Singer: Where does it grow naturally? | TheUnion.com

Singer: Where does it grow naturally?

Carolyn Singer
Special to The Union

Walking into the CNPS native plant sale can be exciting and a bit overwhelming. The advantage of being a member is that you can arrive and shop an hour early (8:30-9:30 a.m.), before the crowd builds. You may even have the luxury of looking over available plants.

Save time by joining our local Redbud chapter online this week. While you may also join when you arrive at the sale Sept. 27, membership in CNPS allows you to begin selection without delay. The upcoming CNPS plant sale is the perfect time to purchase natives for fall planting.

Often there is only limited opportunity to ask questions until after the first wave of purchasing subsides. By then, fellow native enthusiasts may have their wagons filled. Having a shopping list helps you focus.

Studying the complexities of your property is a good place to begin: elevation, exposure, and soil are critical to success.

Natives preferring moist, deep soils in a cool shady canyon will not survive when introduced to a hot, dry, sunny hillside. Similarly, adding a native plant to an irrigated landscape may not succeed. Irrigation for the first year after planting is usually necessary, but most natives thrive with little to no water as they mature. An exception may be during drought years when lack of seasonal rain necessitates occasional irrigation .

No gardener can ignore the effects of the current drought. A summer of high temperatures exacerbates the dry conditions. Even foothill natives are stressed.

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Julie Becker, a fellow CNPS member, has been watching closely as the natives she has introduced adapt to very dry conditions. Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is on her list of natives enduring despite the climate challenges.

This native is prevalent west of Grass Valley, making it easy to observe in its native chaparral habitat. Clusters of white flowers feed the bees in early summer. Red berries that follow feed birds.

Foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) is another tough plant in Julie's garden, its glowing flowers adding weeks of "shimmering" shades of blue, lilac and deeper purple in summer. Look for this native perennial along the Buttermilk Bend Trail at Bridgeport in May and June.

While Julie is very enthusiastic about the drought-tolerance of Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii), this native hails from Southern California and northern Baja. I may try it again, but it has not survived very cold winters in my landscape.

While my elevation is 2,650 feet, it was the occasional temperature below 15 degrees that challenged Cleveland sage. The cultivar 'Pozo Blue' is considered hardy to 10 degrees.

When you bring your natives home, try to plant as soon as possible while the soil is still warm in September and October. If your plant is rootbound, the curved side of a hori-hori is perfect for slapping the side of the root ball to begin loosening the roots. Follow with a blast of water from a nozzle. Then usually roots may be spread by hand.

In the foothills, it's always a good plan to add natural phosphorus, mixed into the soil. Well-decomposed compost may be added to native clay soil, but only in very small amounts. Natives do best grown in native soil. Again, study their natural habitat. Rocky soil is not a problem for many natives.

I mulch 3-6 inches deep with chips from oaks, firs and cedars on my property. Fire-safe thinning has provided a wealth of material. Water thoroughly once a week, soaking the dry soil adjacent to the plant. In November, reduce irrigation to every two weeks unless rains are maintaining soil moisture.

It will be at least a year before each native adapts to its new home. Watch it closely.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She will be teaching a class in fall edible and ornamental gardening from 9:30-11:30 a.m. today at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley. More information is available at http://www.carolynsingergardens.com. 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.

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