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Nurturing with nature: An easy primer

Observations from the Hedge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 9, 2003


O.K. so you are contemplating going native. Like most homeowners many issues are contributing to your considerations. Water scarcity is foremost. There is also the cost of maintaining exotically lush landscaping, the impact of chemicals needed to support the health of plants being grown in spite of their biological needs and ecological evolution, and the move towards voluntary simplicity on a cultural level.

The use of native species in suburban landscaping is easier than it appears. By planting species indigenous to coastal Southern California residents enter into a partnership with the environment in such a way as to elevate the concept of Green Thumb into the realms of politics and philosophy.In simple terms, the movement towards native suburban habitats is a progressive devolution that allows for the supremacy of intact ecosystems.

Once having decided to convert a labor, water, and technology intensive yard to an environmentally friendly landscape there are a few things to do before starting the project.

  1. First step in the devolution process should be educational field trips.After familiarizing yourself with the topography of the your neighborhood before the cut and fill of development erased it along with the corresponding biotic community, find the nearest remnant of similar habitat and take pictures. A digital camera is ideal, as it facilitates the ability to ask questions of native landscaping professionals. If your goal is a colorful plant palate, the best time of year to photograph natives would be during the spring bloom. If you have a drainage problem riparian species maybe the ideal plant palate.
  2. Once you have a working knowledge of local plant species, and their habitat requirements, it is time to consider residential hardscaping, and proximity to neighbors. Certain plants lend themselves to proximity to residential infrustructure. Small yards are hardly ideal for coastal live oaks, but are perfect for Toyon. Some species such as Sycamores and cottonwoods aggressively seek out water sources such as a water main and sewage lines. Most natives require ample amounts of full sun, while riparian species do not. These considerations should factor into landscape planning.
  3. Another element to be factored in is wildlife. By going native other species will naturally drawn to the habitat your wisdom is providing. So when planning for indigenous landscaping, one must also plan for the critters who will seek the privilege of co-habitating. Flowering plants draw bees, butterflies, and humming birds. Dense chaparral plants like laurel sumac and lemonade berry, are favored by foxes, opossums, and skunks. Deciduous trees are also favored by grub eaters, as they their blanket of fallen leaves provide a healthy topsoil where all sorts of insect delicacies await their nocturnal dining excursions. Hawks and owls favor oaks, which is a good thing as owls are a chief predator of gophers and mice. Hawks, for their part, prey on snakes, which are not always welcome in residential neighborhoods.
  4. The ideal time of year to plant native species is winter when natural rainfall is adequate to help new planting start off on a good rooting. January is the optimal time and I have had only success with anything planted during the first to months of the year. This also allows me to reduce the time in which artificial irrigation is needed. Most natives need little to no irrigation once established.
  5. 5. It is also wise to stagger native planting over the course of a couple years. This not only helps promotes an easy transition it also promotes soil retention, limits wildlife displacement, and allows certain species a headstart which could promote dominance of key species. Oaks and other large trees will take decades to reach maturity so it is never to soon to plant them. As they grow they in turn will improve conditions for other native species.

So there you have an easy primer for going native. It might not be glamorous or in keeping what the Joneses are doing but then that is hardly the point. Going native is the best thing a homeowner can do in terms of living in balance with the other species indigenous to Southern California. Not only will such a decision promote environmental sustainability, it will also save residents money and time. Which is basically the same thing.

For more information on Native Landscaping, as well as one stop shopping for all your native needs, call Las Pilitas Nursery at 760-749-5930.

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