Go native

By From page B2 | April 04, 2014


POLLINATORS of all kinds — native and honey bees, butterflies, etc — love native mint, Monardella odoratissima. Photo by Tripp Mikich

For 20 years, one thing has been certain come April in El Dorado County and we don’t mean taxes. We’re referring to the annual Spring Native Plant Sale by the El Dorado Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (EDC CNPS).
This year’s sale marks the 20th year since the chapter was founded in 1994 that it has hosted native plant sales in Placerville, and many gardeners are especially looking forward to this year’s sale, foreseeing the stresses that the drought is going to be putting on everyone’s gardens, water supplies and water cost, and the fact that many native plants are uniquely adapted to the area’s drought-prone climate.

The sale takes place Saturday, April 5 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. in front of the El Dorado County Government Buildings, 330 Fair Lane in Placerville.

This sale and another in October is the primary way the non-profit EDC CNPS raises money for its ongoing local education projects, such as school native plant gardens, weed and invasive species monitoring, field trips, public educational programs and rare plant surveys.

The sale offers a wide selection of California native trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and grasses from the best of the regional native plant growers and nurseries, along with plants provided by CNPS members who propagate native plants over the winter for the sale.

The spring sale offers a great chance to buy hardy and drought tolerant and deer resistant native plants ready to go into the ground. Then, in a year or two, with bi-weekly hot weather watering to establish good root systems, the dry season watering can be tapered off and you’ve got a beautiful “drought garden.”


Great selection

One thing’s for certain, plant shoppers will get a chance to get “up close and personal” with a sometimes dazzling array of native plants, both pure stocks as well as special nursery cultivars of classic natives, like the beautiful pozo blue sage. This cultivar of the Cleveland sage was created by the legendary Bert Wilson of Las Pilitas nursery in Santa Margarita some years ago.

Pozo blue has startlingly electric blue flowers with an alluring “What’s that?” fragrance that people, as well as the many butterflies, honey and native bees and other native pollinators will detect from quite a distance away.

Its abundant blooms and hardiness under almost any conditions (down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) has gained it a well-deserved reputation amongst gardeners looking for deer-proof but beautiful and rugged native sage.


Great advice

In addition to seeing a variety of natives in their many forms and colors, a number of plaid-vested CNPS members will be on hand to offer free advice and counsel from their own “not insignificant” experience as native plant gardeners, horticulturists, landscape designers and botanophiles or lovers of plants.

There are helpful displays, like the one on invasive plant identification and eradication, with local CNPS weed guru Annie Walker on hand to answer questions and ID that odd weed that’s threatening to engulf your yard.

Other displays cover native plant ID and landscaping and there are handout sheets to help determine the best plants for a specific condition or for putting together that often dreamed about butterfly garden.

There is also a book table with the latest and best books on native plant and drought gardening and landscaping, as well as native plant identification books for the region and state.

A list of some of the plants that will be on sale is available at and additional information is on Facebook at

Come early, because last year, both sales were virtually sold out before closing time. Stop at the ATM on the way; it’s cash and checks only.


Drought info

It is time to talk about the “D” word.

Yes, you know — drought.

We all know it’s here, we all know it will be with us for awhile and we all know that we’re going to be asked, or forced perhaps by the conditions, to change and adapt our gardening and water habits.

So what’s a gardener/landscaper to do?

CNPS gardeners, landscapers and growers are ready with a few thoughts and suggestions:

Debra Ayres, a Ph.D. scientist at University of California, Davis and longtime landscape designer, counsels extreme caution with any new plantings you’re considering. First and foremost, let that lawn die and plan to eventually replace it.

Yes, we all love lawns and have great memories of rolling around on them as kids and maybe playing croquet or football on them. Let’s be honest, lawns are a tradition of English manors, imported with the British when they founded the colonies. While we might have enjoyed them in the years when water supplies seemed endless and cheap, let’s face it, we live in California, and for most of the state, we’re in a Mediterranean climate. Chaparral is much more our habitat than English manor lawns.

Ayres also suggests sticking to really drought tolerant/water-wise plants that you know you have enough water for to see them through their first thirsty year or two.

“There are many that are both suited to our area and easily available and many or most will be available at the plant sale. They include the beautiful and abundant sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) with its deep yellow blooms; a number of native and cultivar varieties of ceanothus or California lilac (stay away from ones needing more water, unless you have a ‘water abundant’ environment for them); and a wide selection of sages or salvias, penstemons, California fuchsia and trees, such as the locally native western redbud (Cercis occidentals).”

While we’re on the topic, let’s dispel the myth right now that all natives are drought tolerant. Many California native plants are adapted to withstand and survive drought conditions because of where they grow: if a plant is native to the chaparral-covered hills around Cameron Park or Placerville, it’s probably drought tolerant.

Examples are Sonoma sage, redbud, mule’s ears, or the star of this year’s plant sale poster, Lemmon’s ceanothus (ceanothus lemmonii), as well as the ubiquitous buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus)

If you’re looking at a beautiful scarlet monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis) growing alongside a stream near Sly Park or a gorgeous mountain dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), well they both like water — lots of water and definitely not drought tolerant to grow on a south-facing slope in full sun. They need watering once every few weeks.

Mahala Guggino, CNPS member and founder of Flourish, a local boutique native nursery and landscape design company, suggests replacing plants that you already know are thirsty.

“If you’re watering some plants in your landscape every day or several times a week, it’s time to think about a change. Ideally, you want to establish a drip system on your landscape and not be watering (unless they’re new plants) more than once a week or every other week. That’s a good goal to shoot for,” said Guggino.

Guggino also points out that she waters her new natives with about a gallon of water per plant once a week.

“That much water can easily be saved by improving your watering system and taking shorter showers or installing low-flush toilets, grey waters systems and similar. A little investment in these systems now will save you money and water for years to come,” she added.

Board member Diane Cornwall also noted that mulching and mulching deeply the planting areas and the areas directly around plants, although not right up against the stems, is a great and easy way to help retain moisture in the soil and conserve water.

Verne Pershing, AKA The Cowboy Gardener, CNPS board member and well-known landscape contractor, makes a very practical and beautiful suggestion. A few years ago he planted an area under a favorite black oak with the native clustered field sedge or Carex praegracilis, as a cool place for his dog to lie around on.

“Now after two or three years, I mow it every December to the ground. By March it’s some 20 inches high and in full bloom with its finely textured golden heads. In another month or so as the ground starts to dry out it will lay down and look like running water,” said Pershing.

He says he hand-waters it every four to six weeks during the summer and by October its golden brown with green streaks running through it and his dogs and cats love it. With almost no maintenance, this plant that grows wild throughout our foothills is a perfect and extremely creative alternative to the obsolescent lawns.

Rosemary Carey, El Dorado CNPS president and longtime native plant garden designer, weighs in with some additional specific drought-tolerant natives.

She makes the point that, “Even drought tolerant or drought resistant natives will need watering the first year or two to establish their root systems. But keep in mind that most people kill natives by over-watering, not under-watering.”

Carey pointed out, “Drought-tolerant locally native plants hold great potential and are well worth your labor and water in the spring of 2014, particularly when viewed in the context of creating a long-term sustainable landscape.”

She gave the example of western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) that is now blooming throughout the foothills and in the chaparral east of Cameron Park and along Highway 50.

“It is actually among the least difficult and most rewarding of California’s many shrubs to grow and requires far less water than eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis),” she said.

While drought may be on everyone’s mind, it’s worth remembering that the harsher the conditions, the more likely the deer will be gate-crashing your plant party.

Carey suggested keeping in mind drought tolerant and deer resistant when thinking about native choices, suggesting that “Sonoma or creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquafolium), bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida), silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons), sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus), coyote mint (Monardella villosa), California fuchsia or zauschneria (Epilobium canum), California pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia californica) and deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) are just some of the beautiful foothill natives to choose from that are both drought and deer tolerant/resistant.”

A big bonus, too, with the daily news of honey, native bee and Monarch butterfly populations crashing throughout North America, is that virtually all native plants and flowers are highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and even lady bird/bug beetles. This year’s sale will have plenty of Monarch-loving native milkweed, as well as penstemons and sages, with varied blooms and colors for a beautiful palette of insect- and bird-friendly color and attractive fragrance.

The place to find information and plants is the April 5 Native Plant Sale in Placerville.

Tripp Mikich

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