Native Garden Wins Helix’s 2019 Landscape Contest

Helix Water District has named Matt and Lauren Kirkpatrick of La Mesa as this year’s winner of its WaterSmart Landscape Contest, an annual competition that recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on overall attractiveness, design, efficient irrigation and appropriate plant selection and maintenance.

Compared to the Kirkpatricks’ previous lawn, this growing, colorful and entirely native landscape requires very little water and creates a place of inspiration and peace for these outdoor enthusiasts. Over the two-month billing period ending this April, this home used just 13 units of water, which is almost 40 percent less than the average water use of other Helix customers.  One unit is 748 gallons.

The Kirkpatricks purchased the home in 2014 with a front yard full of grass that required frequent watering and mowing just to maintain a modest appearance. In the end, the lawn’s appearance was lackluster and proved to be too costly and time consuming for the couple. Taking advantage of SoCal WaterSmart’s grass removal rebate program, the Kirkpatricks tossed their turf for a landscape that requires less maintenance, less water and offers more beauty.

The Struggle to Save the MSCP

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

As is becoming normal for these columns, I’m writing it on a Friday in early May to meet a deadline. Then 4:30 comes around, County Planning sends out their email alert, and things change. Friday at 4:30 is when the County has taken to issuing their new EIRs, their announcements of meetings, and in this case, their announcements of schedule changes. Now I’m writing past deadline again, but this is important.

There were two portentous announcements this month. The first was that Otay Ranch Village 14 development project would be heard by the Board of Supervisors on May 22. This set the clock rolling for CNPS and every group that is planning on opposing it. Then on May 10 came the announcement that, no, it will now be heard on June 26. So now I get an opportunity to talk about the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) and how Village 14 and other issues threaten to break it.

Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest by Marcy Scott

Click picture to preview book

Click picture to preview book

Book review by Cindy Burrascano, Chair Book Sales

Last year I received a beautiful book Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest by Marcy Scott from the publisher for review. The book contains 5 chapters: “Hummingbirds and Their Flowers - A Short Primer,” “Hummingbirds of the Southwest, Creating a Hummingbird Habitat,” “Gardening with Native Plants - Southwestern Style,” and “Hummingbird Plants of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.” The book is informative and photographs are gorgeous for both the hummingbirds and plant species but my glancing through the plant species made me hesitant to carry the book for CNPSSD. The author is trying to describe plant species over a large territory from California to Texas and Northern Mexico to lower Utah and Colorado. My concern is that people look at the lovely photographs and will choose a species that does not occur in San Diego or Imperial County based on the pretty picture of the plant. The book displays 21 species of penstemon but doesn’t include Penstemon heterophylla (foothill penstemon) or Penstemon spectabilis (showy penstemon), the common species for most of our membership and people likely to buy the book from our CNPS chapter. Salvias in the book include 9 species but the most common ones for our area are lumped together in the text with no photographs. I understand that is due to the extent of the area the author is trying to cover but it makes one work a little harder to make sure they choose local species that support hummingbirds. I don’t like to encourage use of non-local species in gardening.

Back to species - I don’t know about your experience with Salvia clevelandii (Cleveland Sage) but when I had a yard in Chula Vista, the Salvia clevelandii  in my backyard and the Epilobium canum (California Fuchsia) in my front yard were regular draws for hummingbirds. Both bloomed for extensive times given a little supplemental water. Cleveland Sage is a beautiful plant but of highly limited distribution over the range of Southwestern hummingbirds and while it is mentioned, it doesn’t have its own photograph in the book. I put the California Fuchsia in my front parking strip, and once it started blooming I was suddenly seeing hummingbirds regularly in the front yard when I used to only see them in the back by the Salvias. I mostly put the California Fuschia there as they are hardy, require little water, and have lovely blooms for extended time if given a little water. I don’t believe I thought about hummingbirds when I planted but I was pleased to see the species is included in the book with a photograph. I enjoyed creating a water spray that the hummingbirds would dive through when I was watering the yard and they were visiting. The “Creating a Hummingbird Habitat” section of the book discusses water features that are attractive to hummingbirds for your garden.

Marcy Scott recently contacted the chapter about her book. She explained to me that she had originally not planned on including California. She lives in New Mexico along the Rio Grande and operates a nursery specializing in Southwestern native plants, plants for wildlife habitat and other resource efficient landscape plants. The migratory nature of the different hummingbird species made it critical to include the information extending to California. The author is trying to encourage gardeners to help overcome some of the loss of food sources for the birds that occurred with extensive development, especially in the coastal part of the state, through inclusion of nectar plants in their gardens. I had picked up two copies of the book prior to her contact and they sold the same night I put them out for sale at the chapter meeting.

Other pertinent information shared by the author when I mentioned my concerns about carrying a book with such broadly based information was that out of 135 plant species mentioned in the book, 41 (or about 30%) are native to one or both counties included in the chapter, including 14 out of 15 California/Baja California endemics. Ipomopsis tenuifolia is only found in San Diego and Imperial counties. The several penstemons, especially P. centranthifolius and P. labrosus; the Keckiellas; the Diplacus species; Salvia spathacea; the two Ribes; and Monardella macrantha -- all are of tremendous importance to resident and migrating hummingbirds, and the plants depend substantially upon them for pollination.

She didn't start out thinking that she needed to include California plants in the book, but as she delved more deeply into the migratory patterns of our western hummingbird species and the corresponding evolution of flowering plants adapting to those movements, it became apparent what a critical role those plants play in the big picture. Hummingbirds depend heavily upon the plants and they in turn rely significantly on the birds - - and with so many threats that both face these days, she wanted to share the information as widely as possible.

Chapter 2 includes six species of hummingbirds listed as regular in California (Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, Calliope, Rufous, and Allen’s), two species being occasionally reported (Broad-billed (sporadic over large areas) and Broad-tailed (nesting in the eastern part of the state in single leaf pinyon (Pinus monophyla), California Juniper (Juniperus californica), and Salix species), and very rare reports of Violet-crowned, Magnificent, and Blue-throated being seen. The migratory behavior of species is discussed for these species and the others not occurring in California but in the Southwest and Northern Mexico.

In the plant section, the author includes a photograph and information about the size of plants, the bloom period, water use, cold hardiness and USDA zone as well as a page of discussion about the species. I was thrilled to see her advice for planting Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) in her description of the species. It was also interesting to see that the birds will use plants that are not red colored although the bulk of the species included are red blooming. I knew this from seeing them visit purple blooming penstemons in nature. I was never able to keep a Penstemon spectabilis alive in my garden but we planted one at Black Mountain Open Space Park last year and it bloomed and bloomed, and I saw it visited by hummingbirds. The book has at least eight different plant genera with species that are not red blooming so you don’t have to forgo hummingbirds in your yard if you don’t like red flowers.

After reading more of the book instead of just looking at the pretty pictures of species that don’t naturally occur in San Diego and Imperial County, I decided the chapter should carry the book for sale. My concerns remain about people bringing in species not native to this area because of their beauty, and the hybridization with related species that can occur with plants. Since we carry other gardening books that showcase species notnative to the area it didn’t seem right to leave this one out.Please don’t bring the “beautiful but not native to here” species into your garden when you see the beautiful photographs of the different species. Ms. Scott was correct to impress upon me the migratory nature of most of the hummingbird species and their need to travel through California and feed along the way. Ihadn’t thought about the co-evolution occurring between the species and will need to read the book more thoroughly to see what information it contains about that topic or in the extensive bibliography section. I had to wince when I read her statement about eucalyptus and tree tobacco supporting hummingbird species in Southern California due to their prevalence and the loss of their native nectar sources to development. Perhaps if we can get enough nectar species in our gardens, the hummingbirds won’t need the weedy invasives.

Willowy Mint Population Expansion Project

By Lee Gordon, CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

This report summarizes progress on a project begun in 2016 to find and implement inexpensive methods to expand populations of San Diego Willowy Mint, Monardella viminea. Willowy Mint is a federally listed endangered species, partly because its natural range and habitat are so limited, and because some of its known populations have been in decline.

The purpose of this project is to study and develop methods, encompassing low cost and minimal labor, to expand existing populations and to establish new populations of willowy mint. Our intent is to maximize the number of mature new plants that survive at least 3 years, while minimizing the expenditure of resources.

I began work in November 2016, planting 5 plants grown in pots. We watered the plants when we first put them into the ground, but they got no water after that. One of these plants still survives.

Al Field has since joined me, and in January 2018, we planted 25 small seedlings, all grown in one small, rectangular container. We backpacked water to three, which survived until 2019. We did this because 2018 was a dry year. One of these three was washed away by high flow in a February, 2019 storm. The remaining two appear to be established now and should survive and grow.

On the basis of what we have learned thus far, we will grow and plant as many small seedlings as we can each year, with the expectation that there will be reasonable survival only in good years.

Figure 1. Willowy Mint sites. We get to the three Spring Canyon sites through Mission Trails Regional Park, and the San Clemente Canyon (MCAS) site through the military base. My home (Appendix) is below the T in "Fairbrook Estates".

Figure 1. Willowy Mint sites. We get to the three Spring Canyon sites through Mission Trails Regional Park, and the San Clemente Canyon (MCAS) site through the military base. My home (Appendix) is below the T in "Fairbrook Estates".

Project sites

Figure 1 shows the locations of four sites, three in Spring Canyon and one in San Clemente Canyon, on San Diego City Property that is accessible through the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

The three Spring Canyon sites are on property owned by the Sycamore Landfill (Republic Services). Two of these sites (Spring South, Spring North D) have nearby mature Willowy Mints. Spring North A is about 500’ from Spring North D.

The San Clemente Canyon site is about 200' upstream from a population of a dozen or so mature Willowy Mint plants.

Figure 2. Willowy mint planted in 2017 has survived two years without irrigation. This photo and the next two were taken May 8, 2019.

Figure 2. Willowy mint planted in 2017 has survived two years without irrigation. This photo and the next two were taken May 8, 2019.

Spring Canyon

In December, 2016, I planted five Willowy Mints at Spring South. These plants were grown in 4"x4"x9" pots, and their foliage was 4"-6" high. I watered them enough to get them to the rains, and they were on their own after that. One plant survived and is still alive after two summers (Figure 2). Three desiccated and did not recover. One plant placed in the creek bed was washed away in a torrential flow during heavy rains in winter 2017. The flow was unusually heavy, and it also washed away a mature plant that was a few feet from the seedling that disappeared.

In January 2018, Al and I planted 24 small seedlings and one in a pot. The small seedlings were all grown in one 5"x6"x4" plastic container. When planted, they were an inch or so tall and each had one or two pairs of true leaves. We planted them in 8 groups of 3 each, distributed among the Spring Canyon sites. The potted plant died quickly.

Figure 3. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the dry season.

Figure 3. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the dry season.

Figure 4. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the 2018 dry season.

Figure 4. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the 2018 dry season.

Because 2018 was a dry year, we backpacked water to the small seedlings during the dry season. We watered only the most vigorous plants, and the end result was that three survived to the rainy season at the end of 2018. All three were growing vigorously by February 2019, but one was then washed away during a heavy storm. The remaining two are still growing vigorously (Figures 3 and 4).

We planted no seedlings in Spring Canyon for the 2019 season because none of my Spring Canyon seedlings survived to be planted. Given the great rainy season, this was a missed opportunity.

San Clemente Canyon

In January 2019, we planted 25 small seedlings at San Clemente Creek. As before, each seedling had just a few true leaves. The seedlings were planted on the creek bed, at the side of the creek, and on the adjacent bench.

Figure 5. San Clemente Creek flooded by heavy rain (2/14/2019). All of the Willowy Mints planted at this site were under water at this time.

Figure 5. San Clemente Creek flooded by heavy rain (2/14/2019). All of the Willowy Mints planted at this site were under water at this time.

Figure 6. Willowy Mint planted in late December, 2018 and photographed February 27, 2019. This mint had been under water for about a week.

Figure 6. Willowy Mint planted in late December, 2018 and photographed February 27, 2019. This mint had been under water for about a week.

Figure 7 left. Willowy Mint that survived a month under water. Figure 7 right. Willowy Mint that survived three weeks under water. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

Figure 7 left. Willowy Mint that survived a month under water. Figure 7 right. Willowy Mint that survived three weeks under water. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

The creek was flooded by heavy rains starting in mid February (Figure 5). All of the seedlings were inundated, some for a few days, and others as long as a month. Figure 6 shows one seedling a month after planting. This seedling had been under water for about a week, and it had no signs of harm. Figure 7 shows two seedlings that survived inundation for three or four weeks.

Figure 8. Three seedlings that were under water for a few days or a week. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

Figure 8. Three seedlings that were under water for a few days or a week. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

As of May 17, twelve plants still survived, and most of those have grown several times larger than when they were planted. Figure 8 shows three of the largest, all of which were under water only a few days.

Causes of mortality

The largest cause of mortality was desiccation.

The second cause was inundation of the creek. The creek flooded over its banks during a mid-February storm, and water continued to flow for about a month. Seedlings were under water for durations ranging from around a week to a month. Survival was better for seedlings that were immersed less, but a few survived the long immersion. Some were killed by the immersion, and some were eroded away.

A deer browsed a mature plant and several small seedlings in Spring Canyon. One or two small seedlings succumbed, but others sprouted new leaves and survived. The mature plant has also recovered.

Propagation and planting

Willowy Mint flowers in May, and seeds can be collected in July or August. 2018 was so dry that the plants produced few seeds. We only plant willowy mints at each site grown from seeds collected near the site.

Seeds are relatively easy to germinate and to grow into young plants. However, my propagation results have been mixed, which has limited what we have been able to do. I intend to put more attention to improving propagation prior to next fall.

Our preferred method for planting now is to grow as many plants as possible in containers and to plant them soon after they grow their first true leaves. Our containers are for food storage, with drainage holes punched using a hot metal rod. Teasing seedlings apart for planting leaves most of the seedlings bare root, but that seems not to affect their growth. The time from seed to seedling is about two months, so the process begins in August or September.

This approach has some advantages. It is easy to carry a lot of seedlings in a backpack. Planting seedlings bare root means they immediately establish themselves in their native soil. Planting is quick. We make a small slice in the soil with a putty knife, drop the plants in, then gently push the soil back around the roots. These small holes are less disruptive to the soil than digging in pots. It is not clear to us that potted plants have a better rate of success than these small seedlings.

Looking forward

The plan for the future is to plant as many seedlings as we can as soon as the soil gets wet. It may help to plant seedlings multiple times during the rainy season. Seedlings several months old should have considerable advantages compared with seeds that germinate naturally in the rain.

Once planted, we will not irrigate them. I expect all seedlings to succumb in dry years, but enough to survive wet years to produce satisfactory results overall. Plants that survive one dry season without supplemental irrigation should generally be considered established.

Our big challenge now is to improve our propagation methods.

Appendix - Tests behind my house

Behind my house, there is a habitat that approximates a natural willowy mint habitat. It is a small stream fed by runoff from about 14 houses in the neighborhood above me at the top of a hill. The stream often runs when it rains. The soil is cobbles and sand, and it gets no supplemental irrigation. This site is about 3/4 mile west of the San Clemente Canyon site.

Figure 9. Four year old Willowy Mint behind my house (April 2019). This plant has grown to a diameter of 3.5'.

Figure 9. Four year old Willowy Mint behind my house (April 2019). This plant has grown to a diameter of 3.5'.

I began planting mints at this site four years ago, and eight plants have survived at least three years with no mortality (Figure 9). Every summer, the plants turn crispy brown, and fresh green then leaves appear with the rains.

Figure 10. This Willowy Mint was flattened by stream flow during a January 2017 storm. It recovered and it now extends 2.5' along the stream bed, elongated by the action of the water.

Figure 10. This Willowy Mint was flattened by stream flow during a January 2017 storm. It recovered and it now extends 2.5' along the stream bed, elongated by the action of the water.

An interesting observation is that the plants withstand abuse from running water. Figure 10 shows a plant that was flattened by the stream in 2017. Another plant was completely covered by sand. Within a few weeks, leaves began to appear, pushing up through the sand. Both of these plants are doing well now.

Another observation is that the mints are perfectly capable of procreating, but they are not very good at it in their natural habitat. I have never observed immature seedlings in either the mint's natural habitat or near the small stream behind my house. However, about 30' from this stream, I planted one plant in an organic clay topsoil that I irrigate monthly with 1" of water. The plant is partially shaded by a tree. This plant has at least six offspring.

Photo Gallery: CNPS-San Diego Garden Tour 2019

Photographer: Edmond Piffard

Photographer: Ged Bulat

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Edmond Piffard

Photographer: Judie Lincer

Photographer: Ged Bulat

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Ged Bulat

Photographer: Cindy Hazuka

Photographer: Cindy Hazuka

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Cindy Hazuka

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Gjon Hazard

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

Photographer: Cindy Hazuka

Photographer: Judie Lincer

Photographer: Ged Bulat

Photographer: Gjon Hazard

Photographer: Cindy Hazuka

Photographer: Vincent Bellino

South Poway Photo Album

Lee Gordon and Steve Miller documented the wildflower and perennial blooms on Saturday morning walks during February and March in this area. Here is a selection of their photos.

Banner photo: Phacelias, Poppies, and a few Collared Lupines, Lee Gordon

More Conservation Things to Do

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

I have a list of items that will be occupying my time this spring, and here I will simply go through them in order.

Fire Recovery and Preparedness Guide

There have been three updates. One is that, as the state office is writing a statewide manual separate from my effort, it seems that some of our thoughts about how to update the original manual are converging, and this is probably a good thing. I’ll be happy if they solve some of the issues I’ve encountered so that I can copy more than I create.

The second issue is that FEMA recently published an interesting report about all the ways it has failed to create a civilian culture of emergency preparedness in the U.S. (reported in: http://www.govtech.com/em/preparedness/Report-Weve-Failed-Miserably-at-Preparedness.html).  This is the same issue I commented on last month with my critique of the Ready Set Go booklet that San Diego County uses.  Some of FEMA’s recommendations are to realize that there’s a lot of diversity in people’s circumstances, that many of them actually already know something about preparing for emergencies, and that there’s a need to listen to these people, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all program from the top down. That’s one reason I’m still working on a local fire recovery book, even if there’s a statewide version. We need things that fit us. Feel free to pitch in if you’ve got some good homebrewed strategies for fire recovery or evacuation.

Creating Coastal Sage Scrub in a City Garden on the Mesa: A Q&A with Craig Denson

Craig Denson is a chapter volunteer with our annual Native Plant Sale and pursues California native botany through courses, his own field explorations, and his garden. His garden, 'Coastal Sage Scrub Revivified' will be on this year's Garden Tour as an FYI (Front Yard Inspiration). When you visit the garden you can see an evolving effort there, with an attempt to emulate 3 zones of local coastal sage scrub: (1) a drier, more open area with dudleyas, bulbs, and annuals occurring in openings in coastal sage scrub; (2) a grassy meadow-like area in front of that with annuals and some perennials; and (3) some denser perennials and shrubs.

We asked Craig some questions about how he got started with native gardening and what he has discovered in the process.

Got Some Fire Pictures You Want to Share?

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

It’s lovely to be still writing this in the rain, but a hot, dry summer could lead to a fiery fall. Hopefully, that will not happen.

Still, I am spearheading an effort to create a San Diego Fire Recovery and Preparation Guide.  It is based, in large part, on the CNPS Fire Recovery Guide that was produced after the 2017 Wine Country fires. While that document is freely available in pdf now, we do need a more local version for our area.

To that end, I’m looking for pictures that people are willing to share in our version of this book. You will get credit, and you would only be giving permission for use of that picture in this one publication.  Sorry, we can’t pay for images.  If you are interested, contact me at conservation@cnpssd.org.

Restoring Nature in Your Garden: A Q&A with Dennis Mudd

Dennis Mudd is a self-taught native plant enthusiast who founded Calscape in 2010 with the goal of enabling small scale nature restoration efforts in California. The site is primarily focused on showing homeowners which plants are likely native to any location in the state, and helping them figure out ones they want, where to buy them and how to grow them. Mudd donated Calscape to the California Native Plant Society in 2014, and is currently leading development of the site in partnership with CNPS and the Jepson eFlora group at UC Berkeley. The site is now approaching one million unique users per year.

His native garden in Poway won San Diego Home and Garden’s Garden of the Year Award in 2012. It will be featured on the CNPS-San Diego Garden Tour this year.

Calscape can be accessed at www.calscape.org

What pointed you in the direction of gardening with California native plants?

For me, it started with mountain biking through the natural areas of San Diego. The more time I spent in nature, the more I wanted to recreate it in my own garden.

What, in turn, led you to create Calscape?

I enjoyed my own nature-restored garden so much that I decided to create Calscape to help more people do the same thing. I hoped that Calscape would help many more people create little patches of nature throughout the developed part of the state. If enough people restore nature in their gardens, we can mitigate and even reverse localized extinctions being driven by development.

PC: Dennis Mudd

What kind of animal life does your garden attract?

I was astounded by the amount of bird life that my garden attracted; I've counted over 50 species in the last few years. The number of butterflies is also amazing. If you like birds and butterflies, you should plant a native garden. 

What was your initial vision when you created your native garden and what direction, perhaps unexpected, did it take?

My vision hasn't changed that much over time, but I learned a lot along the way and gradually learned the importance of planting natives that are endemic to where I live. I found that cultivars and even plants that were native to the coast or farther north in California often died in the hot Poway summers, and they didn't really feel like the nearby nature I saw anyway. My nature restoration efforts really only started to work successfully after I switched to all endemics. 

PC: Torrey Neel

Is there an overall system that you think is superior for selecting plants to group together whether it be by plant community, watering needs, exposure, etc?

First, grow plants that are endemic to where you live. Then make sure you are planting them in a site with the sun exposure, soil drainage, and moisture conditions in which they occur in nature. People can get the information they need to figure out which plants belong at their geographic location and in their specific site conditions at Calscape.

How we talk to others about the value of California native plants is important if we want to send an impactful message. What would you say to someone who has just seen or heard about native plants and has them in their consideration? 

Restore nature one garden at a time! I don't think there is any garden as beautiful as nature.  

Questions written by Joseph Sochor

Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflowers Photo Album

At the DesertUSA website: desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html you can find updates on the wildflower blooms at various desert areas, such as Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Death Valley National Park (NP), Joshua Tree NP and Mojave Desert NP, and even the deserts of other southwestern states. Anza-Borrego Desert SP also has its own website for wildflower updates that tells you exactly where the best wildflower displays are in the park: abdnha.org/pages/03flora/reports/current.htm or you can call 760-767-4684 for an update.

Here are some recent desert wildflower photos by CNPS-SD members.

THE TIME TO GO IS NOW!

Sprawl, Fire, Water: More Fun for 2019

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

To continue the theme of last month’s news update, here’s where we are as of the middle of January when I wrote this.

County Climate Action Plan

At Christmas, an appellate court judge threw out the County Climate Action Plan version 3.0. Several days later, the County appealed, on a 3-2 split decision (Supervisors Jacob and Fletcher dissenting). The appeal will go to the California Supreme Court. If this follows the previous five rulings or so, the County will lose, but this will take months to play out.

My concern is whether the County decides to pass the other batched developments from last year in the interim. They all to my knowledge depend on the CAP, so if the County approves them, they would be struck down if the judge rules against the CAP. Possibly there would be penalties for the County to presume about judicial rulings. While approving these developments now seems silly to me, there’s a certain streak of doubling down in at least two of the Supervisors, so I don’t know if they’ll go for it or not. Depending on what the County does, we may have to step up our efforts to oppose Lilac Hills Ranch and Otay Ranch Village 14.