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October 23, 2021

California Natives for Fall Planting

Beautiful beginning-of-fall weather is here and you may be thinking of what plants you want to add to your garden this fall planting season. California native plants are well suited to planting at this time of year, acclimating to their new homes without much stress. Here are some ideas to get you started.

By planting from mid-September through mid-November, roots of all plants have a chance to grow during fall and most of the winter without having to supply nourishment to the leafy portion of the plant. Roots of deciduous plants still grow even after plants drop their foliage as long as the ground temperature is above 50 degrees. Cooler day and night temperatures slowly harden off the top of the plant to prepare for the cold days of winter. 

Another reason that fall is the “no-fail” planting season is that plants put in the ground in fall need less water to establish. The plants themselves use less water since photosynthesis is slowed by shorter days even if it’s occasionally warm. Evaporation rates slow down also during fall so moisture in the soil lasts longer as well. Sometimes we get lucky with fall and winter rains perfectly spaced so the ground never completely dries out. Unfortunately, there is a 66% chance of a La Nina winter but let’s hope we get more rain than last season.

Plants that thrive in dry, shady spots benefit especially from fall planting as they need an established root system before next year’s dry season. Dry shade sometimes occurs in places beyond the reach of the hose but also under native oaks. To protect the health of native oaks, it’s a requirement that plants underneath thrive with little or no summer irrigation.

Plants of proven success under these conditions include native currants and gooseberry. Red flowering currant is a show stopper capable of controlling erosion. In the spring, the long, flower clusters of this deciduous shrub will dominate your garden. There are many selections to choose from so if the huge white flowers appeal to you ‘White Icicle’ will be beautiful in your landscape. ‘Barrie Coate’ and ‘King Edward VII’ have spectacular deep red flower clusters and “Spring Showers” has 8-inch long pink ones. Grow in full sun to partial shade. This California native requires little water once established and is a valuable nectar source for hummingbirds. 

Some other good California native shrubs for erosion control are western redbud, mountain mahogany, western mock orange, lemonade berry, toyon, snowberry, matilija poppy and western elderberry. Rbes viburnifolium, creeping mahonia, snowberry, ceanothus maritimus and Anchor Bay’s are good groundcover selections.

Smaller natives that put down deep roots are yarrow, coast aster, California fuchsia, wild grape, mimulus, buckwheat, wild rose, sage and salvia. 

Bush poppy (dendromecon rigid) is another native found right here in our area and needs no irrigation at all once established. Beautiful bright yellow, poppy-like flowers cover the plant in spring. They can be propagated from cuttings taken in summer and are pest and disease-free. 

Remember when setting plants on a steep slope to arrange them in staggered rows. Make an individual terrace for each plant and create a basin or low spot behind each one (not around the stem) to catch water. Set the crowns of the plants high so they won’t become saturated and rot after watering and make sure mulch does not build up around the stem. 

Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California-certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at [email protected], or visit jannelsonlandscapedesign.com.

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