Match Your Plants to Your Conditions

Last week, as I was waxing on about our super drought tolerant native plants during a talk to a local gardening club, an attendee raised an interesting question.  Which of the ‘no summer water required’ chaparral natives that I’d been raving about would I recommend for a low lying area that stays soggy much of the year?  Hmmmm.

There are two answers to that question.  The first answer:  I wouldn’t put those particular plants in that spot.  If you want to create a garden that is healthy, low maintenance, and has a low environmental impact, you just have to respect the cultural requirements of the plants that you are considering.

For chaparral natives such as Ceanothus cuneatus (Buckbrush), Arctostaphylos viscida (White’s Manzanita), Eriogonum californica (California Buckwheat), and Penstemon heterophyllus (Foothill Penstemon), the requirements are straight forward.  They like full sun, cool to cold winters, hot and dry summers, and well draining soil.  If you plant them in a spot that satisfies their cultural requirements, for very little effort and water you will be rewarded with healthy growth and lovely flowers.

On the other hand, if the idea of a a super low maintenance, no water garden gets you so excited that you just close your eyes and plant a truckload of chaparral natives in your little bog, get ready to be disappointed.  Its kind of like making a hairless Chihuahua live in the high Sierras, except without the hand knit doggy-sweater.  Plants can’t alter their environment to align it with their needs.  Stick them where they don’t belong and they will most likely die.

That doesn’t mean that, if you have a wet area in your garden, you are stuck with high maintenance gardening.  When selecting natives for an area like that, consider plants that evolved in conditions similar to what you are providing. Think of the plants that grow in the low lying areas of Bidwell Park, – elderberry, spice bush, and deer grass, for starters.

Or, and this is the second answer to the original question, you might be able to turn your low spot into a high and dry spot with mounding or raised planters.  Then, go ahead and plant chaparral knowing that you have done your part to match your plants to your conditions.

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