Why Garden with Natives
By David Long
California Natives are adapted to our climate and soils
California native plants evolved over thousands of years in our soils and climate. California has one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. These range from seashore to high mountain top; from coastal areas with a temperate Mediterranean climate to deserts with dramatic temperature extremes including some of the hottest on earth.
Natives are beautiful
California native plants can create a garden that is every bit as beautiful as one populated with exotic plants from faraway places. And native plants can be combined with other common garden flowers and shrubs. However, a garden in which California natives predominate is hard to beat for natural beauty. Our local natives, many with green, gray and silver foliage, provide a restful and tranquil quality to the garden. But if you want bright color, local natives such as California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Clarkia will knock your eyes out.
Reduce water usage
One of the myths about California native plants is that all are drought tolerant. Many are, but the diverse plant habitats in California include riparian, wetlands and bogs, with plants that need regular water. By using some of the many California natives that are drought-tolerant, you may be able to significantly reduce your water use.
Reduce maintenance and reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticides
It is another myth that California native plants in the garden need virtually no maintenance. While some are maintenance free, most require some periodic attention such as weeding, pruning, and checking irrigation. But being adapted to California soils, most need little or no fertilizer. And because native vegetation attracts lots of good bugs you are much more likely to be able to rely on nature’s balance for control of insect pests rather than resorting to pesticides.
Biodiversity is increasingly recognized as the key to a healthy planet. By developing, paving over and building on huge swaths of formerly pristine land, we have set in motion an unprecedented threat of extinction for not only many plants, but also birds, butterflies, bees and larger animals.
Best Bee Plants for California.Native gardens can play an important role in maintaining and expanding biodiversity. Scientists have found that in urban and suburban gardens native plants are much more effective than exotic plants in supporting biodiversity. Plants and insects, which are at the bottom of the food chain, are the foundation of all other biodiversity. California native plants and insects have coevolved and are the food source for local butterflies and birds. Most insects are “plant specialists” and can’t survive on exotic plants. For example, research by Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, found that native plants in gardens, in comparison to exotic garden plants, produced four times the insect biomass, three times as many insect species and 35 times more caterpillar biomass (D. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press 2007)). This is the food chain and source of biodiversity that is missing in gardens that use only exotic plants. Another example closer to home: Gordon Frankie, a bee researcher at UC Berkeley, has found that many California native plants are highly attractive to local bees; see
One of the great joys of gardening with native plants is observing the critters that are attracted throughout the year. Our Marin native gardeners report that their gardens are focal points for birds, bees and butterflies.