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Monday, July 22, 2013

CA Natives In Containers

Some of tonight's high points: 

Seen as hard to grow
Cultivated only in the last 100 or so years – many not even for 50
Most plants in our gardens have been under our cultivation for over 500 years

Why Grow Natives At All?

Save water – even in containers, CA natives are more thrifty with water than most ornamentals
Lower maintenance – some attention, but mostly in containers they are fussless
Lower pesticide use – CA native plants haven't yet grown dependent on human care takers and so have good resistance to pests that you don't find in many cultivated plants
Invite wildlife into your garden – native plants are food for hummingbirds and other birds, butterflies, and many other insects – including many beneficial ones prefer CA natives
Supports a local ecology – even your one or two CA native containers can provide some of the destroyed native habitat for a few animal or insect species

Some thoughts on Growing Native species

We are a part of the Mediterranean Climates,
Mediterranean Climate notes: at or near 40º latitude; long very hot summers, short, cool and more or less wet winters, Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia, Chile and us.
While a large number of our plants in cultivation are also Mediterranean in origin, our plants have a much longer and more pronounced dry spell – most drought seasons in Mediterranean climates are much shorter than ours – i.e. Rome has an average of six months of drought while LA has closer to 9 months.

Our soils also are more alkaline than other systems as well as being mostly Nitrogen free.

These complicate our ability to grow CA natives in ANY cultivated form – let alone in containers.

Keys to Success With Natives in Containers

Try to purchase healthy plants and, especially when just starting out, act conservatively following set scripts as best as you can. Try to plant containers with plants selected from one plant community – i.e. all plants from Oak Woodland, or all Chaparral or some other ecosystem – do not mix desert plants with montane plants. Select plants with similar needs and from similar growing conditions. Some of the CA Native plant communities include:
northern or southern Oak woodland
valley grassland
coastal sage scrub
mixed evergreen and redwood forest
Do not try to bring plants from distant ecosystems into our climate – borrow only from nearby ecosystems that might actually work here.

Learn from your local CNPS chapter – there is the Los Angeles/Santa Monica Mountains Chapter and the San Gabriel Mountain Chapter – both have meetings, programs and plant sales as well as members that can provide a neophyte with a great deal of information.

In addition there is the Theodore Payne Foundation with classes and a nursery out in Sun Valley (and on the web) and Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden has their Grow Native Nursery on the grounds of the Veteran's Administration in West Los Angeles.

Plant your natives at the proper time of year. Experienced gardeners can get by planting natives almost any time of the year, but most beginners will want to start their gardens in the fall when the plants will be the most vigorous and likely to succeed.

Established Natives need minimal supplemental water in the ground, but plants in containers MUST be watered, not as much it's true, but they MUST be watered enough. Certainly just planted natives MUST be watered often enough to establish. Use your finger – try for a consistently lightly moist soil. Not too wet, not completely dried out.

Fill your container with a lose free draining soil – LGM Cactus mix is preferred by many nurseries because it does contain CA mycorrhizae and is a good fast draining mix. Use no fertilizers with CA Natives – do mulch if at all possible using some sort of CA plant duff to cover the soil if you can. Anything is better than nothing.

With no fertilizer and low water, growth will be slow minimizing pruning needs etc.

If you get into this and decide to go wild collecting: it is illegal on CA public lands to collect wild plants or seed. Collecting plants or seed on private land, while legal, can be fraught difficulties – never collect more than half the seed of a well established stand of natives – much less if it is not a large stand. You may safely collect more seeds from perennials because they will survive to put out seed another year. NEVER collect any more seed than you can use in the very immediate future!

Try to use ethical commercial sources of seed. Larner Seeds, plant societies, or TPF


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