GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: Why Plant Natives - Plus Two Easy To Grow Natives

By Susan Lewitt, for Let’s Talk Plants! August 2022.

Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis, in bloom. Photo by Keir Morse.


Why Plant Natives - Plus Two Easy To Grow Natives


I am going to introduce you to a couple of very easy to grow California native plants, but first a word in support of our sponsor, Mother Earth.


As I listened to an elementary school choir’s lovely rendition of “America the Beautiful,” I thought about what it is we love about our country’s natural beauty, how we love our country’s biodiversity, but what are we doing to that? Besides cutting down forests, especially centuries old, ancient forests, fragmenting our land, and polluting our air, soil and waterways, we also introduce many exotic species that all have the potential to become invaders. If it is easy to grow, it can spread out of control to natural areas from your yard, even if the natural areas are a good distance away. Is this what we are supposed to do to something we cherish?


Something else to consider: If you are using lots of chemicals including fertilizers and pesticides to support your exotic plants, these chemicals kill off the living organisms in the soil and make it hard for the soil to replace needed nutrients. This is similar to what happens with conventional agriculture, where the soil is depleted of nutrients as crops are grown. More fertilizer is needed because there are no, or very few live microorganisms to replace the needed nutrients. Native plants work with our soil, and the microorganisms in that soil help sustain them.


Regarding the 30x30 initiative that I wrote about previously, (Protect 30% of the Planet's Land and Water by 2030), I hope to help you understand that the more we give back to nature, the faster nature will recover and nature is more resilient than we think when we give it a chance to heal. Right now, many species, too many to count, are in decline. You can help change that by making your garden a native oasis. Having more native habitats means that the actual wild spaces will be more connected.


To encourage you to participate in the healing process, here are a couple splendid native plants that you will find hard to resist:

Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis, in bloom on left and closeup of leaves on the right. Photos by Keir Morse.


For larger properties, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis, is an evergreen shrub with yellow and brown summer flowers that can be upright or mounding reaching a maximum size of ten feet by ten feet. It is also known as Quail Bush and can be found from southwestern U.S. to northern Mexico. This plant will grow in full sun with low moisture in alkaline or saline, medium draining soil and will do well with being watered two times per month once established. It attracts butterflies such as the Western Pygmy Blue and birds including quail and thrashers. This plant is usually used for larger gardens and for restoration projects and does well with Deer Grass, Arrow Weed, Mesquite, Desert Thorn, Alkali Goldenbush, and native willows. It is carried by forty different nurseries.

Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis, in bloom. Photo by Keir Morse.


A plant that works well for smaller properties is the California Fuchsia, with showy red flowers, which occur throughout much of California. Its leaves vary from green to mostly white, blooming summer through fall. It grows about two and a half feet tall by three feet across. In natural areas, look for it in coastal slopes, bluffs, canyons, chaparral and coastal sage scrub habitats. Inland it prefers wetter slopes, typically near seasonal creeks and in pine or fir forests.

California Fuchsia closeup, Epilobium canum. photo by Keir Morse.


The California Fuchsia requires very little summer water, as little as once a month. It tolerates a wider range of soil types from sandy to clay, with fast to slow drainage. Full sun on this plant will assure a generous bloom. After the flowers die back in the winter, prune this plant to the base to encourage new growth. Unwanted rhizomes can be removed and replanted elsewhere at the same time.


This plant is wonderful for groundcover and butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and is one of the best natives for attracting hummingbirds. As companions, it likes native milkweed, Giant Wild Rye, Sand Aster, Sagebrush, Monkeyflower species, Encelia californica, Buckwheat species, Heartleaf Keckiella, Penstemon species, Salvia species, and Blue-eyed Grass. Several Native Californians have used this plant for nectar and medicinal purposes. There are fifteen nurseries that carry this native plant. For more plant information, visit the Calscape web page: calscape.org


I used to think that weeds were native plants that escaped the natural areas and were trying to take over our exotic gardens. Now I know that is not true; our weeds are plants introduced from somewhere else, not native to San Diego. A few of them are hybrids, and cultivars, and many of those have no natural control to keep them from spreading and adversely affecting San Diego’s biodiversity. This is a case where more is actually less! Please help nature heal by including native plants in your landscaping. We have so much to gain by doing this!

In-person meetings for the California Native Plant Society, San Diego chapter have resumed on the third Tuesday of most months. For additional information, please check the CNPS Website (https://www.cnpssd.org/) and come to our meetings in Casa del Prado, room 101, Balboa Park. Members of the society will gladly help steer you in the right direction with native plant landscaping.

 

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