Gardening with Native Plants

Recent rains helped green up our lawns, but San Diego’s water supply comes from other sources, meaning tough conservation efforts will be imposed again this year. With native plants, homeowners can turn off the water issue, and still enjoy a beautiful garden.

One of the best ways to find native plants you like is to visit local preserves and open space parks. In my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego (60 Hikes – Menasha Ridge), I’ve pointed out and described plants you’ll see along the trails, which can help you identify and find ones you might like to use in your yard.

In San Diego County’s mild climate, many native plants begin to bloom in late winter, so even before the traditional spring season, hit the trail for a head-start on garden planning.

As a San Diego native familiar with the terrain, here are my tips to get started on a water-conscious dream garden:

  • Take advantage of abundant natural flora by hiking trails to see what plants you’d like for your garden. A good trail guide will help by identifying plants for you.
  • While enjoying a nature hike, scope out nearby plants. Also look at insects and birds to see what’s attracted to them. California Fuchsia, for instance, has red flowers hummingbirds love.
  • Take along your digital camera and snap plant photos for later comparison and identification.
  • Identify plant names using reference books such as my title, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego, and plant guide San Diego County Native Plants
  • Visit cultivated native plant gardens such as those at Los Jilgueros Preserve in Fallbrook. The preserve contains a firescape demonstration garden, providing an example of fire-resistant plants and landscaping (important, as last year’s firestorm proved).
  • With an eye toward fitting the plants into your own yard’s size and layout, study the size and growing style of wild varieties you find attractive, and do research. The California Fuchsia, for instance, may be wonderful for attracting hummingbirds, but the native also sends out shooter roots and can spread like wildfire – – – perhaps not good for a small area. Also consider your yard’s sun exposure and moisture levels. Many natives need dry summer periods to thrive.
  • Talk to a local nursery that specializes in native plants, such as Las Pilitas Nursery in Escondido, which carries 20 types of sage (for beauty and fragrance). Ask your nursery about hybrid varieties of native plants that might best fit your domestic growing needs.
  • Remember the “no-collection” rule for San Diego’s open space areas. Some natives are rare and endangered, such as the delicate Chocolate Lily growing in County grassland areas including Wright’s Field in Alpine. This native and many others won’t survive transplantation – – – you don’t want to contribute to its disappearance.

Some of San Diego County’s best native plant trails are short, so don’t require much physical exertion. Try the Elfin Forest Botanical Loop, for instance. A factual pamphlet provided there offers information. Another great trail, this one with a cultivated native garden, is the Los Jilgueros Preserve Trail in Fallbrook.

Native plants are surprisingly beautiful. My favorite is the matilija poppy with its big, fried-egg looking flowers on a bushy 7-8 foot plant.

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