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Why Garden with California Native Plants: Tips from DWR Landscape Architect Cassandra Musto

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an upright perennial that grows up to three feet tall and the flowers heads are in large, compact clusters ranging from yellowish-white and pink.

Published: 10 June 2020

For National Garden Week (June 7 to 13), DWR Landscape Architect Specialist and native plant enthusiast Cassandra Nguyen Musto explains why you should consider gardening with native plants for your next home landscaping project.

Musto’s experience with plants spans from her work at DWR – she designs for California riparian mitigation sites along State-maintained levees and restoration sites – to her membership with the Sacramento Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, where her passion for native plants grew through her 20 years of work developing a native plant demonstration garden at the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery.

California’s varied climate can support a wide variety of plants from around the world. However, our state’s unique and beautiful native plants are often overlooked in garden design. Instead, water-intensive exotic plants that do not support the local ecology often taken the place of California native plants in people’s gardens.

You can enjoy many benefits while bringing in the beauty of California into your own garden by using water-wise native plants. Some of these benefits include:

Water Savings: A sustainably designed, drought-tolerant native garden can use 85 percent less water per year than a traditional landscape with turf and high-water use plants. Also, once native plants are planted, a well-designed drip irrigation system is more efficient than traditional sprayhead irrigation and saves watering costs. Once established, many California native plants need little additional watering beyond normal rainfall.

Maintenance Reduction: A water-wise California native garden can reduce maintenance dramatically once it is established. Eliminating the need for mowing and fertilizing lawns, applying pesticides and fertilizers, and frequently watering thirsty plants leaves you more time to enjoy your garden and other activities.

Wildlife and Biodiversity Increases: Adding native plants helps create functioning ecosystems in the garden by attracting the native insects and wildlife that depend upon these plants. Native plants and animals have developed relationships with each other, and research has shown that native wildlife prefers native plants over non-native plants. Native pollinators can improve fruit and vegetable production in your home garden, and beneficial native insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals can manage pests such as mosquitos, ticks, and aphids.

Landfill Waste Reduction: The reduction in landscape maintenance, such as mowing a lawn, means that less green waste will be produced per year. Because many cities and homes are not set up for composting, most green waste is not composted. Gardening with native plants means less waste going into landfills.

Pesticide Use Reduction: Native plants have not only developed their own defenses against many pests and diseases, they can also attract beneficial insects and animals that attack pests. Reducing or eliminating pesticides keeps toxins out of our waterways and soil, improves environmental and human health, and allows natural and beneficial pest controllers to thrive.

Connection to a California Sense of Place is Enhanced: A garden planted with species unique to California creates a strong sense of place and helps connect you more deeply to the natural world. Including native plants in your garden connects you to the unique biological web created by the environmental history and culture of the land your home sits on. These small patches of habitat become part of a larger collective that nurtures and sustains a living landscape that not only enhances a sense of sanctuary for you, but for the plants, insects, birds, and other animals that have always lived there.

 

By gardening with native plants, you can enjoy many benefits – including water savings – while giving your home garden an appealing look that reflects California’s unique natural landscapes. For information on native plant species, tips, and more, visit the California Native Plant Society, or the UC Master Gardner program.

For more on water-wise gardening, check out DWR’s Water Efficient Landscaping page.