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    « I'm dreaming of a brown Christmas | Main | Just when you finally get color and texture, along comes one more thing to think about »


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    I wish that I was able to find native plants in my area - that trend has not quite reached us yet. In the meantime I focus on drought tolerant plants. I've got a slope in the front yard in full sun. We would like to eventually remove all the grass there and replace it with drought tolerant plants and a thick mulch. Hopefully I can make divisions soon from some of my existing plants and save some money!


    Hi Amy,
    You know, I was thinking about you and your slope of "compacted glacial till" (anything like clay soil?) when I posted this for Troy.

    We're not very far ahead of you in California - easy to find natives in books, hard to find them in nurseries. My feeling as a designer is that mainstream gardeners are just beginning to consider natives, but Troy might have a different perspective. When I asked a broker from a local wholesale nursery recently if they were going to start carrying more natives, she said the problems are 1) they are easy to overwater and kill while in containers and 2) homeowners think they want natives until they arrive in the summer looking half dead, and then they return them.


    I'm hoping you're right about more people considering natives... let's keep beating that drum.

    Here are some general observations. The growers that specialize in native plants and have a genuine interest in them, produce some great looking plants... even in summer. The growers who are diversifying or dipping their toes into the native pond can produce some less than perfect plants due to legacy irrigation systems and practices that were designed for different plants altogether.

    Naturally plants that undergo a period of summer dormancy will look like death in the middle of summer - that's what they do. If this doesn't wash with your idea of a yard then there are plenty of other native options to choose from. Sounds like a lead in to another post Susan.

    Bang, bang, bang goes the drum.


    This is a really interesting topic, thanks for discussing it. Susan's comment about killing natives by overwatering them while in pots caught my eye, because I suspect I am guilty of that. Could you address the watering needs of these plants once they are out of the pot? I see you've paired Penstemons and Achillea, for example. I grow both, in different areas, and notice the Achillea starts to keel over after a few hot summer days, whereas no drought or heat ever fazes the Penstemon. Does this present a challenge when planting these plants near each other?

    susan (garden-chick)

    Hi Jess,
    I love Troy's posts as well; I can't believe how much great info he shares.

    I think Troy has more native irrigation expertise than I do and will probably share some thoughts this weekend, but based on my own experiences and speaking with other designers, some natives appear to be low water (require some summer irrigation) while others, like Fremontedendron and some Ceanothus, actually prefer no water at all in the summer.

    Bethallyn Black, who oversees the Contra Costa County Master Gardener Program and writes a column for the Contra Costa Times, mentioned in a column that in times of drought, plants that generally get by with little to no summer water in normal years will require supplemental irrigation.

    And here's another non-answer - I've either attended or been a docent at the 'Bringing Back the Natives' garden tour in the Bay Area for several years and in the garden descriptions, I've noticed the amount of watering the hosts gardens do varies from 2-3 times a once a week to monthly to almost never. So much for solidarity! Susan

    Susan (garden-chick)

    Jess, Oops - added this comment to the wrong post yesterday. Here's the original:
    Hi Jess,
    Troy is having problems with logging in so I'm posting his response to your question for him:

    Thanks for the question. The safest bet when gardening with our native Penstemons is to water them only to establishment as cold wet winters in a heavy soil will not a happy plant make. On the other hand, keep up a moderate level of summer water to Achilleas and they'll be as happy as an Australian at a meat pie convention.

    So why then do I have them side by side? 'Margarita BOP' is probably the most garden tolerant of all the Penstemons and a natural choice for our area. It can take moderate summer water and less than perfect soil conditions. Here's the cool part. The maximum amount of water that Penstemon 'Margarita BOP' can tolerate just happens to be the right amount to keep Achillea green and happy.

    If I was to use one of the other species of Penstemon, I wouldn't pair it with Achillea. Hope this answers your question.



    Awesome info, thanks! I didn't know those two plants could get along. I'll try to keep mine at least as happy as a Berkeleyite in a vegan market.

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