Strolling casually through my faux-suburban neighborhood with a wary but excited Luke leading the way. Neat little ranch houses with neat non-native front yards…. Man in his bathrobe watering his lawn (you do realize sir we live a stone’s throw away from one of the hottest most arid deserts on the planet right?)… Ice plant (thanks South Africa! Can you send something more invasive next time?)… Rose bushes (how bout something that requires more water, insecticide and fertilizer please)… Birds of paradise (gee that’s original)… Oleander 10 feet tall (aww it’s not like it’s poisonous or anything.. wait.. oh yeah)… Cape Ivy (hopefully some bubonic plague hiding in there).
Alrighty have I managed to insult every one of my 11 readers yet? I’m sorry, deep breath, I’ll calm down. Go ahead, give me your excuses…
Natives are difficult/fussy – If you’re out there spraying your rose bushes every week, you can handle California native plants. With few exceptions they require a modicum of attention in the first few months after planting, after which the only maintenance might be pruning and deadheading for neatness and better flower production. Natives are difficult when you ignore the rules and water all summer long.
Natives are not as pretty/colorful – We aren’t dealing with tropical plants here, but I promise you any shade color or hue you can imagine can be found in a native or at least a hybrid. They come in any shape, size or growth habit your site may require.
Natives are expensive/hard to find – This may have been legit 10 years ago but growers and retailers have caught on, people want their local natives. Any nursery worth it’s salt has at least a section dedicated, and we now have Nopalito Nursery down in Ventura. If Antonio doesn’t carry it, he can order it. Within a stone’s throw is also the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and Theodore Payne down in the valley. Nopalito’s prices are right in line with Green Thumb, the other 2 might be a buck more expensive as they are nonprofits.
I don’t give a whit about native plants – Well…. you got me there. What are you doing here anyway?
No more excuses…. so why? Why take the time and effort to uproot an oleander, dig up a thirsty lawn, scrap those begonias? Properly chosen natives will cut down your water bills (Golden State customers hello?), attract beneficial insects, provide year-round beauty and a habitat for a virtual menagerie of local critters. No, not the rats that are hiding in the neighbor’s ivy.
Don’t fear, we’re going to take this slow, and I’m going to lead you step by step. When I moved to my home 4 years ago it was pretty much rose bushes and jade. I made plenty of mistakes and wasted a lot of money, which I’d like to help you avoid.
The first step is to admit you have a problem, and you want to change.
Second, I want you to pick a spot to start. Could be bermuda grass infested lawn, an underused side yard, or even a couple of pots for which you are sick of buying new geraniums and pansies every four months. Any site will do, though full sun gives a few more options. But don’t let shade discourage you, my entire yard is buried under oak tree shade for most of the year and there are still plenty of great plants.
Next time we’ll talk about the factors you need to consider before spending a single dime on a plant. Trust me it will save untold frustration in the future.