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Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

Posted by sandiego.gardner CA zone 23 (My Page) on
Mon, Jan 16, 12 at 15:02

My front yard is lava rock/gravel with a few trees. I'd like to plan a water-wise planting. (San Diego - Zone 23) The yard has three obvious zones. I'm thinking 6-inch to one-footers near the street, 1-2 foot plants in the middle and 3 footers near the house. So the visual effect would be a rising landscape of plants.

Every specific list of plants (California natives, water-wise, shrubs, etc.) gives me a long list of plants alphabetical by name (which might as well be in Chinese) with no clue to the size, color or anything else without me individually tracking down each one.

I'd love to see lists like.....
California Natives, water-wise, ground cover
California Natives, water-wise, 6 inches to one foot
California Natives, water-wise, 1 to 3 feet
Maybe even with photos so I could get ideas about color selection.

I just got "Western Gardner" which has several lists like this, plants for pots, water-wise plants, etc. So I'm tending to use this book only.

Are there other net sources that will help me get a breakdown like I describe above?


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

  • Posted by hoovb z9 Southern CA (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 16, 12 at 15:22

Keep in mind that many CA natives are extremely microclimate specific. What thrives in Santa Cruz shrivels in Barstow, for example. The Las Pilitas website is an excellent place to start. Many articles there on what works and what does not. ( I do not work for LP nor have any connection to them)

Also check into your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Here is a link that might be useful: las pilitas website


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

  • Posted by wcgypsy 10 / Sunset 23 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 16, 12 at 16:41

San Diego County Library has some excellent native plant books...one in particular that I'm looking at right now is
'California Native Plants for the Garden' by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O'Brien. It's an excellent book with great info and plant pictures in landscape situations. Check it out....literally....lol.


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

I totally agree with hoovb, sdgardener. I live about 15 minutes away from Las Pilitas (they're up here in N. County, in Escondido off of the 15 and old 395). They will definitely get you set up. They can help you to lay out a CA native garden that will do well in our area. And David Fross' books are excellent, especially his one on Ceanothus and his join venture with Carol Bornstein, "California Native Plants for the Garden', definitely worth purchasing. There are many, many excellent choices that will do very well here. Las Pilitas can help you to "build" a garden, starting with low and moving back to taller CA natives. Also, the San Diego chapter of the California Native Plant Society is quite active, and another great resouce, see their link below.

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: California Native Planty Society-San Diego Chapter


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

Very exciting that you've decided to undertake a CA native, low water garden!

Do you know what exposure your new plants will get? (N, S, E, W?) That's important in helping you decide which ones to plant.

Many CA natives will appreciate full sun. I'm assuming you have well-draining soil? They say to dig a hole 1' x 1' and fill it with water from the hose. Watch how long it takes to drain to determine if your soil drains well or if it's thick like clay. You'll want to know this information, too, when you go to Las Pilitas to select your plants.

You'll want to think about what you have in mind and what your goals are. Color? Hummingbirds and butterflies? Scent? Do you prefer succulents?

Try to go on a garden tour to pick up some inspiration. The books recommended above are great.

It simply takes time to learn the names of the plants you like. Just keep reading and looking at photos online.

And remember to give each plant plenty of space when you put them in the ground. Respect the space requirements! (I learned that lesson the hard way!)

Salvias= sages

Ceanothus = California lilacs

Arctostaphylos = manzanita

Those are pretty popular broad categories for some interesting CA natives if you like flowering plants. A good place to start, in my opinion :)


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

I second the Bornstein book. I, too, started my native plant garden from scratch about 6 years ago. The Bornstein book was my main resource by far. I am pretty much self-taught and it wouldn't have been possible without that book.


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

Thanks for the great tips!
I've taken some photos of my yard, so I'll take them to Las Pilitas soon to see what they have to say.
I would never have thought of the public library! I used to spend a LOT of time there, but (for me) the Internet has made libraries obsolete. I pass by two on the way to work, so they will be stops for me soon.
Thanks again.


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

  • Posted by wcgypsy 10 / Sunset 23 (My Page) on
    Thu, Jan 26, 12 at 21:55

Really, I would look at the Bornstein book before going to Las Pilitas. You can take more time in making your decisions and this book shows you pics of full size plants in actual conditions. You go to Las Pilitas and you'll see plants in pots that don't give you any idea of what that plant is really going to look like when it's grown. You may also see just what you want to know what to look for when you do go to the nursery...it avoids impulse buys that may not be the best choices. You may see something you want for a particular site that Las Pilitas doesn't have available the day you're there and you'll never know about it....You may also want to take an outing to the native plant section at San Diego Botanic Gardens (formerly Quail Gardens). The first Tuesday of each month is 'Free' day...no charge for entry. Or even, take a day and go look at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens to see natives growing in 'real life', not pots....


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

You can also contact your local Master Gardeners for information. http://www.mastergardenerssandiego.org/

Here is a link that might be useful: What's Growing On?


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RE: Overwhelm with California Native Plant Selections

SD Gardener,
There is another book specifically for So Cal called Landscaping with Native Plants of Southern California by George Oxford Miller. This book doesn't have as many plants as the Bornstein book but it has really good photos. Have you joined the California Native Plant Society yet? They have a San Diego chapter that has an excellent online forum. They answer my questions all the time. Try to learn the botanical names as they are commonly used. There is another excellent book called Designing California Native Gardens by Keator and Middlebrook. The book emphasizes planting plants together that come from the same plant community. This makes sense as they share the same site requirements. They also look good together. Good luck.


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