Between the large urban garden centers and the growth of the internet, gardeners in California can purchase a wide range of plants and seeds from outside California and outside of the United States in many parts of the world. But is this a good idea? The answer is not really. California native plants are adapted to survive and thrive in the many unique micro-climates in California. And, they offer many advantages to the gardener. Here are a few:
Use less water. By using California natives that are adapted to a particular climate, gardeners do not have to add water to ensure the plant thrives. Natives are often adapted to hot and dry summer areas by going dormant. California natives that are appropriate for warm inland valleys often do not need supplemental garden water in the summer.
Minimize the use of fertilizers and soil amendments. California natives thrive in the moderately alkaline, poor to moderately fertile soils typical of California. Soils in most low rainfall areas are low in organic matter and the soils of California hardly resemble the rich loamy soil of the American Midwest. But California native plants love California soils. California native plant species do not want or need the rich loamy soil required by vegetables or the acidic soil required by azaleas; in fact, many natives will struggle and fail to survive in fertile soil conditions.
Reduce pests and diseases. California native plants have natural defenses to pests and diseases when grown in their natural environment. Using fertilizers, insectic ides, fungicides, etc can remove or diminish the natural defenses of native plants
Use fewer pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, etc. California native plants have natural defenses in their natural environment, so these chemicals are not needed.
Less maintenance. Natives grow successfully in California naturally, typically without significant input from gardeners. Rather than amending soil, providing fertilizers and constant pruning, spend more time enjoying the beauty of your garden,
Fit into natural ecosystem. Native insects prefer native plants. Native pollinators prefer native plants. Native plants provide food for native birds, insects and other pollinators.
Remember: Not all California natives are suited for moderate, wet winters and warm to hot summers without rain: some natives, such as certain varieties of Penstemon, are suited for the dramatically different climate of the high Sierra Nevada mountains.
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