Are you letting your lawn go brown and your landscape plants suffer or die because of water cutbacks encouraged or required of all of us Californians?
One strategy for using less water while maintaining beauty in your landscape is to incorporate more California native plants -- particularly those that have adapted to our region's dry summers.
Over the years, home landscapers have turned to nonnative plants -- ones that originated in Europe, Asia and other faraway places, with tropical or rainy summers. But that tradition is changing rapidly as more gardeners discover the ecological, aesthetic and functional reasons for planting natives.
California's diverse habitats are home to thousands of different plants that have adapted to this state's climate and environment. Our native wildlife has evolved with these plants, and the wildlife thrives when we include large numbers of natives in our landscapes.
The plants that have adapted to dry summer conditions can get by here with little or no irrigation, and they can also evoke a sense of place and of the wild habitats that so many of us cherish. The smell of a native sage, the colors of spring wildflowers, the attraction of flowering plants to bees, butterflies and birds can remind us of a favorite trail, camping spot or scenic vista.
Finding native plants to add to your landscape has gotten easier and easier in recent years. Many nurseries specialize in them, and conventional nurseries are stocking more of them. But the selection available to home gardeners is still but a fraction of what grows in the wild.
A number of books and websites provide recommendations, and the Master Gardeners offer two free brochures, "Outstanding Plants for Alameda County" and "More Outstanding Plants for Alameda County." You can download a PDF of each brochure and see photos of the plants at the Alameda County Master Gardeners website, http://acmg.ucanr.edu.
If you want to see the plants actually growing before you make a decision, consider visiting the Alameda County Master Gardeners' three demonstration gardens, which display native and other water-conserving plants: the Lake Merritt Trials Garden in Oakland; the Livermore Demonstration Garden at the Martinelli Event Center in Livermore Valley; and the demonstration garden within Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area in Fremont. These are situated in three of our region's microclimates, so the one nearest to you will likely come closest to matching your home growing conditions. Information and photographs are available on the ACMG website.
To see the array of native plants in naturalistic surroundings, you can also visit the East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden Park in Berkeley. It is an all-native garden with varied habitats that showcase the tremendous diversity of natives. Admission to the garden is free; for details, go to www.ebparks.org/page156.aspx.
To see natives growing in home gardens, check out the free Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour coming up May 4. Register at www.bringingbackthenatives.net by April 26.
If you have gardening questions, call the Alameda County Master Gardeners Help Desk at 510-639-1371 or email email@example.com. Sam Foushee is an Alameda County Master Gardener.