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GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: How To Plan For California Native Plant Society SD’s Fall Native Plant Sale

By Susan Lewitt, for Let’s Talk Plants! September 2023.

Native plants rock our landscape! Photo by Susan Lewitt.

How To Plan For The California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter, Fall Native Plant Sale

“Using appropriate techniques and principles … you will be able to create native gardens that are beautiful year-round with low mortality and maintenance. … [When it comes to California native plants] there is literally a plant for every situation imaginable,” (From Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren’s book, California Native Landscape, the Homeowner’s Design Guide to restoring Its beauty and Balance., pages 9-11.)

The CNPS native plant sale may be a month off, and now is a great time to start planning what and where to place your new plants. Consider your garden conditions (sun, shade, soil, etc.) and what will fit in where you have open areas. You may even decide to replace a whole section of your garden. Here are some essential things to consider for your plan.

Coulter's Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri, puts on a nice show once established, but needs to be cut back periodically. Photo by Susan Lewitt.

In the wild, plants grow in communities and replicating this pattern in your landscaping helps achieve a natural balance. Plant communities that do well with inorganic mulch include coastal strand, grassland, riparian, desert, and pinyon-juniper woodland. Coastal sage scrub, Chaparral, oak woodland and redwood forests like organic mulch with rocks by each plant. Communities that need exclusively organic mulch are Mixed Evergreen forests and Pine Forest. Many species are found in more than one plant community. Oaks for example are found in Oak woodlands, Chaparral, Coastal Sage Scrub, riparian communities and evergreen forests. Consider what community is common to your property to pick out the species that will be most successful.

The goal of supporting native pollinators is accomplished with this Lupine, Lupinus spp., being visited by a Yellow-faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. Photo by Susan Lewitt.

Within plant communities, species may be grouped by their specific requirements. What kind of soil do you have? It may not be the same in all parts of your garden. Is it sandy, claylike, or somewhere in between? How is the drainage: fast, medium, slow, or not draining at all? What is your soil’s pH? The soil type required for many native plants varies and this will affect how you water the plants, especially when they are newly planted. If you are adding these native plants to an area with existing plants, make sure that they can tolerate the same watering schedule. Some natives cannot take excess water and others are happy with whatever amount of water you give them. Are you planting a perennial that needs full sun and may be shaded as nearby plants mature? Or is it a plant that does well in any light?

With careful planning and a bit of professional help, Bird Park, located at on 28th St and Upas, SD, seen above, is a great example of what can be done with native plants to create a natural area. Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus, lower left of left photo, and other native plants at the Bird Park Garden. Photos by Susan Lewitt.

Is your garden a particular style, like contemporary, Japanese, English or wild? Maybe you are starting from scratch and have a particular style in mind. For suggestions of which natives work best for different styles please see Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren’s first book. In their book, you will find suggestions for Formal Gardens, using geometry and balance, and Contemporary Gardens with hard edged linear lines bordered by hardscaping.

For dryer areas in your landscaping, succulents will do

nicely like this Chalk Dudleya, Dudleya pulverulenta, which is about to put on a flower show. Photo by Susan Lewitt.

Mediterranean style gardens give you warmth, softness and color with vertical accents. The southwestern style is sparser using desert natives with DG and pebbles as mulch. Finally, Asian style gardens purposely use evergreen natives that highlight leaf color, texture and sculpture.

Avoid the common mistake of placing native plants too close together, leaving space for their mature growth. Many native plants have a growth pattern known as “sleep, creep, then leap” and allowing ample space accounts for this growth spurt.

You don’t have to monkey around with exotics for color in your landscape. How about some native Monkey Flowers, Diplacus spp., which come in red, yellow and orange?

Photo by Susan Lewitt.

Consider the dormancy periods and flowering times of the plants to ensure a balanced display of color and greenery throughout the year. For more information and help before the sale, below are several recommended resources:

  1. California Native Landscape, the Homeowner’s Design Guide to restoring Its beauty and Balance by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 2003

  2. Calscape, “California Native Plant Gardening Guide,”

  3. Calscape Garden Planner,

  4. The Drought Defying California Garden by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, 2017

Thanks to all our San Diego members, vendors and customers, CNPS Native Plant Sale has outgrown the Balboa Park location. At this new location there will be closer parking, more room, and a larger holding area. The new location for the 2023 Fall Sale on October 14 from 9am to 3pm, will be at LIBERTY STATION at Dewey Rd and Cushing Rd near SEAHIVE, and Building 191.

CNPS San Diego needs volunteers for the sale on Friday, October 13 for unloading plants and site set up and Saturday, October 14 for ticket writing, cashiers, site management, loading assistance, and you may learn about native plants as a bonus. There will also be perks for volunteers, some of which may only be available if you sign up early at

The sale will include more than 250 species and cultivars native to Southern California and Northern Baja, awaiting new homes! Don’t miss out on partner booths, seeds and bulbs, merchandise, books, posters and art, trades, sustainable goods, expert advice and more!

A closing thought, also from Greg and Lucy’s first book, page 11:

“Few Californians know how California used to look, it was definitely a lot greener. John Muir spoke of being able to walk from the city of Los Angeles to the Northwest San Fernando Valley without ever leaving the shade of an oak tree.”

Susan Lewitt is a member of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), participating in their Native Gardening Committee, and their Conservation Committee.


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