Off to the CNPS native plant sale! |

Off to the CNPS native plant sale!

Berberis (Mahonia) aquifolium tolerates sun or partial shade.
Submitted by Carolyn Singer |

I’m on my way to the CNPS Redbud native plant sale this morning. With plans to arrive by 8:30 at the North Star House (near the Growers’ Market), I will be able to take advantage of the members’ only selection during the first hour.

You can join the CA Native Plant Society anytime online or at special events such as the fall and spring plant sales. During the plant sale, there is a definite advantage in arriving in the quiet of early morning, before the official opening at 9:30 a.m. The sale ends at 1:30 p.m.

As soon as the sale opens to the public, crowds build, a wave of native plant enthusiasts, mixed with beginners who are only just now honoring the beauty of the native foothill landscape.

Our local chapter is fortunate to have a longtime member, Chet Blackburn, who travels throughout California in search of unusual and interesting natives. Not only does he add to the already wide selection for the sale, he has also spent many volunteer hours compiling information that will guide you in your plant choices. Be sure to visit the official CNPS information table.

If you prefer to start with a full list of the natives (and their vendors!) expected to be available at the sale, download the list from the Redbud Chapter website ( Plants listed may be limited in quantity, or there may be an ample supply. From this document, compile a list of those natives you would like to have on your property.

The next step is to get as much information as possible about each selection. This can be done at the sale by talking to the vendors or one of the many CNPS volunteers who roam the market and make themselves available to assist you. I will be one of them.

As you consider each choice, know how it will fit into your own native landscape. Sun or shade? Deep soils, or shallow (even rocky) sites? Hot southern slopes? Cooler north-facing wooded areas? Canyons with winter shade? Consider the elevation where this particular native grows best.

Then there is the issue of deer. Of course they browse on many natives! Some are left alone: Berberis (Mahonia), Carpenteria (bush anemone), Dicentra (bleeding heart), Romneya (Matilija poppy), Cercis (redbud), Baccharis (coyote bush), and grasses (Festuca, Muhlenbergia, Bouteloua, Stipa) are among the natives deer usually pass by when they have other plants to eat.

However, many natives are stripped by the deer when they are first planted, and repeatedly, often injuring the plant to a point where it cannot grow. These popular natives will need protection until established or out of reach: Ceanothus (CA lilac), Cornus (dogwood), Fremontedendron (flannel bush), and Rosa (rose).

All trees, evergreen or deciduous, need the lower branches and trunks protected from rutting, a fall and winter deer activity that can strip trunks of branches and bark, often injuring the vital cambium layer that is the “life” of the tree.

Try to plant your natives soon after they are brought home. September and October are perfect months for planting. Even November works in a fall where Indian summer lingers, maintaining warmth in the clay soil, especially at elevations below 2500.

Knowing the native conditions for a plant helps in deciding whether to amend the soil. Most grow in areas where leaves have been decomposing for many years. In your own landscape, assess the soil. If it is heavy clay, you may want to add a bit of compost. It must be low in nitrogen! Natural phosphorus (rock phosphate, colloidal phosphate) may be added to stimulate healthy root development.

If your soil has not been disturbed by tractor work, it may be possible to plant in unamended soil. On my own property, I have added incense cedars and firs with only a handful of phosphorus mixed into the native soil when planting. Soils are clay, but they have had many years of oak leaves and evergreen needles falling, adding humus year after year, making my efforts easier.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information, visit

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