Going Native

Going Native

To build a garden that is both lush and eco-savvy, go
native.
Local species can provide the different shapes, heights and
colors that landscapers recommend to create visually interesting
outdoor spaces, and their low-water needs save homeowners time,
money and effort in the end.
To build a garden that is both lush and eco-savvy, go native.

Local species can provide the different shapes, heights and colors that landscapers recommend to create visually interesting outdoor spaces, and their low-water needs save homeowners time, money and effort in the end. Best of all, they support the local environment while blending seamlessly with the ranch and Mediterranean looks that are popular on the housing front right now.

“California is considered a Mediterranean terrain and climate,” said David Sowash, president of Oasis Construction in Aromas. “You can really see it if you go up somewhere like Fremont Peak. Native annuals and grasses, chaparral, madrones, oaks – there’s a diversity of habitats as you climb.”

Sowash recommends paying attention to these elevation-based indicators when planting a native species garden in the area, since “native plant” is a term that is often broadly applied to a region. What works in San Diego may not work in Hollister, he said.

“Most people just put a plant in the ground and hope it lives,” said Sowash. “You have to pay attention to the surroundings. You can have a micro-climate just within someone’s property. The different sun exposures between the south and west sides, between winter and summer, shaded or sunny areas.”

Many of the native plants that thrive in the South Valley are not only beautiful, they’re water-saving, too. Short winters and long, dry summers don’t lend themselves to water-greedy species, so local varieties of trees and grasses can be kept green with minimal levels of water, and watering year-round can even kill some species like the blue blossom ceanothus.

That’s good news for water bills, especially during drought years. To promote continued interest in water-saving and native varieties of plant material, the city of Morgan Hill has spent $8,000 drawing up plans for a water-saving garden that would replace 11,000 square feet of turf outside the city hall.

“This is the first of several demonstration landscapes we’ll be creating,” said Anthony Eulo, program administrator for the Morgan Hill public works department. The current project could carry a price tag of $110,000 when it gains city approval, but the city hopes to add gardens that also highlight topics like irrigation design and how to cleanse water of runoff waste before it enters drains. “Our goal is to add one site a year over the next several years.”

However, native plants can also be a fire hazard.

“Some of your scrub plants, that’s how they grow,” said Sowash. “A lot of them are very flammable because they seed from fire. They’ll survive it, but they won’t stop a fire.”

Sowash still recommends use of native plants with sensible fire breaks for hillsides because their extensive root systems are more stable than shallow-rooted tropicals like Iceplant, which retards fire. The added depth and breadth of their root systems makes them the best choice for holding up crumbling hillsides as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about native plants, BookSmart employee Lauren Welch recommends checking out Water Conserving Plants and Landscapes for the Bay Area, published by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, and Edible and Poisonous Plants of Northern California by James Wiltens. Nurseries and landscape suppliers should also have books available on native plants.

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