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Return of the Natives

Worried about water use? Consider drought-tolerant native plants. A native plant sale on Oct. 15 at Hidden Villa will help.

Native plants have a wide variety of virtues, but unfortunately their wonderful qualities go unnoticed by some gardeners. Tough, drought-resistant, perfectly suited for the local environment — what else could you want in your landscaping?

However, there are a number of misconceptions that often hold gardeners back from planting natives. There’s an idea floating around out there that natives are going to look “weedy” or not as nice and lush as non-native plants, and that’s just not true.

You’ll be able to learn the truth about native plants at an upcoming event hosted by the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society. On Saturday, Oct. 15, the chapter will hold its annual native plant sale from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at in the Los Altos Hills.

Not only will there be container plants and wildflower seeds available for purchase, but you’ll also get free advice from CNPS members who can tell you how to care for those plants. You’ll learn how natives can fit into your yard and how best to integrate them with other landscaping.

Why plant natives at all? The benefits are many.

First off, natives are famously drought-tolerant. With the recent worries here over water use — a survey found recently that 58 percent of water use in California homes goes to landscaping — homeowners may want to think seriously about planting more natives.

One way to do this is to remove a portion of your lawn (one of the biggest water gobblers where landscaping is concerned) and fill in the bare spot with beautiful native plants like penstemon, salvia, ceanothus, sedum or California buckwheat, just to name a few. Or you could get really brave, and take your whole lawn out! (I’ll address that in another column — it’s one of the big trends in the water-starved Western states these days.)

But here’s the big show-stopping secret about natives: Once they’re established, they require little or no water, even during our dry summer months. Granted, they will probably look better with a little irrigation, but they really only need a little bit — maybe a sprinkle once a week when it’s hot.

On my property, I have big areas that I never irrigate (mostly out of sheer laziness) where I’ve planted native ceanothus and monkey flower. They never get watered, and they look wonderful. All I do is trim them back occasionally.

Natives also need less fertilizer — sometimes none at all, seeing as they are ideally suited for the local soils — and generally thrive on neglect. They will need regular watering during the first year so they can put roots down and get established, but after that, only a minimum of care is required.

Natives will also attract and support wildlife in your yard, like birds, butterflies, bees and more, providing food and shelter for fragile species.

Right now is the perfect time of year to plant natives, with the days getting shorter and the soil still warm. And with the coming winter rains to help water your new plants, it’s truly ideal.

At the plant sale on Oct. 15, you’ll discover hard-to-find species that include native orchids, sedum, deergrass, redbud and blue-eyed grass, as well as many more. Books, notecards and posters featuring native plants will also be for sale.

A free one-hour class on “Success with Native Plants” will be offered from 1-2 p.m. and will conclude with a tour of native plant landscaping around the Hidden Villa Visitor Center.

For information and directions, see the website of the Santa Clara Valley CNPS or call (650) 260-3450.

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