How to Landscape With California Native Plants


California native plants include every type of plant, from grasses to large trees. Many wildflowers exist: some are annuals, such as the orange California poppy, and some are perennials, such as the monkeyflower and several species of sage. All of California’s diverse ecosystems have plants that are specific to them, from the cool northern coastline to the hot interior deserts. If you choose native plants that occur in the wild near your home, you’ll find that these plants grow with little care and often reseed themselves, producing more plants the following year.

Step 1

Measure areas of your yard where you want to grow your California natives. Make a map with pencil and paper and then mark the areas where you’ll be creating garden beds. Make note of the amount of sun these different areas receive during the day: some California natives, such as baby blue eyes, thrive in partly shady areas, while others, such as penstemons and California poppies, need full sun.

Step 2

Build pathways to add interest to your landscape, and also to provide good access to your garden beds. Paths can be straight or curved, and you can cover them with bark or pebbles, landscape fabric or cement. Also plan to build areas where you can sit and enjoy your native landscape. Ponds add interest and beauty, and you can grow native aquatic plants in them that will attract native birds, insects and other wildlife.

Step 3

Purchase starter plants at specialty nurseries or order seeds through catalogs or the Internet. Choose plants that will grow to different heights, and then plan to plant taller plants toward the rear of your beds and shorter plants toward the front.

Step 4

Develop a color scheme for each of your beds. Perhaps you prefer flowers that are in the blue to purple range: a grouping of plants having similar-colored flowers or foliage makes an attractive area. Think about planting more than one each of various plants, because the effect that multiple attractive plants has is more impressive than a single, lonely plant.

Step 5

Build your garden beds. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic compost on top of the soil in your planned bed areas and then dig it into the soil one shovel-head deep. You can then plant starter plants or seeds in these areas.

Tips and Warnings

  • Some of your new native plants might not survive. Native plants can be particular about their growing environment: if it’s not quite right, they won’t succeed for long. Don’t become discouraged: the motto for growing native plants is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Sometimes one type of plant might not survive one year, but for unknown reasons, it might take hold the following year. They seem to have a mind of their own.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape Native plant starts or seeds Shovel or trowel Compost


  • California Gardens: California Native Plants
  • Plant Native: How to Naturescape
  • United States National Arboretum: What Is a Native Plant, Anyway?
Keywords: native plants, landscape design, California gardening

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.