planting

Installation of California Native Plants and Notes on Pollinators

Installation of California Native Plants and Notes on Pollinators

A Conversation on the CNPS-San Diego Listserv

Compiled by Mike Gonzales, Founding Member, San Diego Pollinator Alliance and Former Chairperson, CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

Can restoring our yards into native urban gardens, albeit very difficult to do given the nature of urban yards, help San Diego’s endemic plants survive and thrive?

Believe me, I understand the part about not being easy! I’ve been stumbling around my front and back yards for 20+ years sluggishly transforming iceplant-covered slopes into some semblance of a native urban garden, or at least semi-native at this point. I thought Wayne Tyson was joking when he posted on the CNPS-SD listserv that, “it's as easy as duplicating the conditions [or functionally mimicking them] under which indigenous ecosystems function.” Well, maybe it was just tongue-in-cheek as he followed up with, “That can be difficult, but it's not impossible, especially the mimicking part [due to] the site conditions that one has to begin with, but it can be done.”

This post epitomizes the macrocosm of my ongoing quest-to create something that hopefully might be considered a decent foundation for, as Wayne puts it, “preserving indigenous germplasm while not sacrificing beauty or utility, and further minimizing the use of imported water and nutrients from other places.” I know, this certainly sounds like a lofty goal, but I’ve been having fun at it – thanks to all the wonderful information streaming across the list-serve from very knowledgeable people whose advice I deeply respect.

Ok, so if you don’t mind too much I’d like to take a slight detour here, as I feel I should at least try to understand what Wayne means when he refers to the term ‘germplasm’. I’m guessing it may have something to do with what both Wayne and Greg Rubin refer to as “the mycorrhizal net (i.e., the natural soil-crust community of algae, mosses, and other cryptobiotic/cryptogamic soil-crust plant communities[1] which are fireproof, erosion-protectors, and infiltration-facilitators).Symbiotic benefits of a mycorrhizal net include disease resistance, pest resistance, and increased availability of moisture. Absence of a mycorrhizal net (and many other microbial constituents of the indigenous microbiome) is a contributor to weed growth, as most weeds are not obligately mycorrhizal; in fact, their presence may inhibit their formation.”

Creating a native wildflower meadow

By Greg Rubin, CNPS-San Diego Garden Native Committee member

Article reposted from California Native Plant Society Blog

Few things evoke magical memories like spring wildflowers. Whether it is a desire to recapture a serendipitous discovery of a color-laden flower field from our past, or simply re-living that scene from the “Wizard of Oz”, nothing stirs our passion for nature like a beautiful field of flowers. California was once celebrated for its annual floral shows; unfortunately, these delightful events are becoming a thing of the past.  The great Kate Sessions lamented that wildflowers were disappearing from San Diego’s foothills by the early 1900s. Even her attempts to include wildflower displays at Balboa Park repeatedly failed. Why?

The answer is that European settlement in California altered our delicate ecology so profoundly that it was lost at all levels. Nothing is quite so fragile as a wildflower meadow. These annuals serve as pioneers that help re-establish ecology should a disturbance wipe out climax shrubs and trees. Being so low in lignin, they disappear after dying, returning all of their nutrients back to the ecology. Additionally, they fill holes not occupied by shrubby plants, and persist in places inhospitable to anything with deep roots, such as in the shallow soils of true native grasslands. What the Europeans brought were non-native weeds: competitive plants unhindered by native bio-controls while putting all of their life energy into reproducing themselves.  These non-native seed banks now reach 10-100,000 dormant seeds per cubic foot! The wildflowers never stood a chance.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Fortunately, knowledge is the best tool, and we have ways to turn back the clock. Eliminating weeds is foremost. It is usually not sufficient to clear a space and drop seed, as Ms. Sessions learned. Instead, the seed bank must be addressed, either through repeated watering and killing of emerged weeds, or the use of chemicals called pre-emergents that kill seed in the soil when watered in. This must be done months in advance of planting. Solarization with clear plastic can also be used, but the effect is usually temporary. After treatment, seeds can be spread and either gently raked in or covered lightly in decomposed granite (this avoids disturbance and deters birds). Wildflower seeds can be purchased at most garden centers and online; however, be sure that the word “NATIVE” is somewhere in the title, and that the species are native to your locale, or you will end up with a mix of weedy introduced flowers, the worst being Alyssum. (ED note: You can check the local appropriateness of your chosen seed mix ingredients by entering your address in CNPS’s Calscape app, available at calscape.org or on CNPS’s homepage.) Common native mixes include California Poppies, Lupines, Goldfields, Desert Bluebells, Gilia, Baby Blue Eyes, Tidy Tips, and Farewell-to-Spring. You can add Owls Clover, Five Spot, and Thistle Sage if available. Keep the plot lightly moist until germination, continue watering twice a week if rainfall is lacking, and CONTROL WEEDS! The outcome will be thrilling!

CNPS Member Greg Rubin is the founder and owner of California’s Own Landscape Design, Inc. (www.calown.com) and a popular speaker. A specialist in the use of native plants in the landscape, he is responsible for over 700 native landscapes in San Diego County and co-authored (with Lucy Warren) two books on native landscaping: The California Native Landscape: the Homeowner’s Design Guide to Restoring its Beauty and Balance and The Drought Defying California Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-water Landscape, both on Timber Press.

Sondra Boddy and Bob Smith’s California native garden – chapter one

By Sondra Boddy, CNPS-San Diego Garden Native Committee member

“Holy cow,” I thought, “there’s a bobcat in my backyard!” I watched as she emerged stealthily from the dense foliage, deftly clamped her jaws around an unwitting Mourning Dove, then trotted off into the wildlands with her limp prize. The thrill of seeing this elusive animal stalking prey on our property in broad daylight made the months of hard work all seem worth it.

Promoting biodiversity, re-creating wildlife habitat and re-connecting with nature were primary motivations for planting California natives on our 1+ acre property up in the hills west of Lake Hodges. To our delight, it was working. Admittedly, conserving water was a key driver for us as well. Faced with a $430 water bill in June 2013 after our first month in the house, we knew that the expansive lawn and overgrown non-native vegetation had to go.