While it is so-o tempting to head for the nursery and buy all the pretty flowers, maybe you should consider what's going to happen once you get them back to the property. More than just digging a few holes and reaching for the garden hose, you should consider what you're buying and how it fits into the scheme of things. If you are familiar with Plant Hardiness Zone information, you need to consider your elevation; do you live at 1500 feet? or above 4000 feet? Your pretty nursery plants might have been grown in greenhouse conditions in the Sacramento Valley; they won't necessarily be prepared for their new habitat in your chilly back yard! (By the way, not all nursery plants are appropriate plants. Read why on the Weeds page...)
Tip: Here is a list of eight deer resistant plants and two must-have local ornamental beauties for the Sierra foothills of El Dorado County: Top Ten Plants You Want... (254k (PDF file)
The El Dorado Chapter of the California Native Plant Society is pleased to invite the public to attend an upcoming series entitled, "Growing Natives: California Native Plants for the Home Landscape." Chapter meetings are free, informative, and friendly, with light refreshments provided. The new meeting place will be the conference room of the Bethell-Delfino Agriculture Building, 311 Fair Lane, Placerville. The Bethell-Delfino Building is about one block west of the Placerville Main Library, accessed via Fairlane Court., Placerville. Meetings are on the 4th Tuesday of alternate months.
The chapter plant sales only come along twice a year but they are always popular and sell out fast. They are typically held on the first Saturday in April and October. Our Spring Plant Sale will be held on April 6th, 2013, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m., in front of County Government Buildings A and B at 330-360 Fair Lane, Placerville. These buildings are directly across the street from the Main El Dorado County Library.
Basic truth: Native plants are typically a better choice over the usual assortment of 'nurseryfied' plants. At the very least you should be using natives for the majority of your landscaping, punctuated by your bright blooming favorites like azaleas, tulips, or snapdragons. The reason is easy to understand: native plants (or cultivarsCultivars have particular, desirable qualities that distinguish them from wild species.) are adapted to our Mediterranean climate; once established, they do very well without summer watering. This means less work for you, money saved, and an attractive, bird-and-butterfly-friendly landscape.
In fact you might be surprised to learn just how showy many native shrubs and perennials can be. If you have never seen the native western azalea (Rhododendron occidentaleClick to see Calflora records...), wait for June and head for Bassi Falls or Loon Lake where these road-side plants are gorgeous. As for snapdragons: investigate the penstemonsCheck info at CNPLX... for a more native approach to a similar flower. Are you really looking forward to watering your plants through the hot, dry summer? If you are, why? Using water to keep plants alive, or worse, having a green lawn, is costly to you and a bad way to use our local supply of fresh water. Your well or your EID water supply isn't just yours, remember; it's a shared aquifer.
Note: Another thing you can do with CNPLX is to pick a particular El Dorado County tree (Fraxinus latifolia for instance), and ask to see what other plants have been observed growing nearby.
Here is information on ground covers for sunny areas.
"Reducing the size of your lawn can benefit the environment while saving you time, energy and expense. And the result need not be a loss in aesthetic appeal." -EarthEasy
"Greenery sucking up more of state's water!" - San Francisco Chronicle
"Most of the grasses used in U.S. lawns aren't native to the area they are grown; many of the species come from the East; Kentucky bluegrass, for example. A lawn isn't a big deal in the northeast, but when you recreate that same landscape out West, it becomes a major ecological issue because the only way to grow those grasses is with high use of water and nitrogen." - Earth Observatory
"Did you know that the chemical fertilizers you put on your lawn and garden could be affecting the water quality of Lake Tahoe? Fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the preferred food sources of algae. The more nitrogen and phosphorus that get into the waters of Lake Tahoe, the more the algae can grow. And, the more algae there is the greener and murkier the lake becomes." - Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
The good news is that there are loads of great looking flowers, shrubs and trees that will augment the natural vegetation you might already have. The bad news is that it can be hard to find these plants when you live around Placerville or Pollock Pines. There are some online sources, and twice a year the El Dorado Chapter of CNPS puts on a Native Plant Sale that always sells out. You can also check the California Native Plant Link Exchange to see what works for this area. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum, shown right) is a native plant that could do well for you and may be purchased from the CNPS plant sale.
Read Native Treasures: Gardening with the Plants of California by M. Nevin Smith. The one devotes full chapters to the major genera, like manzanitas and wild lilacs, so if one is searching for a low ground cover, a small shrub, or a large tree for a certain place, this is the where to find it. There is a chapter on the sages, both species and cultivars, as well as the currants, the flannelbushes, mock-oranges, the giant poppies, etc.: truly a wealth of information from a very experienced horticulturalist who tells it like it is, the good and the bad combined.
We could add two great out-or-print but available on Amazon: Complete Garden Guide to the Native Shrubs of California and Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California, both by Glenn Keator, Chronicle Books, 1994. These are comparable to a Sunset New Western Garden Book for native plants.
Meanwhile, reading Gardening with a Wild Heart can help you better appreciate the terrific park-like setting you can have with native plants. And California Native Plants for the Garden is getting great individual reviews and looks like a winner.
Las Pilitas may seem too far away, but they ship! Their MyNativePlants.com as a fine place to start browsing from home to get ideas and information about native plants that will benefit your garden, as well as the birds and butterflies that you probably want to invite to your property. You can also get plenty of information on California Native Plant Link Exchange: CNPLX.
Many people are moving into the area and finding native vegetation that they are not familiar with. It seems a hard concept to grasp but native plants don't usually need to be watered! If you have become a new resident on a property dotted with native oak trees, please resist the temptation to plant a lawn under the oaks that surround your new house! Chewing up the soil and planting impatiens in a bordered, tidy garden is like signing a death warrant for the oak tree. Oaks evolved to thrive in a dry environment; watering plants means watering the oak, and that will kill it. It is very important to avoid disturbing the soil or watering anywhere within what is called the drip line. Check this: "...trees may be adversely effected by supplemental watering during this period since warm-moist conditions can favor harmful diseases. It is particularly critical that the trunks of oak trees remain dry." - California Oak Mortality Task Force.
Get a free booklet about Living Among the Oaks.
"Thanks to the wonderful work of bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinating animals, the world's flowering plants are able to reproduce and bear fruit, providing many of the foods we eat, the plants we and other animals use, and the beauty we see around us. Yet today, there is an alarming decline in pollinator populations worldwide." - NBIS
It's hard to find a nursery that provides something beyond the standard plants you'd find in any area, any state! Interestingly, one nursery said that they had a hard time keeping the native-type plants alive because workers were watering everything to do a good job, but the whole deal with natives is that too much water can actually kill them! Strange as that sounds, this is why you want them: drought-tolerant plants look great and save you maintenance.
See Art Shapiro's site: Attracting butterflies to your home garden...
If you think Monarchs only fly along the coast to settle in Pacific Grove before migrating to Mexico, it may surprise you to know that they also appear frequently in El Dorado County, even seen at hot Traverse Creek! But you probably also know that they need milkweed for egg depositing, as the caterpillars depend on this single plant group for food before they morph into the butterfly stage.
The problem is, their natural habitats are being reduced: land development, farming, weed spraying, and just plain bad weather are all working to reduce their food source. If you want to encourage Monarchs to visit your garden, and help them with a "green island" for them to reproduce, consider planting some milkweeds.
Sure, it's not the season now, but at least be aware and maybe when you start dreaming of next Spring's garden, you would like to see these colorful possibilities: Annie's Annuals sells Mexican milkweed, Las Pilitas sells Monarch milkweed.
Meanwhile, read this information about establishing a Monarch Waystation.
Attracting Birds to Your Property (Using) Locally Native Plants of the Central Sierra Nevada is a 17-page manual which describes trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses, and wetland and aquatic plants and the bird species that use them. It generally includes the height of plants, habitat requirements, flowering times, and other useful and interesting information for the gardener. The Chapter wishes to acknowledge the authors' generous release of this valuable publication for central foothill residents.
While you may see it as a problem if you have kids, if the plant (Toxicodendron diversifoliumCheck it on Calflora...) can be avoided in general, consider that the berries are a good food source for lots of birds. In fact the California Towhee thinks it's a great place to nest, and the berries are a treat! Read about the bird at Cornell Bird Lab.
Several years ago I saw a goldfinch land on a seed head outside my office window. I started tossing birdseed out into the parking strip to keep them around. Eventually I bought proper feeding tube and of course I bought the recommended thistle seed that is promised to be a goldfinch favorite. I also used a mixed birdseed for non-finch birds, but eventually was shoveling it out the door to satisfy the blackbirds -- basically feathered vacuum cleaners. Eventually I read that blackbirds don't care so much for sunflower seeds, I switched, and It worked. Then I went radical and stopped buying Nyjer seed as I was going through it too fast to want to keep spending the money! I put up two regular seed tubes with black-oil sunflower seeds.
What surprised me most about switching from the premium bags of "thistle seed" to the generic one-seed-fits-all black oil sunflower seeds was that the Lesser Goldfinches, about as big as my thumb, moved right over from the tiny nyjer seeds and went right on with feeding on sunflower seeds that seemed way too big for such small birds!
Nyjer seeds are not thistle seeds as they are sometimes labeled. In fact they look like daisiesCurious? Click for a look....
Here's the bulletin: the seed is from a plant called Guizotia abyssinica, and its common names include gingellikraut, guizotia oléifere, hechellu, karale, neuk, niger, and niger seed. The Guizotia flower is a composite; thistles are discoid (no ray flowers). While I am partial to the "gingellikraut" option, the good folks from the Wild Bird Feeding Industry were worried that too many people would embarrass themselves trying to say "niger" seed so they registered the name Nyjer®. Try to flub that, you linguistically-challenged bird lovers! Anyway, the seed is crazy expensive is because: 1) it comes from Africa—and that right there has to run up the ticket when you need to fuel a boatload of birdseed; and 2) it is heat-treated to sterilize the seed to keep it from growing. Well a-HA! They missed a few seeds in one of my batches because some actually grew. That is how I learned that it was not a thistle at all. I'm quibbling of course, because thistles are also in the AsteraceaeClick for a look at this important family... family, but this shows how misleading common names can be.
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