Invite Wildlife to Your Garden by Planting Local Natives

This year we give added emphasis to our advocacy of inviting wildlife to the garden. With the launching of our BackYard Natives project we are giving point and direction to this aspect, which should add another dimension of interest to the home garden. Pay attention to plants’ needs as sketched here. Observe them in the wild to get clues to their requirements. One simple rule is that plants frequendy need a bit more water in cultivation than in the wild. We advocate extending the rainy season into May or June, and starting to wake the garden in autumn by commencing irrigation in October. This supplemental watering should be on the light side, not the heavy irrigation customary in English-style gardens.

Soils in San Francisco and coastal San Mateo counties tend to be either sandy or a heavier soil, such as clay. Plants adapted to sand frequently suffer in heavier soils, especially in winter rainy spells; conversely, plants evolving in clay or other heavy substrate can’t handle the porousness and water-scarceness of sand. My personal experience some of my favorite natives come from clayey sites-is that clay-derived plants planted in sandy soil usually either die outright or decline slowly, even when watered copiously. At our plant sale, we will have plants labeled as to whether they are suited to sandy soils or clay soils.

What Is My Soil?
If you are uncertain what type your soil is, we can probably tell you just from your address. In the city, our peaks and everything to the east of them are clay. West and north of Twin Peaks was sand, with the exception of the ridge to the west of Twin Peaks-historically known as Sunset Heights (running from Mt. Davidson/Merced Heights/Hawk Hill in the south to Grandview Park in the north). However, the west face of this ridge has an overburden of sand. Sand extended all the way from the ocean to the bay in the downtown area. San Mateo County is more complicated; heavier soils predominate, but very near the coast sand is frequently encountered.

What Plants Attract Wildlife?
What are some good plants to attract wild creatures? Nothing succeeds like success: start with the plants that have survived in the wild near you. Not only are they tough and the best adapted to survival under local conditions, their wildlife associates are likely to be in the vicinity, and in the greatest numbers.

Nota bene: Moderately fast-growing trees such as buckeye and coast live oak are best planted as seed. Roots of plants kept in cans for more than a few weeks start circling the can instead of diving straight down to tap deeper moisture sources. When they become pot-bound they are much slower to establish and grow than if they can form a natural root system. An acorn or buckeye seed will produce a larger tree within five years than a plant grown in a can with a two-year head start-and it will be healthier to boot. Consequently we try to have seed for these trees available at sales rather than offering them as plants. Ask for them. If you have room in your garden or a coast live oak-they DO take a lot of room-you cannot find a plant that is more wildlife-supporting with the possible exception of a willow.

Plants For Sandy Soils

  • Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
  • Dune sagebrush – Artemisia pycnocephala
  • California sagebrush – Artemisia californica
  • Coast aster – Aster chilensis
  • Beach evening primrose – Camissonia cheiranthifolia
  • Seaside daisy – Erigeron glaucus
  • Lizard tail – Eriophyllum staechadifolium
  • Mock heather – Ericameria ericoides
  • Buckwheat – Eriogonum latifolium
  • Franciscan wallflower – Erysimum franciscanum
  • Red fescue – Festuca rubra
  • Beach strawberry – Fragaria chiloensis
  • Gum plant – Grindelia hirsutula or G. stricta
  • Bush monkey flower – Mimulus aurantiacus

Plants For Heavier Soils

  • Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
  • Columbine – Aquilegia formosa
  • California sagebrush – Artemisia californica
  • Coast aster – Aster chilensis
  • Dogwood – Cornus sericea
  • Silver hairgrass – Deschampsia caespitosa
  • Seaside daisy – Erigeron glaucus
  • Buckwheat – Eriogonum latifolium
  • Lizard tail – Eriophyllum staechadifolium
  • Franciscan wallflower – Erysimum franciscanum
  • Red fescue – Festuca rubra
  • Woodland strawberry – Fragaria vesca
  • Horkelia – Horkelia californica
  • Douglas iris – Iris douglasiana
  • Coast iris – Iris longipetala
  • Coyote mint – Monardella villosa
  • purple needlegrass – Nassella pulchra
  • Self-heal – Prunella vulgaris var. lanceolata
  • Islay/holly-leaf cherry – Prunus ilicifola
  • Wood mint – Stachys ajugoides
  • Snowberry – Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus
  • Arroyo willow – Salix lasiolepis
  • Twinberry – Lonicera involucrata
  • Evening primrose – Oenothera elata ssp. hookeri
  • Pink currant – Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum
  • Blue elderberry – Sambucus mexicana
  • Yerba buena – Satureja douglasii
Posted in Gardening with Natives.

Jake Sigg