Butterflies weaving crazy flight patterns just beyond your patio. Picky bees mining pollen from select flowers. Hummingbirds slaking their thirst for nectar. Southern California gardeners are rediscovering that home landscapes are at their best not just with eye-pleasing plants, but with the wildlife and insect pollinators that make up a healthy, thriving ecosystem.
Incorporating California native plants is key to supporting our local habitats, says Mary Montes from the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), a group focused on native plant conservation since its founding in 1965. In the past, landscaping trends meant yanking out what was there and replacing it with thirsty lawns and plants from other parts of the world. But it’s native plants that serve as food and shelter for many beneficial insects and birds. “Ninety-four percent of our native insects need native plants to complete their reproductive cycle,” says Montes, vice president of the society’s L.A./Santa Monica Mountains chapter.
Because native plants fit our local climates and soil types and evolved along with the animals, adding them to the home landscape has key advantages in terms of effort and the environment, according to the group’s website. Once established, natives often require little water (besides rainfall) and less maintenance (including less or no fertilizer and pesticides, and less pruning), compared with nonnatives.
September through November is Southern California’s best season for planting, but especially for native plants. The roots of newly purchased plants can easily spread out into the still-warm garden soil. Come spring, the plants start growing again, and by summer they should be well established.
You won’t have to rip out every nonnative in your yard and bust your budget. Simply start adding some natives to your collection. In addition to Montes, we spoke with SoCal experts specializing in California native plants for advice to help you grow a gorgeous native plant garden. (Download Westways' list of our experts' native plant picks at the end of this article.) You also can visit these gardens for inspiration—or just to enjoy their beauty. Here are the experts’ tips.