California Native Plants: Favorites of Two Residents

California Native Plants: Favorites of Two Residents

Fall is the perfect time to be exploring and planning the purchases of California native choices, with lots of plant sales. So I checked in with some friends who over the last couple years have planted California natives – to get feedback on what’s done well for them. It’s challenging where we live in Redlands, Southern California — we have high temperatures but also get some below freezing temps in the winter months and rain varies from 10 inches a year up to 18 — making California natives, which have evolved for eons, a great choice in landscaping. (Click here for an article about our process.)

Example #1: Planting what’s local and likes one another

Carol Blaney. a former National Park ranger who still works with the National Park Service on a project basis, did a lot of research and picked plants that normally grew in our area. She planted them last fall with plenty of time for the winter rains (which didn’t materialize as much as hoped.)

Still, she had much success. The mulefat grew the best, towering high above the fence she wanted to obscure. The California sagebrush and White sage (pictured above) normally occur together in the wild so were a great combo choice. The ones that did best in the sun were:

Monarch sipping buckwheat nectar

Monarch sipping buckwheat nectar

  • California sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
  • White sage (Salvia apiana)
  • Black sage (Salvia mellifera)
  • California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
  • Mule fat (growing like crazy!) (Baccharis salicifolia)
  • Showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)

She said Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) and manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca), fared pretty well. In shade, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) grew the best.

March 2015 update from Carol: “….my manzanita has recovered, and beautiful native plants are going *crazy* in my backyard….. It’s been amazing and delightful to see the sagebrush and mulefat, penstemon and sage have become towering and wonderful habitat for native insects and birds. I’ve counted 28 species of birds in my yard in the past few weeks.”

Example #2: Trial by error – and being patient

A decade ago, another local resident, Janice Meyer began removing lawn that was underneath her large California native oak, because, as she put it, “oaks prefers to be watered by Mother Nature alone.” Two years ago she decided to remove more lawn, using a thick layer of cardboard and newspapers covered by bark mulch to kill the remaining lawn. “It was so easy, and it worked well,” she said. In the former lawn she featured a Desert Museum palo verde  and Texas Ranger, along with red hibiscus and pink flowering sage. Her goal: to turn her walkway  into a showcase for native plants.

“I was told by local native plant nurseries that natives started as small plants would “peep” in their first year, “creep” in their second, and “leap” in their third.  Janice Meyer, Redlands

Meyer kept in mind that natives would take some time (told the above quote by both the Tree of Life Nursery and Theodore Payne Foundation, her main plant sources). Assuming we have a wetter winter, in subsequent years the plants should be able to survive without extra watering.

Here is Meyer’s assessment: “Now that it will be two years this fall since I planted natives, the ceanothus, manzanita, buckwheat, coyote mint, and purple needle grass, though still only creeping along, are doing well enough to please me. The drought has taken its toll, no doubt, especially since I am not a consistent waterer. Most of the yarrow, which I had hoped would begin to spread and simulate a grassy look, has died. Chances are I will look for something more drought tolerant to replace it with this fall,” she says.

She admits most neighbors are waiting for the “leap process to take place” but knows they’re used to the luxury of lush green lawn. “Overall, for me, the experiment has been successful and satisfying. I find native plants are more interesting with their delicate, small flowers. They release their familiar fragrance year-round but are especially piquant in summer’s heat. And when winter rains return it will be wonderful to watch the plants glisten, glow, and continue to grow. To brush by them or bend low to inspect their intricacies is to feel like I’m doing something simple and good. Gardening with natives not only feels like less work it feels more comfortable, like being at home in Southern California.”

Some of Janice Meyer’s new plantings:

Plant Sales aplenty in October

Southern California has lots of plant sales in October to take advantage of the ideal planting time (late fall planting allows roots to get established and take advantage of winter rains, before the heat of next summer arrives). In our area, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has their annual native plant sale and festival on October 4th. Check the California Native Plant Society’s website  for upcoming sales in your area, On the weekend of October 25-26 there is the U of CA Riverside’s annual sale  which features many natives and here in Redlands, the Redlands Sustainabilty Network is sponsoring a native plant sale, where I will be speaking – see their website for details.

For more info:

To find plants in your area: Sunset Climate Zones

Check with your local chapter of California Native Plant Society or your state society for your area’s best native plants.

Click here to find my ‘Favorite Native Plants’ articles – for my California Favorites and also some from Midwest/east gardeners.

See this short post I just wrote on  Why Natives? Attracting birds is another reason 


About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.


  1. Thanks for continuing to inform the public about the joys of native plants! I have planted and cared for them for years. No matter how carefully I plan, the success of the natives is still somewhat trial and error. They are very ‘site specific.’ Definitely care for them assiduously for the first 2 -3 years. Here in Redlands, my long-term successes (not counting trees) have been with the range of manzanitas, buckwheats, salvias and monkey flowers. Yes! Natives attract birds, lizards, bees and butterflies! Wonderful!

    • Thanks Marilyn! Good point that natives need adequate water the first few years to get established. And we’ve had to water ours a little more than usual w this drought…not the manzanitas or ceanothus but some of our others.

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