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NATIVES FOR THE NEW YEAR!

12 Jan

Native Shrubs

It is quite natural when thinking about California native plants to picture the great wealth of native annuals that populate garden center racks in spring. Blue flowering favorites such as Baby Blue Eyes, Desert Bluebells and Blue Thimble flower, cheerful yellows that include Tidy Tips, Meadow Foam and Cream Cups, as well as the great variety of pink Clarkias are always on our ‘Must Have’ list come spring.

Native perennials on the other hand have the great advantage of returning year after year, with many of them evergreen in our mild Bay Area climate. A great many of these selections are shrubs and that wealth covers a range of sizes, leaf appearance and of course flowers. Though we have yet to reach the bounty of spring selections, there are quite a few beautiful yet durable shrubs to take home this time of year.

The Value of Natives

California native shrubs have much to offer the local gardener. First off and perhaps most importantly, they are adapted to our local climate. For most of us, that involves wet winters but a long and dry summer season. Most are very drought tolerant and able to withstand swings in temperature. Equally valuable, natives attract local wildlife of all kinds. The flowers attract an array of local pollinators, such as native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Many of these shrubs produce seed that is coveted by local songbirds, giving them valuable nutrition in the late fall and early winter. Lastly, many of these shrubs provide cover for small scurrying creatures, a safe place from predators.

A Good Time to Plant

Fall and early winter is an excellent time to plant shrubs. This ‘head start’ helps them get established by the time spring rolls around. The natural rains help young roots to strengthen and deepen, starting them on the path to being drought tolerant and durable.

Here then are nine native shrubs to consider adding to your garden this time of year.

Salvias

Native sages are one of the best and easiest ways to add long lasting beauty to your garden. One of the sturdiest is Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). I especially like the variety ‘Winifred Gilman’. It is notable for the outstanding color of its flowers – stacking whorls of soft lavender to deeper purple hues – and for the earthy fragrance of its grayish-green foliage. Blooming from June all the way to late fall, the flowers on this musk sage are a magnet for bees and hummingbirds. It forms a sturdy 3’x3′ bush and is one of the most drought tolerant of all salvias. So much so that when I’ve spotted them in abandoned lots, they are still prospering. Plus, deer don’t like the smell so leave them alone. Just give it lots of sun and make sure the soil drains well. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Another Cleveland sage relative, this one a cross between Salvia clevelandii and Salvia leucophylla, is Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’. Introduced by Las Pilitas Nursery, it combines all the enviable attributes of Cleveland sage but can handle somewhat wet conditions a bit better. It fills out to a sturdy 4’x4′ and produces light purple flowers in the same stacking whorls as Cleveland sage. This variety is most notable for being one of the great butterfly plants found anywhere. Seems our pollinator friends just can’t get enough of the nectar rich flowers! Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Another outstanding and distinctive Salvia selection is Salvia apiana, known as White sage. One of the most aromatic of all sages, it is the one chosen for use as as smudge sticks (burned in rituals to cleanse the space). Attractive, silvery white, lance-shaped leaves densely cloth  2-5’ tall stems. Very showy, arching 3’ flower spikes cover the shrub in Spring. Bees and hummingbirds love the small, nectar-rich blooms. Perfect for a ‘white garden,’ this species loves the heat and can prosper with very little water. A medicinal staple, a tea made from the leaves helps with a cold or congestion.

Love this sage but want something a bit smaller? Salvia apiana ‘Compacta’ offers all the charms of the regular white sage but matures at only 2.5-3′ tall and wide. Both plants are evergreen, providing a year round anchor for any sunny location. Both species are hardy to 10 degrees F.

More Native Shrubs

Sometimes a native shrub is the perfect choice for a problem area. Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’) is a sturdy native that offers a variety of uses. It quickly fills out to 1-3′ high and 6-8′ wide, forming a high-ish ground cover. Given its dense foliage and tenacious roots, it is ideal for slope stabilization. It can prosper in a great variety of soils,  from clay to sand, as well as in dry or wet soils. This male selection avoids the seedy fall look of female varieties and looks good year round. Amazingly versatile, it can be kept short enough to mow as a lawn alternative or sheared as a topiary. It  is one of our very best habitat plants, providing cover for birds, yet is resistant to deer. Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Speaking of valuable low-growing natives, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’ is an excellent choice as a high ground cover or for adding beauty and purpose to a neglected area. This California lilac forms a dense evergreen shrub 2-3′ high and over time can spread to 10′ across. Glossy evergreen foliage yields to a blizzard of lavender-colored flowers in late winter and spring. These flowers attract a great many local bees and butterflies, while the seeds that form in the fall provide a source of nutrition for songbirds. This variety tolerates more water than some California lilacs, though good drainage is a plus. Tough enough to thrive under oaks, it has found to have even survived fires in the wild. Deer resistant. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Though most California lilacs take a shrub form, the lovely Ceanothus hybrid ‘Ray Hartman’ grows into a handsome 15’x15′ tree. It is one of the faster growing Ceanothus, is amazingly drought tolerant, has some of the bluest flowers of all California lilacs and it attracts bees, butterflies and birds. Adding to that, it is heat tolerant, long-lived and the flowers exude a pleasing fragrance. Which is all to say, this is the perfect small tree for a sunny or part shade location. Hardy to 15 degrees F.

Colorful Lupines

Lupines take many forms but there are two California natives that take a shrub form. Yellow Coastal Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) forms an impressive 4’x4′ mound of dense foliage arising from a stout trunk and then, come late spring, a multitude of branchlets are topped with 6-8” high spikes of deliciously scented, bright yellow blooms. These pea-shaped flowers attract a wide variety of bees and butterflies. Surprisingly tolerant of drought and neglect, it’s an excellent choice for dry gardens, parking strips and hillsides. Just give it good drainage and cut back to 3’x3’ in the late fall to promote a nice bushy shape. An excellent choice for a seemingly endless number of cut flowers! Deer resistant. Hardy to 0 degrees F.

If that sounds delightful to you but you prefer purple flowers to yellow, the Blue Bush Lupine (Lupinus propinquus) forms similar 6-8” spikes, its pinkish-lavender buds opening to pale lilac flowers. The older flowers at the bottom of each spike then age to almost white. Lovely! It likewise prefers well-drained soil and not much summer water. Its April through July flowers are also a must-see destination for bees and butterflies. Likewise deer resistant and a potentially long-lived plant, you may find baby plants sprouting up the following year! Hardy to 0 degrees F.

Availability

Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annual plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.