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GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: New Native Landscaping Guidelines & CNPS' Garden Tour - April 1 & 2, 2023

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

Photo credit Teresa Everett.

New Native Landscaping Guidelines & California Native Plant Society’s Garden Tour on April 1 & 2, 2023.

Nevin's Barberry, Mahonia nevinii. Photo by Mary Wloch.

“Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife.” - Doug Tallamy (author of gardening and nature books including Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard and Bringing Nature Home.)

The Chief Administrative officer of the San Diego Board of Supervisors joined forces with the San Diego Regional Biodiversity Working Group (Working Group) to save the health and wellbeing of San Diego and its natural environment. The main theme was to increase the use of native plants in our region. The members of the Working Group came from San Diego Canyonlands, California Native Plant Society, San Diego Botanic Garden, and other similar organizations.

After several meetings with the staff, they developed guidelines for the use of California native plants in public and private landscaped areas throughout the county. There will be many benefits from following these guidelines including support of biodiversity, habitat preservation, better drought tolerance, more stable soil, water and air purification, reduced fragmentation of natural environments and greater shielding of wildlife passageways. By following these guidelines, you will see more native birds, butterflies and other pollinators in your garden.

Here is the Working Groups Sustainability Impact Statement:

The San Diego County Native Landscape Program will increase environmental sustainability by resulting in practices that improve the preservation of biodiversity, drought tolerance, and climate resiliency, expand the buffer of wildlife corridors, and reduce habitat fragmentation. The Program will be developed with extensive engagement with communities in the unincorporated area most impacted by habitat loss, including within urban and rural underserved communities, wildland urban interface corridors, and high fire-prone areas, to ensure sustainability in equity, economy, and health/wellbeing. Increasing the use of native plants in landscaped areas will contribute to the County of San Diego's Sustainability Goal Six, which is to develop natural and organic land management policies and practices that protect ecosystems, habitats, biodiversity, and soil health throughout the county by protecting native habitats and expanding protected areas.

To accomplish this, the plan includes the following: The first step is to create a native plant landscaping design manual. A website with program information is another step to be developed. Educational materials and resources for professionals and residents will be created. There are also plans for school demonstration gardens along with educational materials. Landscaping retrofit projects are part of this project. Incentive programs and landscape design templates will also be available. The implementation of this program to increase the use of Native Californian plants in San Diego will take place from now until 2028 and beyond.

Photo credit Steve Miller.

Before you say that native plants don’t work for you, please consider coming to see how wonderful they can be in some very attractive gardens. California Native Plant Society San Diego chapter will be hosting a native garden tour in the north county on April 1st and 2nd. This native garden tour will show you beautiful ways to support San Diego’s efforts to remain a great place as a biodiversity hot spot. Saturday, the gardens in San Marcos and Escondido will be open, and Sunday, the Encinitas gardens will be available for viewing. Tour hours for both days will be from 9 am to 4 pm. Look for more information about garden tour updates and sneak peaks in the March “Going Wild with Natives” article. Also see this website for scheduled events:

While you’re waiting for the garden tour, and the guidelines from the Working Group to be available, here are some resources for you: Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren collaborated on some inspiring books on landscaping with Native plants. The California Native Landscape: The Homeowner's Design Guide to Restoring Its Beauty and Balance shows how versatile native plants can be to fit into any style garden. It contains a basic listing of plants. Their second book, The Drought-Defying California Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-Water Landscape has a more extensive plant selection. These books and other valuable resources are available at the CNPS monthly meeting and on the garden tour.

Photo credit Jim Bouey.

Another resource, Calscape ( will show you the best native plants for your area. When you enter your zip code or area name, it will give you a list of suitable native plants. For each species, it will describe the appearance, growth habits, and care requirements. Companion plants and pollinators that they attract are also listed. It even tells you which nurseries usually carry these plants. Calscape also has a useful garden planner.

For the first time, we are pleased to showcase a native-landscaped HOA park and a delightful elementary school–created habitat trail. Also featured is a Mediterranean botanical garden that includes California native plants, designed by Nan Sterman, KPBS TV host of “A Growing Passion”. Garden designers range from DIY homeowners to native landscape professionals, whose beautiful creative designs also serve as sustainable natural habitats.

Please reserve April 1st and 2nd in your calendar and come enjoy the CNPS Garden Tour. More information about the 2023 CNPS San Diego Native Garden Tour will be in the March “Going Wild with Natives” article.

Tickets are now on sale through March 27th and will give you access to both days for $35 per person. They may be purchased by going to this link for the 2023 CNPS-SD Garden Tour Tickets: For more information about student, group, and sponsor discount tickets, contact


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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