By Victor Wang
“Going green” is another way to say “environmentally friendly.” Is there a better way to go green than by using your green thumb to plant responsibly? San Diego has more than 700 native species of annuals and perennials. The hard part is narrowing down the ones to put in your landscape.
Thanks to our warm climate in Southern California, planting annuals doesn’t mean you have to start over each season from scratch. Most of the native wildflowers in San Diego can reseed themselves, as long as you plant them in time for the seeds to drop before the heaviest rainfall. The native species need only some sun, and little help from you to thrive.
Native blooms such as the California poppy and showy penstemon attract local pollinators to your yard. The birds, bees, and butterflies also help scatter the seeds, so the flowers appear again next year. A word of warning: Carefully inspect wildflower mixes available from big lawn and garden centers, and avoid packets containing non-native seeds. These could include invasive flowers that will crowd out our native wildflowers.
Annual Color for Your Landscape
Baby blue eyes will turn those brown spots between the trees and shrubs into a pool of color. They only grow about 6 inches tall and are perfect ground covers that will open in spring.
The purple owl’s clover can grow to over a foot tall and explode with pink or lavender flowers and leaves that resemble a paintbrush to add color to your backyard canvas. This flower is a hemiparasite, meaning it prefers to be near other plants to connect with their roots. This flower is a favorite of the bay checkerspot butterfly, a threatened species in California.
For a large burst of color, you’ll enjoy most of the year, go big with the state flower, the California poppy. It can be grown in less than optimal soil with plenty of sun. The California poppy is only dormant in the summer when other perennials are blooming. Growing to nearly 2 feet tall, the bright orange or yellow blooms will attract bees, butterflies, and birds.
A Perennial Palette of Color
Perennial wildflowers mixed in with colorful annuals will keep their leaves and provide ground cover throughout the year. Like annuals, native perennials are low maintenance and last for several seasons.
The California aster grows fast and is a perfect plant for your rock garden. The silver carpet variety is the most popular and thrives in drier conditions. It blooms with vibrant purple, pink and white flowers from summer through the beginning of winter. Make sure you give it plenty of room. The California aster can grow up to 3 feet tall and just as wide. Like most natives, it will draw the bees, butterflies, and birds to your yard.
Bold and beautiful, the desert globemallow springs forth with petaled flowers of red, orange, or lavender. Growing to more than 4 feet tall, the bloom can extend to the same width. Desert globemallow is hardy and can survive temperatures rarely seen in these parts, of 15 degrees.
The California buttercup is a favorite of native Golden State bees and is easy to grow. Springing forth in the winter and spring, the California buttercup makes a bright border to any flower or rock garden. With its short stems and spreading vines, you may cut some blooms from time to time to bring your native wildflowers inside.
With so many local wildflowers to choose from, you may wonder why anyone would plant an invasive species in San Diego. Many of them, including water hyacinths and spotted knapweed, and are readily available in garden centers and nurseries and they’re pretty enough to catch your eye. But these flowers can wreak havoc in your garden and steal nutrients from your native plants. Before buying any seeds or starter plants, make sure they’re native.
—Victor Wang grew up in Central California plucking tomato worms from his mother’s heirloom tomato garden and is now a master gardener and freelance writer. His areas of expertise include landscaping, pest control and, of course, gardening.