- Author: Stephanie Erskine
- Editor: Susan Kornfeld
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
Finding plants for coastal gardens can be challenging. While many California natives do well, others need the inland heat to look their best, but whether inland or coastal, natives need at least two years of summer water to get established before you cut their water off. Planting them in the fall helps as the winter rains jumpstart their root balls for the spring/summer growing season. No matter when planted, though, most natives need additional summer water during drought years.
Thinking about which natives to plant? I've found the following five to be sure-fire foundation plants that I grow in my own coastal garden.
1. Cupressus macrocarpa 'Citriodora' – Golden Monterey Cypress
A smaller form of Monterey Cypress, Citriodora's glowing yellow foliage is striking. With a mature height of 30' and a narrow, conical form, it is perfectly suited to smaller gardens. Enjoy it as a specimen, as a large hedge or screener, or planted in rows as a good wind break..
2. Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' – Wild Lilac
This large evergreen beauty can be trained as a small tree and can grow 18 feet high and wide. Famous for profuse, beautiful sky blue flowers from January to March, it occasionally flowers seasonally. Bumblebees love the flowers. It wants full sun on the coast and is a fast grower once established.
Summer water is rarely needed after two years except in an extreme drought. Don't plantit near an irrigated lawn. Ceanothus will self-mulch. Distribute the fallen leaves evenly, not allowing them to pile around the root crown. Soon a thick bed of leaves will discourage weeds, keep the roots cool, and feed the soil as they decompose.
3. Rhamnus californica 'Eve Case' – Coffeeberry
This go-to shrub tolerates both sun and shade. While drought tolerant, it looks better with occasional water during hot summers. Don't plant it where it might get more frequent waterings. Reaching about 8 feet high and wide, Coffeeberry is a good screen and specimen plant. It attracts butterflies, and its late-summer berries are a good food source for songbirds. It needs little attention and its dropped leaves make a great mulch.
4. Galvezia speciosa 'Firecracker' – Island Snapdragon
This Channel Island native thrives here, tolerating our coastal conditions and a variety of soils. Hummingbirds love its red trumpet flowers. Grow it in sun or part shade, but more sun produces more flowers. You can use it as a taller ground cover, even on gentle slopes. The graceful vine-like branches grow about three feet long. When pruning them, don't cut too far into the wood or flower production will be reduced.
5. Zauschneria species – California Fuchsias
When other native plants are starting to go into late summer dormancy, these cheery darlings are starting to bloom. They have feathery, blue green foliage with bright red/orange flowers, another popular hummingbird choice. You might see bees hollowing out the base of the flower to take the nectar, without pollinating the plant!
Some horticulturists believe California fuchsias are invasive. They spread by rhizomes and also reseed, so they can pop up in different parts of your garden. It is a slow process, though. Their late summer/fall beauty is worth it, and they are a wonderful habitat plant. Plus, unwanted plants are as easily removed as poppies. With their colorful blossoms above the lovely, feathery foliage, California fuchsias make a real statement planted in a mass. After the fall bloom, simply shear them down to keep them neat and not leggy.
Happy planting and enjoy your natives!
Stephanie Erskine is a UC Master Gardener, horticulturist, garden designer, and artist. The article was edited by UC Master Gardeners Susan Kornfeld and Cynthia Nations
- Author: Arwen Griffith
- Editor: Susan Kornfeld
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
Many of us in the UC Master Gardener program fell in love with gardening as children, introduced by an older friend or family member who was a passionate gardener. Our mission is to teach the public about gardening sustainably, and what better way than to educate the next generation? With so many children learning at home for the foreseeable future, finding good resources is even more important. Here are some books you can enjoy with the children in your life to share the magic of growing things! Many are available as e-books from your local public library; can be found through online reading platforms like Epic!, Tumblebooks, or Bookflix (which can either be accessed through the library or are offering free 30-day trials during the shutdown); or ordered through your local bookstore.
Plants Feed Me. Written and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Holiday House, 2014. Nonfiction, ages 3-6.
Rockwell's engaging illustrations are the heart of this book; they show a diverse group of children interacting with plants, learning about nutrition as well as biology. The book explicitly makes the connection between plants and foods that don't intuitively look like their origins by showing wheat seeds ground into flour. Detailed and beautiful illustrations include call-outs about the different parts of plants that humans eat.
From Seed to Plant. Written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons. Holiday House, 1991. Nonfiction, Ages 4-8.
Gail Gibbons' nonfiction books for children are classics. Her friendly, stylized watercolor illustrations pair with rhythmic informational text; she doesn't talk down to kids or shy away from scientific terminology. A project at the end makes this especially useful for parents at home!
City Green, by DyAnne Di Salvo-Ryan. Harper Collins, 1994. Fiction, ages 4-8.
Young Marcy thinks an ugly abandoned lot in her neighborhood looks like “a big smile with one tooth missing.” With the help of friends and neighbors, she transforms it into a thriving community garden. 25 years later, this heartwarming classic still resonates.
A Seed is Sleepy. By Diana Hutt Gibbons. Illustrated by Sylvia Long. Chronicle Books, 2007. Nonfiction, ages 5-8.
Two levels of text are aimed at a range of readers: on each page, a simple, almost poetic, line speaks to the youngest children, while a block of text with more scientific detail lets older kids dive into the subject more deeply. Long's gorgeous botanical watercolors are worth the read on their own. (Related titles like An Egg is Quiet are also worth a look.)
On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole. Greenwillow Books, 2007. Fiction, ages 4-8.
This sweet story shows a boring suburban street morph into a true meadow, home to birds, butterflies, and bees, thanks to the out-of-box thinking of young Caroline. She starts by saving a single wildflower from her father's mower, and soon the entire neighborhood is transformed. A great reminder that kids can make a difference.
Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots. By Sharon Lovejoy. Workman Publishing, 1999. Nonfiction, ages 4-10.
With lists of “top 20 plants for kids,” instructions for harvesting seeds, craft ideas, and suggestions for a Pizza Garden, this treasury of tips, resources, and projects is indispensable for adults trying to get kids excited to dig in the dirt and start gardening.
Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate. By Sara Levine. Illustrated by Masha D'yans. Millbrook Press, 2019. Nonfiction, ages 7-11.
“You seem like a bright kid,” the narrator, a prickly cactus, confides, “so I'm going to let you in on the conversation.” Glorious, over-the-top, almost psychedelic watercolors match the quirky narrative voice.
- How Does My Garden Grow? By Gerda Miller. Floris Books, 2014.
- Plantology Series (Healing Plants: Medicine from Nature, Cooking with Sunshine: How Plants Make Food and Poison Petals: Don't Eat). By Ellen Lawrence. Bearport Publishing.
- Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World. By Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler. Lee & Low Books, 2010.
- Miss Rumphius. by Barbara Cooney. Puffin Books, 1985.
- The Curious Garden. by Peter Brown. Little, Brown, 2009.
- Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest. By Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 2019.
- Botanicum. By Kathy Wills. Illustrated by Katie Scott. Big Picture Press, 2017.
Arwen Griffith is a UC Master Gardener and graduate student in library and information science who lives and weeds with her family in San Francisco. The article was edited by UC Master Gardeners, Susan Kornfeld and Cynthia Nations.
- Author: Cynthia Nations
- Author: Susan Kornfeld
I see garden escapees whenever I go for a walk: canna lilies at Quarry Park, Mexican Feather Grass infiltrating coastal bluffs, and Agapanthus above Montara beach. When such escapees are not native to the area but are able to survive and reproduce on their own, they are considered naturalized. Many of these plants do not cause significant problems. Many introduced plants, however, do cause harm, and these are generally referred to as invasives. Once naturalized, they can become threats to agriculture, human health, and the local ecology. One of our responsibilities as gardeners is to make sure we don't let invasives out of our garden. Safer still, don't have them in the first place.
Nearly forty percent of invasive plants in California were introduced accidentally as seeds, often via clothing, equipment, soil, animals, and packing materials. The majority, however, were intentionally introduced as ornamentals, animal forage, soil stabilizers, and various other human uses. It is still pretty easy to unknowingly buy invasive species from garden centers. A UC Master Gardeners research project several years ago found approximately 265 California nurseries offering invasive plants for sale, so unless gardeners have done a bit of research, they may not know some of the offered plants are threats to our coastal natural areas.
UC Master Gardeners who design and work in gardens along the coast advised against the following popular and widely available plants that are escaping and outcompeting our native species:
- Mexican feathergrass (Stipa/Nasselia tenuissima): An attractive grass seen in almost every neighborhood. Unfortunately, you can also find it in the wild. Its gracefully waving flower stalks produce thousands of tiny seeds that are easily dispersed by wind, animals, and water.
- Common Periwinkle (Vinca major): An evergreen vine recommended by garden centers not just because of its attractive dark or variegated foliage and pretty purple flowers, but because it is a rapid-growing, low maintenance ground cover. The problem is that it suppresses everything trying to survive beneath its sprawling growth. It often makes its way into the wild as garden waste.
- Licorice Plant (Helichrysum petiolare): A landscape ornamental sub-shrub popular in a variety of garden settings. Reproducing by seed and stem fragments, it will creep up anything that gives it support up to 30 feet tall, and will spread to 10 feet wide. Sadly, this useful plant has displaced native plants in many Bay Area locations.
- Bamboo (Phyllostachys spp.): Often used to create shady groves or privacy walls, these giant grasses spread by underground rhizomes. Hardy and fast growing, bamboo becomes problematic because it can vigorously spread into neighbors' yards or natural environments. It's considered a threat to biodiversity, and getting rid of it can take years and require herbicides. A non-invasive variety may be hard to find.
- Highway Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis): This iceplant is a colorful spreading succulent once used to stabilize soil along railroad tracks and coastal dunes. It has also been popular in coastal gardens as an ornamental. Each shoot segment can become a new plant and each plant can grow to at least 165 feet in diameter. They colonize grasslands as well as nearly all coastal environments, smothering anything in its path. Plant the lovely, non-invasive and smaller trailing iceplant (Delosperma cooperi) instead.
There are many other ornamentals to look out for. Do some quick checks before you add a new one to your garden. Is it on a California invasives list (such as Cal-IPC)? If so, there might be a better alternative (plantright.org). Read the nursery or grower's information on the plant container. If it says the plant "reseeds happily," or "establishes itself quickly," or "spreads easily," take a second look. Happy gardening!
Cynthia Nations, a UC Master Gardener, works daily on succulents and edibles in her El Granada garden and home-schools her grandchildren. Susan Kornfeld gardens professionally in San Mateo County. She is a UC Master Gardener and can be found at the Plant Clinic at the San Mateo Arboretum the first Sunday of most months.
- Author: Maggie Mah
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
- Editor: Susan Kornfeld
Do you green up with envy when your inland-dwelling friends brag about their summer gardens? If so, consider this: lots of sun and not much wind may make growing things a lot simpler, but summer conditions on the coast require higher levels of skill and creativity. As the saying goes, the greater the challenge, the better the reward! If you are up for the challenge, there's a lot you can do to make the most of your garden and even learn to love that fluffy gray cloud blanket.
Challenge: Not enough sun!
Getting enough sunlight hours for growing summer vegetables is the biggest problem for coastal gardeners. The Marine Layer blocks sunlight for half the day and shadows cast by structures and trees reduce valuable light at other times.
Opportunity: Location, location!
Determine the location that gets the most sun, especially in the afternoon hours when clouds are more likely to burn off. 8-10 hours is best but leafy vegetables can get by with only 4. Planting against a light colored wall or fence can help by reflecting the light and keeping temperatures a bit warmer.
Challenge: Suddenly summer!
The Marine Layer can vary dramatically. The whole area can be socked in one day and confined to the beaches the next with bright sun just a short distance inland. Then, as days grow shorter and inland valleys cool, coastal cloud layers lift and warm, sunny days come more frequently to the coast. What's a plant to do?
Opportunity: Cultivate a culture of resilience!
When the sun does shine, plants accustomed to being shrouded in fog may wilt but despite the clouds, there is seldom rain. Seems unfair but coastal gardeners need to be smart about water, too. So making sure that your plants can utilize water most effectively is key. How? Add plenty of good compost to your soil and mulch, mulch, mulch! Your plants will become more water efficient, stress tolerant and disease resistant.
One of the hallmarks of summer weather at or near the coast is the chilly, wind. Depending on location, it can be breezy and brisk or like standing in a wind tunnel. Along with getting enough sun, plants need protection from the wind.
Opportunity: Give ‘em shelter!
Locating plants near the leeward side of a fence where they can receive afternoon sunlight is one option. Be aware that a completely solid fence may not be ideal because air becomes turbulent as it passes over and can damage plants below. A few small openings to let some air pass through will prevent this.
Another way to keep plants cozy: surround them with small temporary enclosures that block the wind but allow sunlight in. It can be simple: 3-4 stakes placed around the plant with transparent plastic sheeting around the sides or something more elaborate such as a multi-plant row cover.
Cool temperatures for most of the summer means that tomatoes, eggplant, melons and peppers are likely to struggle in most coastal areas.
Opportunity: Keep your cool
Some fruits and vegetables actually prefer cooler temperatures. Strawberries and beans, for example, aren't happy when it's hot. Others that tolerate fog include pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers and ironically, sunflowers. Speaking of which, artichokes are a member of the sunflower family and the closer they get to the coast, the better they like it. Tomatoes, the poster children for summer gardening, can be finicky under the best of circumstances so increase your chances of success with varieties developed for cooler temperatures.
For more information, contact the Master Gardener's Helpline email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 650-276-7430
Maggie Mah Johnson is a UC Master Gardener, food industry consultant and award winning freelance writer who lives in Woodside, California. This article edited by UC Master Gardeners Cynthia Nations and Susan Kornfeld.
- Author: Susan Kornfeld
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
There are few plants as fine as the nasturtium, particularly coastside, where it practically grows itself and is often perennial. The entire plant is edible – seeds, stems, leaves, and flowers. Pickling the seedpods makes "poor man's capers." Martha Stewart has a nasturtium pesto recipe, and the flowers can be tossed into a salad or chopped up into a butter or yogurt sauce. But that's not all: the climbing/trailing type of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) can carpet large areas of weeds with beautiful jewel-tone flowers and bright-green parasol leaves.
In addition, nasturtiums are a veggie gardener's friend. They are related to the brassica family and you can use that to your advantage. Plant one as a sacrificial host for the white cabbage butterfly who is likely to lay her eggs underneath a nasturtium leaf rather than on your cabbage. Plant a few more nasturtiums to lure away another garden pest, the black bean aphid. You might have seen these aphids blackening whole sections of the plants. But better nasturtiums than the beans, corn, beets and other crops the black bean aphid attacks, for you can simply remove affected nasturtium flowers and leaves, while you would much rather leave the bean plant intact to complete its work.
Nasturtiums are often overlooked as pollinator plants. Because their nectar is exceptionally sweet (sucrose rather than fructose or glucose, and very concentrated), the flowers are large and in the yellow-red spectrum, nasturtiums are attractive to hummingbirds. Their long tongues and the nasturtiums' long nectar-rich spurs evolved together. While smaller pollinators like bees and insects don't have long enough tongues or proboscises for the entire spur, they are well rewarded when the spur is full.
Like snapdragon, mint, and pea flowers, nasturtium flowers are bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic): they can only be split into equal halves by a vertical line passing through the center from top to bottom. The resulting vertical orientation helps the flowers align with the plane of approaching bees. The lower lip of the flower evolved into a perfect platform for bees to land on to collect pollen and nectar. The beautiful stripes around the center of nasturtium flowers serve both as an advertisement of their delicious and nutritious offerings and as nectar guides to help bees and other pollinators quickly position themselves for the pollen-laden outwardly-projecting anthers – as well as for any nectar that they might be able to reach.
These cheery, charming, and versatile plants are super easy to grow. They do well in sun or partial sun. They thrive in poor soil, and are even fairly drought tolerant. Keep in mind, though, that although they like our sandy soil, it is fast-draining and your nasturtiums will appreciate occasional summer water.
Our common garden nasturtiums come in two types: the rambling, rambunctious climbing type (Tropaeolum majus) that can grow up to ten feet long or tall; and the more modest bush or dwarf type (Tropaeolum minus). Although compact, the latter offers the same big, beautiful, round green leaves and jewel-tone flowers as the larger trailing types. Let the climbing nasturtium sprawl over those weedy corners or fill out a fence vine or trellis, and put the bushy varieties in containers or planted throughout the garden to add paint-pots of color. Then, simply enjoy.
Susan Kornfeld gardens professionally in San Mateo County. She is a UC Master Gardener and can be found at the Plant Clinic at the San Mateo Arboretum the first Sunday of most months. The article was edited by Cynthia Nations, UC Master Gardener.