Why Should We Plant Drought Tolerant Natives?

I believe the most relevant topic concerning horticulture today is the California drought and I have been taking this opportunity to try and change peoples’ perspectives about gardening as I visit each person’s yard. Several times each month I visit people’s homes and get to see their landscaping and make suggestions. What I am seeing is a trend to removing lawns and installing more drought tolerant plant material. However, there is still not enough knowledge about native plants. I think people have to see and know about a plant before they will buy and plant it.

Natives provide food and habitat for native wildlife. Natives are a food source for native insects, provide egg laying foliage, nectar and pollen for native bees as well as honey bees and look great in residential landscapes. Many insects are very specific as to what plants they can eat. A monarch butterfly needs to have milkweed to lay its eggs on and then the milkweed leaves become food for the caterpillars. Natives are plant material that grow in the wild locally and originated in this area. When planning any garden one should know their soil. The south side of Lompoc is mainly a clay adobe soil and the Burton Mesa area is sandy silt. Our local native plants are already growing in these soils unassisted with no irrigation, fertilizer or care from people. Natives are usually also drought tolerant. Buckwheat, Mexican primrose and coyote mint are some lower growing natives with beautiful flowers.

Natives are healthy, dependable and beautiful plants to have in our yards. Plants like California Coffeeberry, Flannel bush, and Elderberry have year-round appeal. Coffeeberry has evergreen leaves and bright red berries in fall; a food source for birds. All three make nice specimens, are fast growing and will make a great screen or hedge without any trimming or special care, require little or no water once established and provide food and shelter for wildlife and insects. Coffeberry has some excellent cultivars. Elderberry is under-planted in residential landscapes, it has evergreen leaves, edible fruit, large white inflorescences.

Some plants need to be planted in our yards just to provide for insects. A pretty tricolor sage was recently attacked in my yard by an insect and I thought, “Yay, I am providing food for the insects!”. Often times a beneficial insect will come into your yard to “police the problem” then eat other insects while it’s there but if I were to use an insecticide then I would miss the opportunity to help the ecosystem in my yard by failing to provide food for the beneficial insects. Sages are a great source for insects. Black, Cleveland and Sonoma sages are fragrant, flowering and attract hummingbirds.

I am not suggesting ripping out things just because they are aliens but replacing them with natives when they have come to the end of their usefulness. I believe the LVBHS club members can educate their friends and neighbors by setting the example in their yards; particularly in the front yard where the native plants can be seen by everyone.

So before planting the next tree, shrub or perennial consider the bigger picture. Our ecosystem is in our yards and our neighborhood. Even if we have a small yard it can provide for wildlife and still look beautiful.

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