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. By far the best time for planting natives is mid- September through late winter. The weather is cool, nature helps with irrigation, and roots have time to grow before the weather turns hot again.
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.
Eva Case coffeeberry berries (Frangula californica), J. Alosi
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.”
Eva Case coffeeberry (Frangula californica), J. Alosi
John Whittlesey, owner of Canyon Creek Nursery and Design, is a fan of Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) for its “fragrant foliage, showy flowers that attract an array of pollinators, and extreme toughness for full sun and little water.” This woody perennial blooms in early summer with spikes of blue flowers in whorls around the stem. Whittlesey suggests planting them with the robust matillija poppy in larger gardens, or with the white-flowered native yarrow in smaller gardens. Cleveland sage grows three to five feet tall, although the cultivar ‘Winifred Gilman' is a little smaller.
Cleveland sage, Cindy Weiner
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.
Both Werner and Whittlesey recommend California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), one of several species of buckwheat that are native to California. Werner says, “California buckwheat is an evergreen shrub with a whimsical, mopsy form, much like baby's breath on steroids. Its pom-pom-like flowers bloom white in summer and then age from dusky pink to deep russet.” Whittlesey likes growing it in a sunny dry border with California fuchsia, penstemon, yarrow, sages, flax and grasses. It attracts many native bees when blooming. California buckwheat grows to about 3 feet tall and wide and needs no summer water once established.
California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), J. Alosi
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.
Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens), J. Alosi
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.”
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.