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Nurturing Natives
Ed Mirsky | Hoska Drive


Photo Ann Gardner
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Plant species native to coastal southern California will require little or no supplemental water within two years. The rules for planting Southern California native plants are not the same as the rules for plants introduced from exotic lands because native plants are adapted to our seasonal rainfall (about 10”) and sandy soils. Below is a step-by-step planting guide.

WATER PLANTS WELL WHILE THEY ARE IN POTS. This ensures that your plants are vigorous and will endure planting. But don’t water plants immediately before taking them out of the pot to plant or their root ball may break.
DIG A HOLE AND FILL IT WITH WATER. A few days before planting, remove the old vegetation but do not till the soil. Tilling may bring viable weed seeds to the surface. Dig a hole twice as wide as your container and the same depth as the soil level in the plastic pot. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. This ensures soil moisture is adequate for your new plants.

DON’T PLANT IF THE TEMPERATURE IS ABOVE 90 DEGREES. Carefully remove each plant from its plastic pot so that the root ball doesn’t break. Loosen roots from the side and bottom of the root ball that curl inward. Do not tear more than about twenty percent of the root ball or the plant may die. Gently place plants into the hole at or slightly higher than the surrounding soil. DO NOT add soil amendments or fertilizers. Natives don’t need these and quite often they will harm the plants.
Some native plants should not have their roots disturbed. For example, Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum), wild lilac (Ceanothus species), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos species), and Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron). If you are unsure ask a professional. Put the soil back into the hole, compress the dirt to remove air pockets, and build a water basin around the plant.

MULCH IS CRUCIAL TO SUCCESS! If possible place a 9’–12’ nurse rock on the south or west side of the plant, then place mulch around the plant to a depth of 3”–4”. Do not place mulch within 2’-3’ from the base of the plant. Use ProChip, natural bark nuggets, oak leaves, or pine needles on coastal sage scrub and chaparral plants. Use rocks, gravel, or decomposed granite around desert and prairie plants.

WATER PLANTS WELL AFTER YOU PLANT THEM. This removes air pockets in the soil introduced by digging. • For the first two weeks check the root ball 2”–3” below the surface to see if it is moist; if it’s dry, deep water the plants. • From November through April check the root ball 2”–3” below the surface monthly to see if it is moist; if it’s dry, deep water (say 20”) the plants. Think to yourself, I’m simulating rainfall, and I need to have the water soak downward and outward over a large enough area to assure the plant can survive without supplemental irrigation. • In general, do not water in the summer. Plants from coastal southern California may not need water, but plants from areas of higher rainfall or a different rainfall pattern may need water. The garden should be self-sufficient and not require irrigation after two years.



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