Tom Karwin, On Gardening | California natives for the garden – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Care for your garden

As already mentioned, the fall season is the preferred occasion to add or relocate plants in the garden. The rationale for this timing focuses on enabling plants to establish their roots in preparation for bursting into leaves and blooms in the late winter or early spring. In addition, planting now welcomes nature’s role in supporting plant growth through our anticipated rainy season.

There are no guarantees for a normal rainy season, only the historical record and optimism.

Today, we review the benefits of adding California native plants to the garden. Saturday’s fall plant sale by the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society motivates this perspective.

There is more information below about this sale.

A good reason for including California natives in your garden is that they are pleasing to eye as exemplified by the accompanying photos. These pictures, provided by members of the Santa Cruz County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, reflect the results of good gardening.

Selecting California natives can support the development of your garden design because there is a wide range of options in mature size, blossom color and foliage texture. You could find a California native for literally any garden spot or landscaping purpose. You could for example pursue a California native plant theme for a selected area, develop communities of native plants, or create highlights by featuring selected plants for prominent locations.

Adding to the garden benefits of these plants is their compatibility with the Monterey Bay area climate. These plants are very much “at home” in your garden; they flourish with basic cultivation, relying on their natural environment. Over eons, they have developed their natural drought tolerance, adapting to this area’s pattern of summer-dry and rainy season periods.

Of course, newly installed plants need moisture to commence their growth in a new situation, so regular irrigation—or natural rains—must be provided during their addition to your garden. Once they are established, they will grow well with little care. Occasional watering also will encourage vigorous growth and attractive blooms.

A very important reason for including California native plants is their benefit to wildlife. Well-studied conclusions by experts like entomologist and author Doug Tallamy strongly recommend including a good percentage of California native plants in your garden to support the plant-specific diets of insects, which are food sources for birds.

The extent to which your garden should emphasize California native plants, versus exotic plants, can vary. Some gardeners commit to one hundred percent (not a rare approach), and others pursue the recommended seventy-thirty balance. From the wildlife perspective, the more the better.

The local California Native Plant Society chapter’s fall plant sale is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at UCSC’s Arboretum and Botanic Garden. The first hour is reserved for CNPS members only. The sales move quickly, so early access is an advantage for members and non-members are well-advised to enter at 11 a.m. Hint: you could join the California Native Plant Society on the day of the sale.

The Society has been cultivating plants in preparation for this sale (I participated in this work in past years). According to their newsletter, Cypress Cone, “Featured in this sale are over one hundred species of native plants, many of which are new offerings for our Chapter. Check out the several Dudleya species, Heteromeles (Toyon), Romneya (Matilija Poppy) and Arctostaphylos cultivars. We will have a small selection of dormant spring-blooming bulbs packaged and ready for fall planting, as well as many plants in our most popular genera such as Eriogonum, Salvia, Diplacus, Epilobium, Achillea, Erigeron, Artemisia, Grindelia, and Frangula!”

Check the chapter’s website ( for the availability list the week prior to the sale. For directions to the arboretum, visit and click on “visit.”

This event is an excellent opportunity to add desirable plants to your garden.

Advance your gardening knowledge

To learn more about selecting and growing California native plants, visit the statewide California Native Plant Society’s Calscape webpage ( This informative resource has more value for gardeners than could be summarized here.

For more about the value of California native plants for wildlife, view recordings of Doug Tallamy’s talks by browsing to and searching for “Tallamy.” His books are available in bookstores and His thoughts are persuasive and eye-opening.

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, a Lifetime Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society, and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To view daily photos from his garden, For garden coaching info and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit

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