Considerations of going native

Ceanothus branch

Ceanothus “Concha”

I have nothing against California natives; in fact, some of my best friends are natives.  Some, like the sturdy, glossy, and un-temperamental Yankee Point can be easily adapted to the home landscape, and perform beautifully in a range of soils and conditions.  And it’s green year-round, so what’s not to love?  Planting California natives will attract a whole new population of wildlife and butterflies to your yard, and over time, they can lower your water bill.  Over time.  See below.

But keep in mind that natives will, on average, have a 30-40% failure rate, which is a polite way of saying that 4 of every 10 you plant may die; slowly or inexorably, or seemingly overnight.  Natives tend to carry a higher cost owing to their slower growth rate and difficulty of cultivation (see:  failure rate).  So figure an average of $8 per 1-gallon plant, and figure replacing 3-4 at each go, and you begin to see just how expensive a proposition tearing out your lawn and putting in natives might be.

If you’re an impatient gardener and want to go native, you’ll either have to take up meditation or look out some other window after you’ve planted, because Theodore Payne Nursery’s mantra are the truest words ever spoken on the subject:  The first year they sleep, the second, they creep, the third, they leap.  The first year, TP neglects to mention (but which we learned through bitter failure and advice from Las Pilitas Nursery), you must water like you would any other plant.  The second year, less so; the third, probably less, and so on till you reach equilibrium or all your plants die.

So my advice (not that you asked) is to educate yourself a little and again, take a walk through your neighborhood.  Using natives is very mainstream now; what’s surviving?  What natives have made it to the big nurseries?  This is how we glommed onto the Yankee Point, which forms the foundation plantings of our front yard.

Yankee Point ceanothus in spring

Yankee Point ceanothus in spring

Ask yourself how much dormancy you are willing to tolerate; you may be able to tuck plants with a long dormant season in and around other plantings, similar to the way you might treat bulbs.  Just remember a great many natives do have a long dormant season, usually summer; there’s a reason the Theodore Payne Foundation Garden Tour is in April.