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Garden Variety- Go Native

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by Jennifer E. Beaver

In my last column, you learned how to kill your lawn. And now you’re thinking, “What the heck do I do now?” The blank canvas of a front yard can be very intimidating.
Weeds, cats, and debris will rush to fill the void left by your departed grass. As Aristotle pointed out, nature abhors a vacuum. Empty spaces simply defy the laws of nature.
Where to start? If saving water is your goal, your thoughts have surely turned to native plants. The California Native Plant Society (cnps.org) defines natives as those that grew here before the Europeans came— those favored by the original Californians. Natives require less fertilizer and pesticides and make the good bugs happy.
But the saving water part? Read the fine print: Minimal supplemental water once established after 2 to 5 years. Take it from someone who skipped those cautions and inadvertently shriveled some expensive plants—these guys absolutely need water. Not as much as your lawn, but water nonetheless.
As you do your landscape planning, consider the mature size of native plants. Do a little research and you’ll find that some get absolutely huge. When natives ruled the land, they weren’t competing for space with pesky things like houses and streets. Take the many varieties of ceanonthus, a spring-flowering shrub. The big ones (ceanothus spinosus, aka greenbark ceanothus) can reach 18 feet tall and spread 10 feet; smaller varieties (ceanothus “Wheeler Canyon” ) grow a hefty six by six feet.
A great source for more information is the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, the state’s largest native plant supplier. Located on 40 acres at historic Rancho Mission Viejo, the nursery is a sensory delight that’s well worth a fun day trip. Visit the website (californianativeplants.com) for unusually helpful advice like the Calendar of Color (under Planning Tools). You’ll discover how to have something blooming in your native garden year round. Since many natives flower only in spring, this guide is particularly useful.
For drought tolerance, there’s no need to limit yourself strictly to natives. Extend your plant search to Mediterranean favorites such as lavender, Australian beauties like kangaroo paws and fragrant bulbs from South Africa. Visit highcountrygardens.com for great ideas on xeriscape perennials, ornamental grasses, and pre-planned gardens that keep water use low.
Need some inspiration close to home? Drop by the Long Beach Water Department’s demonstration gardens at 1800 East Wardlow Road and experience drought-tolerant mini landscapes for sun/shade, sage and succulents.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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Serving Bixby Knolls, California Heights, Los Cerritos, Wrigley and Signal Hill
Garden Variety- Go Native