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Caring for California Native Plants

A male Anna’s hummingbird can't resist Saliva clevelandii ‘Pozo Blue,’ an easy CA native. This plant looks best with fall pruning. Photo: Bob Mauceli
A male Anna’s hummingbird can't resist Saliva clevelandii ‘Pozo Blue,’ an easy CA native. This plant looks best with fall pruning. Photo: Bob Mauceli

Native plants are easy to grow – so long as you don't overdo it with soil amendments or other unnecessary additions. Many natives, including iconic species like Ceanothus and manzanita, can live for decades with very little care. Here's how to get your native plants off to a good start and enjoy them for years to come. 

Less is more: care and maintenance of native plants 

Unlike some exotic (non-native) species, most natives do not like to be coddled. Here are some general guidelines:

Soil amendments
In most cases, native plants do not need (or appreciate) amendments. Most prefer lean, native soil with nothing added.

Fertilizer
Natives get what they need from native soil. Avoid fertilizer. 

Irrigation
Because they evolved in California’s summer dry climate, once established, most natives prefer little or no water and can be harmed by overwatering. As a general rule, water regularly and deeply the first season and avoid letting the root ball dry out. Water in winter if rain is scarce.
Here is a very basic rule of thumb: 
• Year 1: water once per week
• Year 2: water once every 2 weeks
• Year 3: water once every 3 weeks
• Year 4: water once per month if needed in summer 

Pesticides
Rarely used. Let the plant’s natural defenses and beneficial insects provide protection, and watch the birds capture caterpillars to feed their young.

Pruning
Pruning helps develop the structure of maturing native plants and enhances the appearance of plants late in the season. Learn more about pruning native plants

Deadheading
While commonly done for non-natives, many gardeners prefer to leave flowers after bloom to let seeds ripen for birds.

For information on planting California native plants, go to our Planting section for natives.

 

Special situations: caring for oaks and redwoods

Native oaks and redwood trees present unique growing conditions in the garden. Oaks thrive on dry conditions in summer, while redwoods create dense, damp, shady understories. These environments ask a little more of the gardener. 

Gardening under oak trees
Gardening near redwoods


Some books to help you get started

Bornstein, Carol, David Fross, Bart O’Brien, California Native Plants for the Garden, Cachuma Press

Keator, Glenn and Alrie Middlebrook, Designing California Native Gardens: The plant community approach to artful, ecological gardens, University of California Press 

Bauer, Nancy, The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to attract bees, butterflies, birds, and other animals, University of California Press