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Child of the drought.

Child of the drought

At the height of California's most recent serious drought, Mrs. Rorie Skei began to landscape the bare 1/3 acre around her house in Thousand Oaks, using mostly California native plants.

Except for a small vegetable garden, lawn, and some pots, her seven-year-old garden now consists almost entirely of drought-tolerant California natives. "Many common landscape plants such as raphiolepis and photinia have native counterparts that grow well in our climate,' she says.

Fall, just before winter rains, is the best time of year to plant any drought-tolerant natives or non-natives. Mrs. Skei handwatered regularly the first year after planting, then only occasionally during hot summer months.

In her landscape, natives serve many different functions. The house backs up against unspoiled open space, so the garden blends into the hillside, attracting birds and helping buffer the house against possible chaparral fire. To reduce fire danger further, Mrs. Skei prunes regularly, removes dead wood, maintains a cleared space between house and hillside, and keeps plants next to the house well watered. (For more on native and non-native low-fuel-volume plants, see page 162 of the September 1984 Sunset.)

Mrs. Skei has found that small plants generally establish themselves faster than large ones. For example, after only five years, two coast live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia) reached nearly the same size-- even though one was planted from a 15-gallon can, the other from a 1-gallon can. And except for the lawn and vegetable areas, none of the soil has been amended. Experience has shown Mrs. Skei that amended soil dries out two to three times faster than unamended soil.

Easy-to-grow native plants for drought-tolerant landscapes

Once established, the following California natives are easy to grow (most thrive in full sun) and require little or no watering. Numbers in parentheses show height at maturity.

Ground covers. Manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana, 30 inches; A. "Emerald Carpet', 9 to 14 inches). Artemisia (A. "Canyon Gray', 18 inches). Coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis "Twin Peaks', 8 to 24 inches). Carmel creeper (Ceanothus griseus horizontalis, 18 to 30 inches).

Shrubs. Bush anemone (Carpenteria californica, 3 to 6 feet). Ceanothus (C. "Frosty Blue', 6 to 9 feet; C. "Mountain Haze', 6 to 8 feet; C. "Ray Hartman', 12 to 20 feet). St. Catherine's lace (Eriogonum giganteum, 3 to 6 feet). Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia, 6- to 10-foot shrub or 15- to 25-foot tree). Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, 6 feet; M. nevinii, 3 to 10 feet; M. pinnata, 6 feet). Fuchsiaflowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum, 3 to 6 feet). Pink winter currant (R. sanguineum, 4 to 12 feet; R.s. "King Edward VII', 4 to 10 feet; R.s. "Spring Showers', 4 to 8 feet).

Trees. Alder (Alnus rhombifolia, 50 to 90 feet). Foothill ash (Fraxinus dipetala, 20 to 25 feet). Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus, 30 to 60 feet). Sycamore (Platanus racemosa, 50 to 100 feet). Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia, 20 to 70 feet). Valley oak (Q. lobata, 70 feet).

Bulbs. Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria, 6 to 10 inches). Camass (Camassia quamash, 12 inches). Douglas iris (I. douglasiana, 24 inches). Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum, 6 to 12 inches).

Perennials. Columbine (Aquilegia, 3 feet). Coreopsis (C. maritima, 3 feet). California poppy (Eschscholzia californica, 12 inches). Coral bells (Heuchera, 2 to 3 feet). Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, 12 inches). Penstemon (P. azureus, 6 to 8 inches). California fuchsia (Zauschneria, 12 to 24 inches).

Photo: One of the best ground-cover manzanitas, Arctostaphylos "Emerald Carpet' bears tiny white to pinkish bell-like flowers in spring

Photo: Different textures in shades of white, gray, and green include Eriogonum giganteum and E. crocatum in foreground, coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) near house

Photo: Catalina Island's native tree mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora) displays 2- to 3-inch purple flowers nearly all year

Photo: Unusual use for native plant: espaliered against house wall, five-year-old Ceanothus "Gentian Plume' bears bright blue 3- to 4-inch flower clusters in April, May
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:use California native plants for gardening
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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