How to Care for a Garden of Native California Plants in Summer

So you’ve uprooted your lawn and created a garden of native plants to conserve water and restore habitat for struggling birds and insects. But summer is approaching, many of your beautiful plants are starting to wither and your neighbors are giving you a tasteless look.

Welcome to summer in your new native garden, where maintenance is more a matter of attention and patience than gas-powered mowers and lawn mowers.

The good news: you no longer have to make time every week to mow your lawn (or pay someone to do it).

The bad news: you still have to weed.

Goldfields, which bloom from March to May, will lie dormant during the hot, dry summer months.

Goldfields, which bloom from March to May, will lie dormant during the hot, dry summer months.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Weeding is probably the biggest and most important task you’ll face, said Bruce Schwartz, a former puppeteer and artist who now works full-time maintaining his Highland Park property, a desert of plants native to the San Rafael and Verdugo Mountains. .

That’s because non-native invasive weeds are tough, fast and constantly competing for light, nutrients and water against slower-growing native plants, said Schwartz, who blogs Eric Ameria at LA Native Plant Source.

“This is a really good time of year to do weeding because the wildflowers have died and you can actually see the weeds,” Schwartz said. “You can easily see the weeds now because they are green when everything else is brown.”

In general, a weed is any plant you don’t want, said Max Kanter, owner of Saturate, a native plant-care company based in Silver Lake. But for purists like Schwartz, weeds are non-native invasive plants imported during European colonization.

One of the worst culprits is chickpea (Stellaria Media), a booming Eurasian native likely imported years ago because it’s edible and has medicinal uses, “but it’s the bane of wildflower growers,” Schwartz said. “It grows on grading mats faster than wildflowers, and if you don’t control it, it will suffocate everything in a New York second.”

Bruce Schwartz

Bruce Schwartz is sitting in his native plant garden.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Other enemies of native plants include thistle; dandelions, which scatter clouds of seeds when their cheerful yellow flowers wither; high voluminous horsetail; Round-leaf cheese; purslane; and spurge, which cover the floor like thick green napkins.

A 1992 photograph shows the barren backyard compared to now with lush native plants and stairs.

A 1992 photograph shows the barren backyard compared to now, with lush native plants and stairs leading up and down the terraced backyard.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Schwartz has been fighting these weeds and other non-native plants for 30 years, ever since he and his late husband Joseph first saw the property that would become their home. They bought a 1911 Craftsman-style home that day, but for Schwartz, the biggest draw was the massive oak trees that sprawled across the bottom of the sloping lot.

Most of the grounds were littered with litter and clumps of common SoCal landscaping plants — jades, ivy, vinca and morning glory — and he’s been remodeling the garden ever since.

Newcomers to Schwartz’s seemingly wild landscape often look intrigued as they wander its carefully constructed stone paths, he said. The floor is covered in burlap and a tangle of apparently neglected bushes; in late spring, deciduous plants are in various stages of wilting and dying while other plants are getting ready to bloom.

“It feels like I’ve paved my way into a native paradise,” Schwartz said, smiling. But a visitor who was taking the tour finally blurted out that she didn’t think he had a garden.

Bruce Schwartz immersed himself in lush growth of native California plants at his home in Eagle Rock.

Bruce Schwartz immersed himself in lush growth of native California plants at his home in Eagle Rock.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“She said, ‘These are just plants that grow anywhere,’” Schwartz recalled. “For her, a wild plant is not a garden, and I understand that not everyone is ready to give up their hydrangeas, but the ironic thing is that this is a garden. A garden like this takes a lot of work to keep it from being overrun with weeds.”

I understand that not everyone is ready to give up their hydrangeas, but the ironic thing is that this is a garden.

— Bruce Schwartz, LA Native Plant Source

His late father would not have approved, Schwartz said. “When I think of my dad and his garden – well, I hesitate to call it a garden, it was basically an extension of his living room, a public space where he entertained people and had to be cleaned. This isn’t a value judgment, it’s just a completely different way of looking at a backyard. His had to be perfect – no flower could wear out, no leaf could fall to the ground and be left there. Everything had to be clean.”

But in a native garden, leaf litter is a valuable nutrient as it decays; it also shades the soil and helps the soil retain moisture, he said. And clumps of shrubs, flowers and trees work together to provide food and shelter for insects and pollinators that help plants spread and flourish.

Name tags identify native plants in a garden.

Name tags identify the plants native to Bruce Schwartz’s garden.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I’m not saying we need to uproot every exotic plant from the landscape in Southern California, but having a lawn or a terrace of rose bushes and pansies and petunias . . . ,” he said. Shrink your lawn and have a victory garden of native plants, where the food is not for you, but for the wild animals that live here.”

Schwartz recommends focusing on three types of plants for this victory garden – buckwheat, sage and mugwort, all of which have many varieties to choose from and require little or no water once established. “These three plants are bulletproof, summer-surviving semi-evergreens, and are amazing habitat plants,” he said. He added that if you want additional color throughout the seasons, weave in other flowering plants such as sunflowers, California fuchsia or easily replanted California poppies.

A California polypodium in a garden.

A California polypodium in Bruce Schwartz’s native plant garden will lie dormant during the summer, waiting for the fall rain.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It’s a much better way to design a native garden, he said, “than planting a meadow of wildflowers in the front yard and having what looks like an empty lot for eight months of the year” when the flowers die or go dormant.

When it comes to maintaining your native garden in the summer, forget about your lawn mower and leaf blower and grab a rake, hand mower, a pair of gloves and a watering can, say Schwartz, Kanter and Evan Meyer, executive director of Theodore Foundation. Payne.

Kanter and his partners at Studio Petrichor coined the term “June Groom” to help native plant gardeners learn how to maintain their summer yards, “because in June, most wildflowers and annuals are pretty much out of stock, so it’s a great way to keep your yards fresh. time to prepare,” he said.

A pack of weeds

Pulling weeds is a regular task for maintaining a native garden.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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