7 Great CA Native Plants for Southern Sierra & South Valley Gardens – Pt 2

Greetings! Welcome to new subscribers and thanks to all of you for reading and spreading the word about this blog.  The following is part two: please also read part one, available in the archives.

In the upcoming weeks, I will write about plants, life, and our life with plants. Mostly native, but not always. Let me know your comments and suggestions!

Dwarf Coyote Brush – Baccharis pilularis ‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘Pigeon Point’

Dwarf Coyote Brush, first year

Coyote Brush – three years after planting.

Dwarf Coyote Brush (or Coyote Bush; it is known by both) is called a ground cover, but even the dwarf forms listed above can grow up to four feet tall. It’s main use is on slopes for erosion control and to cover large areas. Evergreen, dark green foliage that looks good all year, hardy, very low water once established, with attractive cream flowers in late fall into winter. This is one of those plants, like Quail Bush, that should be used to solve problems; it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, water or any fertilizer. Coyote Brush is tolerant of a wide range of soils and thrives in full sun to part sun. Don’t crowd it when planting, or the plants mound up on each other and become unattractive and woody over time. Plant them eight feet or more apart and water them very well for the first few weeks at least, then reduce the water over time. Can be used as a lawn substitute, but it isn’t turf: you don’t walk or sit on it for instance.

Bees’ Bliss Sage – Salvia ‘Bees’ Bliss’

Bees’ Bliss Sage in a planting bed bordering a lawn, Visalia, CA

Bees’ Bliss Sage in bloom, Ivanhoe, CA

Another large, evergreen ground cover, this one with the typical sage-green, almost blue-green, leaves. Light blue to lavender flowers in early spring. Plant on a slope for erosion control or in a large area where it won’t need to be over-pruned. Bees love it as a food source as they are emerging from hibernation. Hummingbirds use it the same way. Plant in full sun to part shade and let it ramble. These ground cover sages are low-water, but can tolerate moderate watering. Keep the center of the plant, the crown, dry in the summer, so if you use drip emitters, plan on moving it out towards the plant edge after the first year. Older plants can look quite woody and gnarled; use this to your advantage to create a natural-looking California garden. Trimming back old flower heads is about the only maintenance. Related to Bees’ Bliss are Shirley’s Creeper Sage and Dara’s Choice Sage. They require the same care, but vary slightly in foliage color and flower color.

CA Coral Bells – Heuchera maxima, Heuchera ‘Wendy,’ Heuchera Canyon Series.

The botanical names above are important to note. There are Coral Bells native to California, Eastern U.S. and Asia.

One of the uses for Coral Bells is in those difficult narrow strips bordering houses and sidewalks.

Our native Coral Bells have white or pink flowers and green foliage. A large group of non-native Coral Bells have purple, pink, orange and silver foliage. They are lovely in specific situations, but are not CA Natives, and I’m not recommending them here. The Bressington series of Coral Bells are not from California either and require more water. The best of the CA native Coral Bells are “Wendy,” and hybrids introduced by Tree of Life Nursery in the 1980’s. Lastly, the true wild nataive, Heuchera maxima, is often called Island Alum Root instead of Coral Bells.

Coral Bells is a perennial, so use as a filler in mixed borders, or to provide a mass of color. The bloom is long, from late winter into mid-spring. The green foliage forms in a rosette, and the pink or white flowers rise up to about two feet above the foliage. Coral Bells spreads slowly. It’s easy to dig up, divide, and replant every five years or so if you want a modern, tidy bed. Cage the roots if gophers are a problem. Trim the old flowers if you want, although it’s not necessary. Especially useful under deciduous trees, where you may not need to water them at all once they are established. Part to full shade is best. In the wild locally, they grow in rocky shady cliff edges high above waterways. Hummingbirds appreciate the flowers, which you can also use as a dainty cut flower.

Thanks for reading!