For those familiar with gardening maintenance associated with the traditional flowering perennials and annuals common in California home gardens, such as roses, azaleas, delphiniums, and (gasp!) grass, learning what to do, or more precisely what NOT TO DO, with California native plants is a process.
California natives require us to reevaluate our plant maintenance practices, such as the application of fertilizers and regular watering. Think of meditation as the new soil amendment and inaction as the new watering: with respect to California native plants, gardeners often DO something when they should NOT DO anything.
Here are three things NOT TO DO this summer to your California native plants:
Over-water. Most areas of California have a Mediterranean climate: hot and dry summers and cool and moist winters. It rarely rains from May through October. California natives are adapted to survive and thrive in this climate. They generally do not need and often do not want excessive supplemental water in the hot and dry summers. In fact, many natives are susceptible to root rot diseases that occur in over-watered and waterlogged soils. Resist the temptation to provide too much supplemental water to your California native plants this summer.
Inter-plant your California natives with vegetables or ornamentals. Vegetables need water. And ornamental plants generally need water, especially annual ornamentals that gardeners use to “fill in” spaces needing “summer color.” California natives need significantly less water (reread 1 above!), making them inherently incompatible with vegetables and ornamentals. So, don’t plant your zucchini plants near your California Lilac: the water your zucchini plants need to produce fruit will likely damage your California lilac.
Fertilize or add compost. California generally has infertile, alkaline soils which lack the deep, rich humus found in the American Midwest. Again, California native plants are adapted to survive in the dry, infertile, alkaline soils found in California. They generally do not need and often do not want supplemental fertility. This summer, resist fertilizing and adding compost! When you are fertilizing your roses with supplemental nitrogen, skip the natives.
And remember, even when you are doing everything right, many California natives will look a little tired by the end of the summer dry season. In many ways, plants growing in the hot and dry California summers are like plants in Midwestern winters: surviving not thriving. Your California native plants will thrive once again with the arrival of cool season rains.
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