Native plants are those that evolved, over thousands of years, to live in relative balance with local soil, climate, plants, animals, and insects.
These are not plants from other regions or other continents. They are often not even plants native to nearby counties. These are not plants that were developed in a laboratory. There’s nothing wrong with all those other plants; it simply means that they are not native to a specific location.
While it is always a good idea to select plants appropriate to your Hardiness Zone, that isn’t the same thing as growing native plants. Here, in California, many of us grow plants suited to a Mediterranean climate. Those plants are not necessarily native to where we live.
Benefits of native plants
Native plants are perfect for busy (or lazy) gardeners and home owners. Once installed, these plants already have everything they need in a landscape:
Installing native plants reduces your work load and promotes a healthy environment over the long haul. While non-native plants may look appealing, they often require more work, water, and other resources. So, how does a gardener go native?
Going native doesn’t mean you have to stop growing your grandmother’s heirloom tomatoes or that delicious basil. It simply means using native plants as your first choice. Hardcore enthusiasts insist on growing nothing but natives. Personally, I find that much commitment too limiting. Instead, I look for a balance of natives and edibles. You can find local information about native plants from your County Extension Office. If you live in California, the Theodore Payne Foundation and the California Native Plant Society provide a wealth of information. Here are some tips for gardeners looking to add native plants:
Edible native plants
Nearly every region offers native plants that are edible. You can search online for lists of edible plants native to your area. California is home to hundreds of edible native plants. Here are some of my favorites:
Here in California, drought is never far from our thoughts. Water-hungry plants are not well suited to our scorching hot summers. Native plants, such as salvias, have evolved natural water conservation methods. You can also add native plants to a rain garden or a swale, to create a natural watershed that slows rain water long enough for more of it to stay in the soil for later use. If you grow native plants for no other reason than water conservation, you will be doing yourself and the environment a favor.
Growing native plants allows you to conserve resources, promote biodiversity, and maintain an attractive landscape, all while growing some, or all, of your own food right at home.
A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. According to the USGS, 2014 was the warmest on record and the third driest in the past 119 years.
With responsible water conservation, you can reduce water stress to plants in your yard by improving soil quality with compost and mulch and watering more frequently, but with less water. Just as a dry sponge allows water to runoff, rather than being absorbed, soil works the same way.
Another way to reduce water use is to replace your lawn with drought-tolerant plants that are better suited to your local climate. Plants have evolved over millions of years to survive and thrive in very specific environments. By growing native plants, you can take advantage of all that evolution! Contact your local CA Native Plant Society to learn how!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!