By Cindy Weiner, Butte County Master Gardener, July 29, 2016.
One approach to dealing with drought conditions in the garden is to turn to native plants that are well-acclimated to our local environment. Some gardeners new to planting natives may be concerned that these plants might require special care, but in general they need not worry. While some natives can be difficult in the garden, most are not, and many are very easy to grow. Three local landscape designers specializing in native plants offer the following suggestions for “no fail natives.” In addition to being easy to care for, these particular plants give a threefold return on one's investment: they are attractive, versatile, and provide valuable support for wildlife in the garden.
Eve Werner, landscape architect and owner of Eve's Garden Design, likes to use coffeeberry (Frangula californica) as a screen, background or hedgerow. Its blackish berries resemble coffee beans and are very attractive to birds. This evergreen shrub can grow to six to ten feet tall and wide although the cultivar ‘Eve Case' is smaller, only reaching about five feet. It is native to Butte County and grows in Upper Bidwell Park. Werner says, “This adaptable plant thrives in full sun to shade with monthly to no summer irrigation.”
Jason Mills, owner of Ecological Solutions, suggests, “If you're looking for an evergreen shrub, why not try giving the local and less commonly used hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia) a shot?” Hollyleaf redberry has small serrated leaves, resembling holly. It grows best in full sun or partial shade. The flowers are small and inconspicuous but develop into beautiful red fruit, which provide food for birds. It grows five to ten feet tall and needs no summer water once established.
Mills and Whittlesey like using the large perennial bunch grass deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens). Whittlesey says, “I use deergrass to bring a rhythm and flow into a garden. When in flower in later summer, it has a stronger architectural form which holds through the winter months. It combines readily in front of larger shrubs or as a foil for small shrubs and perennials.” Deergrass forms a dense clump to 4 feet tall and wide in full sun or light shade.
Growing natives can be easy if you give careful consideration to the plant's cultural requirements. Mills states, “In the end it all comes down to putting the right plant in the right spot. We look to nature and try to match the conditions (substrate, moisture, light exposure) found in remaining intact habitats when we create our designs and implement native landscapes. When you get it right, you'll know, as they thrive for years to come with little to no water and maintenance and provide crucial resources for wildlife along the way.”