Native Plant School Garden Program

San Diego CNPS has developed a Native Plant School Gardens program to provide resources to teachers, parents, and students interested in installing native gardens at their schools. Native gardens are becoming a popular addition in elementary and secondary schools statewide, providing hands-on education in the subjects of native wildlife, ethnobotanical uses of local plants, habitat types, and water conservation, as well as the local history and natural beauty of San Diego County.  

CNPS is partnering with local landscape architects and designers who specialize in native gardens to provide free design advice and planting plans for native gardens for qualifying schools in the San Diego are. A designer will work with the lead teachers or administrator to develop a planting plan for their native garden. The designer or another CNPS volunteer will also be available to direct activities and provide planting advice on the day of installation. Although we can provide advice on funding opportunities and native plant nurseries, the school would be responsible for purchasing the plants --  a minimum budget of $500 is highly recommended.  

After the garden is in place, a CNPS volunteer will continue to work with the lead teacher/ administrator to assure that the garden continues to be properly maintained and remains a useful teaching resource for years to come. The CNPS volunteer will visit the garden from time to time, be available to address any emerging problems, and keep the school updated on new programs and opportunities to benefit the garden. 

We hope to provide support for ten new Native Plant School Gardens this school year. We will evaluate each application to determine the likelihood of long-term success. Please review the following guidelines for a successful project and complete the attached application.  Once your application has been reviewed and approved, we will contact you to begin the design process.

Application Guidelines:

  • The School shall provide a single point of contact.
  • The school Principal must actively support the project.
  • A budget of $500 to $1,000 is typically needed to purchase plants and materials.  
  • Educational goals should be clearly defined.   
  • The Site Plan should be clear, detailed, and accurate.  

Please Note: This is not an application for grant funding. This application is for professional volunteer assistance in designing a native school garden.  

Please click on the following links for the application and site plan.   
Email the completed application as a Word document to:

School Garden Application (doc)

School Garden Site Plan template (pdf)
Please mail Site Plan pdf hard copy to
California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter
c/o San Diego Natural History Museum
P.O. Box 121390
San Diego CA 92112-1390

Click here - San Diego Master Gardeners Schools program where you can find information on grants and other presentations offered through the Master Gardeners of San Diego

Garden at Cajon Park School in Santee conceptualized by Josh Long

School Gardens and Native Plants

From the CNPS main website

In 1995, the California Department of Education launched “A Garden in Every School” initiative to promote education in fields as varied as nutrition, health, science, math, reading, and environmental studies. All these disciplines can be integrated in a school garden setting to teach students new skills and to enhance their ability to observe and think. A school garden helps students gain an understanding of natural systems through firsthand experience. School gardens foster community spirit by bringing students, school staff, families, local businesses, and organizations together.

The California Native Plant Society promotes the inclusion of native plants in every school garden. Native plants help students learn the vital connection between plants and higher forms of life. Plants are at the bottom of the food chain, and native plants are a primary component of healthy ecosystems. Just as edible plants are important for human health and survival, native plants are equally necessary to other forms of life. Native plants help pollinator populations survive and thrive, which in turn help pollinate edible crops.

Some ideas for incorporating native plants in school gardens:

  • Pollinator Garden
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Bird-friendly Garden
  • Hummingbird Garden
  • Ethnobotanical Garden
  • Habitat Garden

In addition, native plants can be a part of the following types of gardens:

  • Alphabet Garden
  • Cut Flower Garden
  • Multicultural Garden
  • Year-round Flowering Garden

Before starting a school native plant garden, it is important to analyze site characteristics (soil, exposure, grade, existing hardscape, precipitation, etc.) and choose appropriate locally native plants. This will maximize chances for success while minimizing the inputs and efforts required. The resources below offer information for a variety of native plant projects.



Grant Programs & Resources

Information contributed by:
Arvind Kumar, Santa Clara Valley Chapter

More than 150 students at Calavera Hills Middle School planted a native garden near the track, thanks to an $8,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo credit: Nelvin C. Cepeda

Students plant native plants

Pat Maio, Contact Reporter

San Diego Union-Tribune  March 10, 2015  6:39PM      Carlsbad

Planting a native garden at Calavera Hills Middle School is no easy feat. Parents had to bring in jackhammers to help carve out foot-deep holes packed with concrete-like soil, gravel and rocks so that students could more easily plant local flora. The native plants were bought through an $8,000 grant given to the school by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife through its Schoolyard Habitat project.

Mary Beth Woulfe, a biologist and coordinator for the federal agency’s Carlsbad office, points to the Calavera Preserve just east of the school, and says the native garden project is meant to “connect the preserve’s learning space with the students.”

“The tough part is to get the kids excited and be stewards of the habitat,” Woulfe said.

Instead of hiking up the preserve’s 513-foot Mount Calavera to show off native plants in 83 degree heat on Friday, science teacher Bob Peterson had his 150 students plant 60 native plants on a tiny hillside next to the school’s track with the old volcano of the Calavera Preserve looking down on their work.

He also delivered a brief history lesson on some of the plants from the Carlsbad area that include native species like Lemonade Berry, Deer Grass, California Lilac, Coast Sunflower, California Sagebrush, Monkey Flower, White Sage, California Buckwheat and Black Sage.

Before turning one class of 30 sixth-graders loose on the garden, Peterson explained that the Lemonade Berry was a sweet fruit that Native American Indians would dip in tea, or place between their gums to release a lemonade taste when they hiked trails. 

To get the students started, Peterson showed them how to get two shovelfuls of plant food and mix it up with the jackhammered debris before pushing the plant into the hole. “You’ve got to get on your hands and knees and push the soil down around the plant,” he told the kids. One of the last steps involves fetching buckets, filling them up with water, and dunking the thirsty plants with three inches of water.

“Then you’ve got to mark the plant with a red flag so no one steps on it,” he explained.

While planting, sixth grader Holland Hancock worried that the milkweed might break apart as her classmate, Hailey Treleaven, pulled the plant out of its pot. “Don’t pull it by the root,” Holland said.

“Ewww!” said Gabby Fernandez-Stoll, who held up her hand, caked with mud. 

Woulfe came by to inspect their work. “You need to dig deeper.” Holland, Hailey, Gabby and others in their group pulled the plant back out, and dug the hole deeper, then reinserted the milkweed. “Better,” Woulfe said.

Hailey began stomping on the soil around the plant, then bent over to pick out little pebbles from around the plant and toss them aside. 

This isn’t the only local school where U.S. Fish and Wildlife has been involved with its Schoolyard Habitat program, which was created on the East Coast in the late 2000s. 

The federal wildlife agency has helped create similar native habitat gardens at Hope Elemmentary School, also in Carlsbad; Capri Elmentary School in Encinitas; Holmes Elementary in San Diego; and, South Oceanside Elementary in Oceanside. A handful of others have been planted at schools in Los Angeles County, and one in San Clemente.

Aarya Desai, another sixth grader who planted a milkweed, said he can’t wait to come back in a decade to check out the plant’s growth, perhaps even brag to a friend about what he did this day. “I’ll check it out. I can’t wait.”

After the planting work was over, Peterson rounded up the students to paint rocks with flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, lizards and other insects, with templates that he had on hand. The rocks were used to edge a pathway in another section of the native garden planted a few years ago. “I was told it needed a woman’s touch,” Peterson said.