Frequently Asked Questions

Credit Kristen Wernick.

How do I choose the right plants for my site?

Don’t fight the site! Really take the time to get to know your conditions, and find plants that are suitable for what you have. Knowing your climate, soil, watering needs, and plant community in your area can all make plant selection easier. Learn about understanding your conditions here, and use Calscape to find plants that work in your area!

What should I look out for during the first year of planting?

Monitor how plants are responding to your watering schedule. Remember that you are watering to promote healthy plant growth and establish deep roots for the dry summer.

This is the time to look for damage from garden pests such as gophers and rabbits, insect pests like aphids, thrips, scale, snails, and snugs, and also diseases mostly caused by overwatering. Always be sure to carefully monitor damage, find the source, and evaluate methods that cause the least damage to your plants and your local ecology when finding a solution.

What kind of irrigation is best for native plants?

The current one you have in your garden! As long as you’re checking your filters and emitters regularly to make sure they’re working properly, making sure you’re grouping plants with similar watering needs together, and adjusting the irrigation timing to fit the needs of your garden, your plants will be happy with your irrigation system. Most irrigation systems allow you to set the timing for the length that will give you a good cycle and soak. Always be sure to turn off your irrigation system prior to rain!

Native plant gardens look messy. How can I make it look neater or more like a standard landscape?

Often when we think of standard landscapes we think of very linear edges and maintenance that includes moving, edging, raking, and blowing. With a native landscape, you can design and maintain it to consistently look more like that type of landscape. Native landscapes can fit any look. For maintenance, you’ll want to trim any dead branches, replace plants that have died off, and remulch the landscape to give it a more intentional look. Adding an edging strip near sidewalks and drives can also make the space look more intentional. Allowing leaves to stay and create both habitat and mulch is good for the landscape, but if you’re in a neighborhood or HOA that requires it to be raked you can use the leaves in compost to keep them in the cycle and reduce green waste.

During the summer my garden looks dead, even though it’s just dormant. How can I make it look more like a lush space?

Remember that many native plants have adapted to California’s summer dry climate by going dormant. Plan ahead by choosing a variety of plants that offer blooms throughout the year or are evergreen, and embrace the change in seasons shown through plants!

Any tips for pruning native plants?

Native plants generally don’t need to be pruned, but pruning can help improve the health and appearance of them in a garden. Before pruning, think to yourself, “Does this plant really need pruning?”

Always use the right tool for the kind of pruning you want to do and make sure your tools are sharp and sterilized. To sterilize, mix 9 parts water with 1 part bleach (rubbing alcohol works too)  in a bucket or spray bottle, and dip the blades into the bucket or spray them thoroughly. When done pruning, be sure to clean your tools and store them in a dry place.

When pruning stems, cut as close to the branch or trunk as possible. Prune no more than 20% of the live foliage (green and alive parts of the plant) at a time.

During the first year of growth, there is no need for pruning. But it’s best to prune shrubs and trees when they’re young. Generally, the best time to prune is between flowering and new plant growth. But be sure to leave some seedheads and berries for birds and other wildlife!

Photo: Ann-Marie Benz