliff Buckwheat in coastal sage scrub south of Los Osos. Often you can find a trail a few miles from your home full of native plants. - grid24_12

Plant strategies- plants can be grouped according to their lifestyles and needs, just like people- city and country people.

Ecologists have grouped plants into 3 major general groups, according to their lifestyle

RUDERALS- mostly garden flowers, highly hybridized

-do best in regular garden conditions, what does this mean? It means regular water and regular applications of fertilizer

-short life span, produce flowers and seeds ASAP

-not very drought tolerant

-susceptible to predators- life's energy not spent in protection, just reproduction

-need regular water and high nutrition

-reseed well on disturbed soil

-produce tons of seeds

-grow best in amended soil

-mulch inhibits their growth

-not oriented to a plant community

-doesn't take stress very well-goes to seed and dies much more quickly

-mostly bacteria found in these soils

-Examples broccoli, cabbage, mustard,sweet alyssum, petunia, kale, stock, yellow star thistle

Black mustard is a nasty weed that you probably will have to cut off just below the crown. Tedious, but it doesn't come back. Remove the debris, the green, immature seeds will germinate. THIS IS NOT A NATIVE PLANT! - grid24_12

Question: How do I put the plants together in a native landscape?

1. Lawn, bird bath, dripping faucet, or leaky pond is riparian area and the ruderals should be put next to this area.

2. Then circumventors should be put out from the ruderals, farther from the riparian area.

3. The stress-tolerants should be put the farthest away from the ruderals.

Mycorrhizal Associations on native plants

Many native plants are different because they live in associations with a fungus that lives on their roots and many landscape plants do not have this association.

This fungus, called mycorrhiza, lives in a shared relationship with the plant and other soil associates.

The fungus is considered a plant, but it has no chlorophyll so can not produce food.

Mycorrhizae increase the root surface area of the plant so that many more nutrients can be taken in than if it wasn't there.

Mycorrhizae actually help to break down organic material, to release nutrients to the plant.

Ectomycorrhiza- these live on the outside of the roots, and can be seen with the naked eye.

Ectomycorrhiza are found on most stress-tolerants, evergreen oaks, manzanitas.

When the strep bacteria become dominant, our white blood cells actually attack them, because they recognize them as foreign, not naturally part of our body in those numbers.

Common Questions about native landscaping.**

1. Why are many landscape plants easier to grow than natives, and, if I let my yard go, no natives emerge, but many landscape plants and weedy non-natives will start seeding in?

In a healthy native plant community plants that are recognized as not belonging to that community are rejected, chemicals are released to inhibit their growth, no water or nutrients are shared with them. If there is no community, which ecologists now think of as an organism, like a person is an organism, then the whole system is broken down and the non-natives can germinate and grow much more easily.

Remember, many landscape plants are here because they are easy to grow, need regular water, need regular nutrition, are very vigorous, and they have no controls on their growth and reproduction as in their area of origin. Also, now we come to the point that natives do not grow best in garden conditions, so why would they germinate and grow if the conditions are not to their liking?

Drip irrigation kills most California natives. NO drip in a native landscape!" How should we water with drip?

Drip creates the ecology of a pond. Do not water any drought tolerant plant with drip.

Ok, what do we water with?

Spot sprays or a conventional sprinkler system. Water a lot at planting, then wash the dust off once a week or so.

Do I amend the soil?


My soil is awful. What should I fertilize with?

Nothing. Make sure you design in the plant that likes your type of soil.

What kind of mulch should I use?

See the mulch page. Desert plants like rock, most other natives like a rock next to them with shredded redwood, oak, pine, or cedar in a 4 ft. diameter circle around them.

I've been told natives are hard; you're saying easy, who should I believe?


Native plants under drought, Buckwheats and a Lonicera.
Other places you might find us roaming about:

Do you like what we're doing with the pages?
Email SHORT questions or suggestions

We tried to use kibble for the webmaster, he still can't type. He does bark the answers.
Copyright 1992-2014 Las Pilitas Nursery
Edited on Jan 04, 2014. Authors:
Site Index