2006-09-11

Native Plants for My Gardens

This is supposed to be a notebook style entry with updates as needed to keep track of native plants that I have, might have, or otherwise find interesting. On the off chance that someone not in my immediate circle of friends is reading this, it's for Hawthorne, California, 90250; Perhaps 4-5 miles from the coast in the Los Angeles area.

Along the back fence
Conditions: ~20-30' strip, ~4' wide, clay soil, competition and some shade from nearby magnolia tree (will remain).
Requirements: food and forage for wildlife, screen neighbor, provide shade.
Existing exotic plants:
  • Brazilian pepper tree provides root competition - yet to be demolished. Adjacent turf with little summer water.
  • Magnolia Tree in center of lawn provides shade. Could replace with sycamore, but I'm fearful of it getting too large.
  • Bottle Brush Tree - demoed (9/06)
Possible native plants:
  • Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud) to screen neighbor's house. Large box-sized plant could be $250. ouch
  • Douglas Iris planted at base?
  • Viola pedunculata planted at base?
  • Polypodium californicum, a fern native species, widely available. Remember, fern dies in summer and reappears in September.
  • Maybe Ceanothus impressus x papillosus ("Dark Star" to use as additional screen - takes clay soil and no water, 8' max height)
  • Ceanothus arboreus x griseus ("Ray Hartman" California Lilac grows to 20' x15! It could do the job by itself, so I'd have to trim, but it too will take my soil)
  • Malacothamnus clementinus (San Clemente Island Bush Mallow - will take clay, 4-5' tall, butterfly habitat, spring - summer white flowers)

Front Yard:
Conditions: direct sun, mostly clay soil (sandy near N property line where there's root competition from Italian cypress on property line), sprinklers near sidewalk, none near house. Existing transitional mixed native / exotic garden has good reviews from neighbors for attractiveness (though I'm sure that's relative to previous poorly cared for turf and lame foundation plants.) Sinuous border between remaining turf and garden is nice feature - should keep it. Would like to keep a grass or grass-like area near sidewalk - could be exotic turf or natives.
Requirements: Should look somewhat groomed in order to not provoke neighbors or city code enforcement. Blooming flowers always good for same reason. Provide food and cover for wildlife. Tolerate drought. Edible and scented are well-regarded bonuses.
Existing exotic plants:
  • morea (fortnight lily - evergreen, drought tolerant, but seeds all over if you don't cut the seed pods off. Flowers regularly, but short lived blooms)
  • Polygala fruticosa? (sweet pea bush - Drought tolerant mounded South African plant with attractive flowers. No problems with volunteers in my yard.)
  • Shasta daisys (pulling them out as the ceanothus grows larger. Never a good selection for my yard and watering habits.)
  • dwarf citrus (pull out and put in pot? I originally wanted a larger tree that produced a large quantity or fruit, so a larger citrus might get put back in.)
  • Lemon verbena
  • A culinary sage
  • "hot lips" salvia (from Oaxaca, I believe - I'll keep this around for a bit)
  • Mexican sage (durable and long flowering - might keep it around for a while).
Existing native plants:
  • Abutilon palmeri(Indian Mallow) 4' shrub w/ gold flowers year round, but wants sandy/rocky soil, dry to semi-dry soil
  • Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass)
  • gramma grass
  • red needle grass
  • black sage propogated from Santa Barbara foothills
  • Eriogonum cinereum or maybe latifolium? (cinereum = Ashy Leaf Buckwheat - claims to like well drained soil, but doing well in my clay)
  • salvia clevelandii (sage, thought it was "Allen Chickering")
  • ceanothus - prostrate
  • manzanita - two low growing varieties
  • island snap dragon
  • Ca poppies
  • yarrow
  • rock daisys
  • penstemon along driveway (red and purple flowers on two unknown cultivars)


Possible native plants:
  • Ca bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida, year round flowers, well drained soil, no water once established)
  • Eriogonum giganteum giganteum (St. Catherine's Lace Buckwheat - showy and good butterfly value but wants well drained soil)
  • Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri - I might as well try it since it's so spectacular. It won't prefer my soil, however.)
  • Fritillaria biflora (Chocolate Lily or Mission Bells - wants my clay soil, but needs to be dry when dormant)
  • Agastache urticifolia ( "Summer Breeze" Horse Mint wants sandy soil and a bit of watering. Very fragrant, year round flowers)
  • Epilobium canum latifolium "Route 66" (California Fuchsia - this one grows only 12-18" tall and 2-3' laterally, clay soil OK, drought tolerant)
  • Epilobium canum canum (Hoary Fuchsia - this one is even shorter (6-12") than latifolium and even more drought hardy, if one believes what one reads. Also good for erosion control, whereas that's not a prominent quality of latifolium)

Lawn Substitute
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow, don't know which cultivar): A couple test plants are doing well in my front garden, but do get wilted easily after a hot summer day or two. Perhaps this is first year establishment issues. San Marcos Growers used yarrow as a lawn successfully. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also used as lawn at El Alisal. According to SM Growers,

We planted our Yarrow lawn in February 1991. In the months prior to planting, the existing grass lawn was sprayed with repeated applications of Roundup and then physically removed. The soil was tilled and rolled to form a loose flat surface. Before the area was seeded, Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria autumnalis) was planted in a well spaced uneven band along the back edges of the open space and 100 liner pots of Achillea Lavender Beauty', spaced evenly throughout the plot, were planted. The yarrow seed, mixed with a coarse sand, was applied next using a hand spreader. We used 1/8lb of both Achillea millefolium (white) and Achillea millefolium 'Rosey Red'. In using all of the seed in our 650 square foot area we slightly exceeded the recommended rate of application of 4 ounces per 1000 square feet. The surface was then top dressed with Kelloggs Topper applied with a wire roller and lightly irrigated. Then the newly planted area was kept damp until the yarrow began to germinate in the second week after planting. Once the surface was covered with the emerging seedlings, the intervals between watering and the duration on watering were steadily increased.


Oreganos - If I want to go with a non-native lawn substitute, Mountain Valley Growers are selling an assortment of three oreganos as a lawn substitute. They claim these make excellent lawns.

Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)- This seems to be doing OK in a couple test locations in my front yard. Don't mistake this for the turf-type fescue. This fescue has a bunching habit and gets a floppy 8" tall.

"meadow" mixes - Allbright seed sells a California meadow mix with "90% Molate Red Fescue 5% San Diego Bent grass 5% Achillea millefolium "

Sedge (particularly Carex pansa) comes in for high praise from John Greenlee in this list "Great new meadow sedge. Best lawn substitute for California." However, Las Pilitas condemns this sedge as a lawn substitute. They seem rather down on lawn substitutes in general.
(In the driest months, in areas that we don't water, the sand is moist 6-10 inches down and deeper.) Carex pansa is native there, forming little clumps separated by feet of open sand kinda like a dog with mange. Will not work as lawn, none of the natives will that we've seen, except maybe Dantonia, but it needs more water than some of the turf lawn grasses


Seems like there's some chest thumping going on here or perhaps Greenlee's C. pansa isn't the same as Las Pilitas' - that wouldn't be an uncommon occurrence. I'll guess that Las Pilitas is taking lawn to mean, "you can run and play and tumble on it just like turf" whereas what I'm looking for and what other people have taken lawn to mean is "non woody, dense, green ground cover that will occasionally take foot traffic but mostly just sit there"

Yerba Buena (in the SF bay area) has this to say

A good alternative to this lawn-replicating notion is a mass of plants that stay green all year with less water naturally; or, for the owner to be okay with the "lawn" going through annual cycles of partial dormancy, when the grass will be partially brown (but still alive and healthy!). Options for a continuously green space include several grass and groundcover options such as: masses of Berkeley Sedge (Carex tumulicola); groundcover manzanita (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and others species); and groundcover Wild Lilac (Ceanothus sp.). For a more silvery option, try masses of Blue Fescue (Festuca ‘Siskiyou Blue’), or a close grass relative (see below for a more comprehensive list of options). For the lawn that goes partially dormant, try Festuca rubra, Festuca idahoensis, or Deschampsia caespitosa. These native grasses will make a wild-looking, somewhat bumpy but soft surface that looks great with wildflowers added to the mix. And generally it's better not to mow -- these grasses will look best with a simple haircut once or twice a year.
The LA Times has profiled John Greenlee in 2005.

Carex praegracilis (sedge) is featured in the LA Times 10/5/06.
...In the meadow [under oaks], a swing set is surrounded by a carpet of rich green sedge. “I love the way it looks when it’s pressed down into a mat,” says David Fross, who discovered the resilient Carex praegracilis in the local dunes in 1983, then planted it at home. Five years later he introduced it to the trade. Now nurseries throughout the state sell the mounding and perennially green alternative to lawn. Other plants in the shady part of the meadow include deer grass, blue sedges and wild rye.


Las Pilitas has this to say about Carex praegracilis:
...to 2.5 ft. height, perennial with rhizomes, stems triangular, leaves flat to channeled, excellent for wet areas in all but high elevations in Calif., rhizomes will spread, will grow in sandy soils, good forage for livestock, grows to middle elevations (~6000ft.) but doesn't grow into the spruce-fir zone in the intermtn. area (Utah, and parts of ID, OR,WY, AZ, NV) of the U.S., to 9000 ft. in CA Can be used as a mounding lawn. Either plant in a boggy area or water 1/week. Sedges can handle standing water and full sun, they handle poorly shade and drought.

1 comment:

  1. We are state certified tree nursery specializing in native plants and trees, shrubs, fern, and perennials as well as pond plants and wetland mitigation species.

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