As our landscapes finally start to dry out from the deluge of much-needed rainfall, it is hard to resist the urge to start perusing the local garden centers and nurseries for our spring projects in the garden.
Before you take the plunge consider first taking an inventory of your landscape. Did some of the plants from last year’s projects not do so well? Are there areas of your landscape where it is hard to find a plant that can thrive? Our tendency is to question the location, the right sun or shade exposure, or if we planted the right plant in the right place.
Those are all great questions but an often overlooked factor is our soil. In El Dorado Hills I use the term soil rather loosely. Our “soil” tends to be composed of mostly clay and rock, which results in poor drainage and nutrient-deficient growing conditions. An expensive and labor intensive solution is to condition our soil or build raised beds filled with costly loads of mulch and soil amendments.
There are cheaper alternatives.
Go native! Just take a look at the undeveloped oak studded hillsides around our community. The trees and plants are doing just fine with no irrigation or maintenance. Many of these are California native plants that adapted to growing in our soils and tolerating our hot summers. The homes in El Dorado Hills are built mostly on what were oak woodland habitats. Consider adding some of these natives to your landscape.
One hardy California native that comes to mind is Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ manzanita.
I spend a lot of my spare time hiking around the Sierra Nevada foothills. More times than I would like to admit I have found myself off the trail in a dense thicket of manzanita. While cursing these plants as I work my way through them I have always wondered how they can possibly grow so well in such harsh conditions, seemingly growing out of solid granite.
That hardiness makes them a natural for our garden landscape. They are common in our local commercial landscapes and readily available from nearby nurseries. They are known for their thick deep evergreen leaves and striking reddish bark. Right now you will see them in full bloom with their clusters of light pink urn-shaped flowers. They produce red pea sized fruit in the summer. Like most native plants they attract a wide array of insects and wildlife including, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. They are also deer resistant.
There are many natives that do well in our oak woodland habitat. Some of my favorites include varieties of Ceanothus, Toyon, Coffeberry, California Pipevine, Sticky Monkey Flower, California Fuchsia and Mexican and Blue Elderberry. There are many choices from the salvia family that can add sweet fragrances and interest to your landscape. Native trees that do well with our oaks are Dogwood, Western Redbud and California Buckeye. And don’t forget our native grasses.
If going native sounds a little daunting I have a great suggestion to convince you to take the leap. Check out our local chapter of the California Native Plant Society. I have been a member for 10 years and can never dream of having the lifetime of knowledge many of the staff and volunteers are eager to share. Their semi-annual plant sale starts at 9am Saturday, April 1, at 2850 Fairlaine Court in Placerville next to the Placerville library. It’s a great chance to purchase some hard-to-find California natives. The opportunity to talk to experienced experts on California native plants and gardening is an added perk of this event.
By going native you will be introducing plants to your landscape that are adapted to our local environment including our “soil.” Once established your native garden can save you time, money and our sometimes scarce but always expensive water. Natives require far less fertilizer and very little to zero pesticides. The local insects and wildlife will thank you with frequent visits to your new landscape.
Terry Halvorson is a certified arborist and nature enthusiast.