Question: I want to grow more native plants for a habitat garden. Can you suggest five natives that are easy to grow?
Answer: First, we applaud your interest in native plants for your home garden! Natives are lovely, sustainable and ideal for creating habitat and increase the biodiversity of your home garden. They provide food and shelter for many native California creatures, including bees, reptiles, birds, caterpillars, butterflies and dragonflies.
Here are a few things to consider when selecting native plants for a habitat garden:
- Look for plants that provide food for wildlife in the form of pollen, nectar and fruit.
- Choose a variety of bloom sizes and shapes to accommodate different feeding habits. For example, hummingbirds and butterflies both access nectar but in different ways.
- Choose multiple native plant species to provide blooms throughout the year.
- Plant two or more of the same plant close together. Mass plantings create a bigger visual impact and are also better at attracting pollinators.
- Select plants with a variety of heights, from ground covers to flowering plants, shrubs and trees.
Here we’ll focus on native plants that are low in water use, require minimal care and add beauty to your landscape. Given the many microclimates in Sonoma County, from cool coastal climates to warmer inland areas, be sure to plant natives that thrive in the microclimate in which you live.
All of the following plants survive our dry summers and rainy winters, grow in full sun or part shade and thrive in a variety of soil types. These five are especially well-suited to the Santa Rosa area.
- Pink flowering currant or blood currant (Ribes sangineum var. glutinosum): The genus Ribes includes currants and gooseberries, with many species native to California. This fast-growing, medium-size shrub displays fragrant pink blooms from January to March and provides food for early native pollinators. Later it forms berries that ripen in late summer and fall, providing food for birds and other habitat residents. This deciduous shrub performs best if given some shade from the hot afternoon sun and may reach 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide over six growing years.
- Silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons): This woody evergreen perennial provides nourishment for many pollinators and other insects. Showy violet-blue spires of blossoms appear in the springtime above silvery-green vegetation. Requiring little care, this native grows 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide in a few seasons and may have a long life in your garden in favorable conditions. Volunteer seedlings often pop up in later years, adding to the beautiful display.
- Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia): A hardy native here in Sonoma County, this evergreen shrub produces a cluster of small white blooms in late spring and early summer, followed by bright red fruits. Mockingbirds and cedar waxwings eat this fruit during the winter months, when the berries ripen. The dense growth of two or three toyons makes a delightful hedgerow or visual screen. A single toyon shrub may grow to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, so plan accordingly.
- Nude buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum): There are dozens of native California buckwheat species; most are excellent garden additions that support pollinators and butterflies. The nudum species is named for the tall, leafless, multibranched stems held high over the low-growing gray-green vegetation. In summer, white or pink-white blossoms appear then turn a russet color as summer advances. Often it produces seeds to ensure future plants. If you prefer yellow flowers, look for the varietal ‘Ella Nelson’s Yellow.’
- California fuchsia (Epilobium canum): This low-growing perennial with orange-red tubular blooms makes a terrific ground cover. Many varietals are less than 18 inches tall, spread via underground rhizomes and easy to propagate. While drought-tolerant even in the driest summers, a little drip irrigation allows for more vigorous blooming and keeps the vegetation visually appealing. There may not be a better native plant choice for a hummingbird garden. This native often begins blooming in July and continues with some blooms through the early fall.
You can find these native plants and many others at nurseries that specialize in California natives.
Keep in mind that all the creatures you attract to your habitat garden need water. Providing a convenient water source, such as a birdbath with a solar-powered fountain, is an inexpensive and easy solution.
Finally, be patient! Many natives grow slowly and mature over a period of years.
More native plant information can be found at the Sonoma County Master Gardener website: bit.ly/3t8g4TL.