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Going Native

An enthusiastic gardenerd writes in:

Where can I get a variety of CA native plants are cheap or free?  I’ve got a 30 X 25 foot area that has been cleared of weeds, etc and is screaming to go native!”

Congratulations on the weeding, first of all, and secondly your decision to go native.  There are a  lot of ways to get native plants for your area, not all of them are legal.  It really depends on how quickly you want to your garden to take shape.  Here are a few suggestions:

Let’s start with Free.  The most free way to get plants if to take them from the wild.  I mention this only for the sake of saying that this is illegal in most places, and I don’t recommend it.  When we take things from their natural habitat, we decrease the valuable life-sustaining plant matter that wild animals live on.  We also disrupt the plant’s natural life cycle and slowly drive the species to extinction.  It may sound like I’m exaggerating, but just fish around on the internet for a while and read up on the depletion of wild medicinal herbs if you don’t believe me.  Having said that, there is an alternative.

Cuttings – Many succulents can grow new plants by cutting off a segment of the parent plant and following a few simple instructions on how to propagate new plants.  This takes a little while longer than buying new plants, but it’s free if you have a pair of scissors handy as you walk through a friend’s garden.  I have a jade plant that I rip out every year and it grows back from the smallest trace of plant matter left in the ground.  Aloe Vera can grow the same way.  Here are a few sites that can get you started:

There’s always Craigslist –  For those who have not yet been introduced to Craigslist, I invite you to take a look

Craigslist is a place where people post things they want to sell or give away.  Usually prices are very good and you can check it often to see what has recently been posted.  Craigslist exists in most states and most major cities.
Grow from Seed – the least expensive way to grow plants is to start them from seed. Again this takes more time than heading to your local nursery for 5 gallon plants, but you will save a lot of money.  Many natives will re-seed themselves from year to year, so sometimes you only need to plant once.  I love High Country Gardens for this:

They also sell seedlings of both native plants and xeriscape (low-water) plants.

Plant Sales – Another great way to start a garden is to go to plant sales at your local botanical gardens.  They offer unusual varieties and most often have wonderfully informed helpers walking around to answer your questions about growing native plants. I have been to the Huntington Library and Gardens plant sale many times (which is coming up very soon this May), and they have a shopping day for non-members that you can attend.  Hint – go much, much earlier than you think you should.  The early bird gets the worm…

Plant sales not only get you some great plants, but they provide an experience of communing with other gardeners who are dreaming of beautiful front yards as well.

Plant/Seed exchanges – There are plant and seed exchanges all over the internet.  If you know what you are looking for, you can post it on any one of these sites and see what you get.  Of course seed and plant exchanges work best if you have something to offer in return.

Finally, there’s Home Depot.  They buy in bulk so their prices are lower than most nurseries.  The down side is that they don’t have much variety and they don’t employee the most knowledgeable people in the garden department.  Still, if you’re pressed for plants, they have them.

On a final note, I’d like to share a cool site I found today.  If you want to know what grows in your California area, check out this site, where you can seach by zip code or town and see photos of what natives thrive here.

Any combination of these suggestions will get you the garden you desire.  It all depends on how much time you want to commit to it.  Good luck and keep us posted on your progress!

Anyone else have any suggestions to share with our friend?  Post them here.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Leah “sells” plants and trees left over from different suppliers for only the cost of shipping (under 7.00 per item – 1 item is 2 plants). They employ people with disabilities to pack the items, so when you buy from them you are also supporting work for people with disablilities.

  2. Carrie

    Check out the Theodore Payne Foundation website. They have seedlings, seeds and an annual plant sale.

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