Best tips from experienced CA native plant gardener Joan Bockman

Joan, what are your 3 best tips for planting native plants?

  • I always start by telling people to take a hike. Literally. You need to find that place you love. For me it was Torrey Pines Reserve because my native San Diegan husband had no idea what was native. So we started hiking and learned about Coastal Sage Scrub. I've been planting that habitat ever since in coastal Oceanside. A great view is from the Coaster south of Sorrento Valley. You come into Rose Canyon and it is exactly the way San Diego mesas and the creek valley should be.
  • Dig a hole exactly the size of the pot. Fill it with water and let it drain before planting. While working with a group at the Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center, we had a debate about how much water to put in the planting hole. The best way to describe it was to have chocolate icing in the bottom of the hole but not chocolate pudding.
  • Plant stuff and see how it does. You are starting on a journey, not finishing a job. You will learn more and wonder why you did some things early on. I have never used fertilizer in old yards or forgotten places. Some of my coyote bush ground cover is pruned by cars running over it on a corner.

Protect Rural Lands to Protect Nature and people: Support “SOS”

By Kay Stewart and Susan Lewitt

As Earth Day approaches, please keep in mind the ripple effect: everything you do affects the planet, from wild plant and animal biodiversity, to our own health. The more we change our planet, the harder it is for most wild species of plants and animals to survive.

One of our biggest impacts is when farms and ranches are converted to housing, and the co-existing plants andwildlife are wiped out. San Diego’s rural land issupposed to be protected from subdividing into small home lots by the County General Plan that allows adding up to 50,000 new homes by expanding theseveral dozen rural “villages”, not by dividing large ruralparcels that are far from major roads. The villages already have services that homeowners need: water, utilities, fire protection, larger roads, and schools. And the impact on wild animals and plants is reduced to the boundaries of the villages, rather than converting intact rural lands that frequently include native habitat.

But land speculators can make huge profits converting those distant rural lands. They mislead people by sayingthat “we need housing.” They don’t want people torealize that the County General Plan allows newhousing. Please read this April issue’s Conservation News about one speculator’s plan that threatens a large rural area. If you act by April 9, you could help prevent it from happening.

The public shouldn’t have to leap into action every timea new speculator wants to violate the General Plan. So a huge alliance of over 20 San Diego area groups areworking to get an initiative called “SOS – Save Our SanDiego Countryside” on the Fall ballot. This initiativewould require every proposed General Plan amendment to automatically go to a public County- wide vote.

The petitions to put the initiative on the ballot must be turned in by May 1. If you have not signed a petitionalready, and you’d like to, or want to help gathersignatures, send a note to If“SOS” gets on the ballot and passes, it may be able to stop sprawl. The benefit to San Diegans includes reduced greenhouse gas output from excessive commuting, reduced fire risks by reducing long strands of powerlines over wildlands, and reduced direct destruction of San Diego’s native animals and plants. CNPS cares.

HELP! (Your Conservation Activities for Native Plant Month)

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Yes, it's really Native Plant WEEK, April 15-21, 2018, but we need a month of work this year. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are things you need to do to help CNPSSD conservation this month. I'm going to highlight some of the same things that Susan and Kay did in their article that follows this one. Unfortunately for nature, they are not the only things going on right now.

To be blunt, this is the busiest I've ever been as conservation committee chair. Here is what the conservation committee is dealing with, as of St. Patrick's Day

Holed is Beautiful

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee 

This was inspired by the opening plenary talk by Dr. Doug Tallamy at the 2018 CNPS Conservation Talk. If you were there, hopefully this will look vaguely familiar.

If you don't want to read this column, here's the gist: ecosystem ecology. If you like birds in your yard, most of our birds get their protein from invertebrates, which depend ultimately on plants.  Therefore, if you want more birds breeding successfully in your neighborhood, you need to grow more bird food, and that means...having more native plants in your yard. But it's not quite that simple. Here's why:

The basic biology may actually surprise people: many, perhaps most, birds need more protein than they get from plants. The adults may get by on seeds (at least when seeds are available), but their chicks need bugs to get the protein they need to reach maturity. Dr. Tallamy even had a heart-breaking picture of a failed chickadee nest with dead chicks surrounded by birdseed from nearby feeders. In the absence of bugs, the chickadee parents had tried in desperation to feed their chicks bird seed. It didn't work. 

Rocking Out on Lake Hodges: Garden Tour MPG (Multi-Purpose Garden)

Rocking Out on Lake Hodges: Garden Tour MPG (Multi-Purpose Garden)

An interview with owners Joe and Laurie Ferguson

Driving just a road snippet up from Lake Hodges, one doesn’t enter the tour garden, MPG (Multi-Purpose Garden) from a front yard. Instead a back street will open onto a separate property behind the house. The owners, Joe and Laurie Ferguson purchased a half-acre lot behind their house, a completely bare space, to create an area for their 3 small children with no playgrounds in the neighborhood. After doing some major grading with the soil to create a flat play area, they tried tropical plants and banana trees, but nothing really fit.

Then, Joe ran into Greg Rubin, the renowned California native plant landscaper in San Diego County. The Fergusons were about to put in the same 20 landscaping plants you see across San Diego but Greg persuaded them to try California natives. And thus 600 native plants were installed in 2001.

The Fergusons did and continue to do 95% of the work of planting, watering, and maintenance. For them “it is fun, a way to get away from the kids” they say, laughing. Laurie would point out areas in the garden that could become a design feature. She is the originator of many of the built-out garden features. As the ideas grew it became “Now let’s do this, now let’s do this.” Today, viewing the expansive landscape filled out with native plants and still including the flat play space, the hard work has paid off richly.

Update on the Ocean Beach Elementary School Ethnobotany Garden

By Deirdre Encarnación Slaughter

The Ocean Beach Elementary School Ethnobotany Garden is happy to celebrate its first anniversary.  The plants for the garden were provided by the San Diego Chapter of the CNPS, through the efforts of CNPSSD board member Cindy Burrascano in collaboration with school parent and Academic Achievers committee co-chair Deirdre Encarnación Slaughter.  Planting, watering, weeding, and upkeep is done primarily by parent volunteer Brian Slaughter with help from interested students, especially their first-grade daughter Lillianne.

Scaling Mt. VTP Again

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee 

This month I wanted to go over my experience of the Board of Forestry's (BoF) Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP) Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR). It's the fourth time this PEIR has been sent out since 2013, the third time I've written and submitted a letter for CNPSSD.

Working on this document is always an exercise in repression, because it is impossible to read through it without becoming furious at something. For the third go-round in 2016, about half of us commenting on that version found from commiserating that we could only work on it for a few hours a day, due to either heartburn or stomachaches from holding it in.

But why? That's what I wanted to go through here. Some basic facts are not in dispute, but the fury-inducing question of Why! is something those of us who work on it continue to speculate on.

Report from the Habitat Restoration Committee

Bob Byrnes stands with a robust Coast Live Oak sapling brought into the sunlight after palm fronds shading it were removed.

A report from the intrepid Bob Byrnes of Habitat Restoration:

"We accomplished quite a bit last week. I myself worked with Arne, Heidi, and Casey to treat eucalyptus and palm trees. Arne worked with Brianna to treat eucalyptus, tree tobacco, acacia, fountain grass, and other invasives at Artesian Creek.

On Friday, Heidi and I saw a herd of 4 deer walking in a line up the side of the valley. The last in line must have been the youngest, as it was the smallest. On Saturday, Casey and I saw a coyote, which promptly trotted off. This is the first time I've seen one in the Valley, though we've noticed their scat.

This week we will treat more of the same plants. We will continue monitoring Arundo for regrowth. Retreating pampas grass is on the agenda as well. I have Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday available. Email if you're interested in working with me and let me know your days:"

Botany in San Diego County before European Contact

Botany in San Diego County before European Contact

By Tom Oberbauer, President CNPS-San Diego

It is fascinating to contemplate the appearance and distribution of biological natural resources in San Diego County at the time of the first European contact. Because San Diego County is now one of the more populous counties in the U.S., it is sometimes difficult to imagine what it looked like a mere 500 years ago. All the land that is now covered by urbanization and agriculture was originally natural and inhabited by a wide array of plants and animals and what is more interesting is that our ever present Mediterranean weeds were not here. Just imagine land without Avena fatua (wild oats) and brome grasses (Bromus madritensis, B. hordeadeus and B. diandrus) and the ever present Red-stem filaree (Erodium cicutarium). Their absence means that other species already existed in the areas that they now inhabit. When considering the combination of land that is converted to urban and agricultural lands and the land that is inhabited by non-native weeds, a very large area of San Diego has very different land cover than what originally occurred here.

Can San Diego Grow Up?

By Frank LandisConservation Chair

Yes, this is not the kind of remark that an ex-Angeleno like me should be making in this part of the world, even if it is intended as a lame pun, as here. I'm writing this as the Lilac Fire burns in the San Luis Rey watershed, which is an event you probably didn't want to remember, but this isn't another column about fire safety.

Here's the issue: if you believe what I promote for CNPSSD, the solution to many of San Diego's woes, including losing homes to fire, is that we're all supposed to put solar panels on our roofs, use public transit, and ride bikes everywhere but on our wildlands, because mountain bikes are tearing up ecological reserves. Most importantly, we are to stop building single family homes in high-fire areas; instead we are to build apartments, condominiums, and town-homes near transit lines. In other words, we're supposed to grow up, not out, hence the lame pun in the title.

Sounds wonderful, right? I'm sure everybody with a native garden wants to replace it with a multistory granny flat, as well as subdividing their multistory homes into apartments, as well as lobby hard for bike lanes and bus stops in their neighborhood. Doesn't that sound great to you?


Pictured: Coastal sage scrub and riparian habitat at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge | Photo by USFWS Pacific

This is not wilderness for designation or for a park. Not a scenic wilderness and not one good for fishing or the viewing of wildlife. It is wilderness that gets into your nostrils, that runs with your sweat. It is the core of everything living, wilderness like molten iron.
— Craig Childs, The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild

Standard Story #1

By Frank Landis, Conservation Chair

The Cal Fire Vegetation Treatment Program PEIR (version 4) is out. Comments are due in January, and you are more than welcome to help. I'll be aggregating the comments for our chapter, so if you have any, send them to Since we have had issues with this, I should note that I follow CNPS state policies when I represent CNPSSD, so if you want to publish a comment that contradicts these policies, I'm not going to include it. You can submit such comments under your own name.

Here though, I'm going to talk about the aftermath of the Wine County fires, and the stories blaming chaparral for the fire's impacts. The prime example was High Country News publishing "Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires" on October 24, 2017. This was particularly awkward, as there wasn't that much chaparral in the area of the Tubbs fire, and a variety of other vegetation burned too, especially close to homes.