How to care for a California native plant garden in summer

So you’ve demolished your lawn and created a native botanical garden to conserve water and restore habitat for struggling birds and insects. But summer is approaching, many of your beautiful bonsai are starting to wilt and your neighbors are throwing you stinky eyes.

Welcome to summer in your new home garden, where maintenance is more about mindfulness and patience than lawn mowers and gas powered lawn mowers.

Good news: You no longer have to spend time each week mowing your lawn (or paying someone else to do it).

Bad news: You still have to weed.

The golden fields, which bloom from March to May, will remain dormant during the hot, dry summer months.

The golden fields, which bloom from March to May, will remain dormant during the hot, dry summer months.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Bruce Schwartz, a one-time puppeteer and artist, now works full-time to maintain his Highland Park property, a wilderness of plants native to the hills of San Rafael and The nearby Verdugo Mountains said .

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

“This is actually a really, really good time of year for remedial weeding, because the wildflowers are dead back and you can actually see the weeds,” says Schwartz. “You can easily see dangerous weeds now because they are green when everything else is brown.”

Generally speaking, a weed is any plant you don’t want, says Max Kanter, owner of Saturate, a native plant maintenance business 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 chickweed (Stellaria media)A widespread Eurasian native species may have been imported years ago because of its edible and medicinal uses, says Schwartz, “but that’s taboo among wildflower growers,” says Schwartz. Schwartz said. “It grows in the ranking carpet faster than wildflowers, and if you don’t control it, it extinguishes everything in a second in New York.”

Bruce Schwartz

Bruce Schwartz sits in his hometown’s botanical garden.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Other native plant enemies include the sow thistle; dandelion, the clouds that sow seeds as their cheerful yellow flowers wither; bulky high ponytail; round-leaf cheese granules; vilane; and promote, covering the ground like thick green hedge walls.

A 1992 photo shows the barren yard compared to now with lush native trees and terraces.

A photo from 1992 shows a barren yard compared to now, with lush native trees and stairs leading up and down the terraced courtyard.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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

Most of the grounds are covered with litter and the usual SoCal ornamental shrubs – jades, ivy, vinca and morning glory – and he has reshaped the garden ever since.

Newcomers to Schwartz’s seemingly wild landscape often look confused as they wander his carefully constructed cobblestone streets, he says. The ground was covered with foliage and a tangle of shrubs looked disheveled; In late spring, deciduous trees are in various stages of wilting and dying as other plants prepare to bloom.

“Looks like I’ve taken the paths into a native paradise,” Schwartz said, smiling. But one visitor on the last tour exclaimed that she didn’t think he had a garden at all.

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

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

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“She said, “These are just plants that grow anywhere,” recalls Schwartz. “For her, a wild plant is not a garden, and I understand not everyone is willing to give up their hydrangeas, but the irony is, this is a garden. garden. A garden like this takes a lot of work to keep it free of weeds.”

I understand not everyone is willing to give up their hydrangeas, but the irony is, this is a garden of many.

– Bruce Schwartz, L.A. Native Plant Source

His late father wouldn’t approve, Schwartz said. “When I think about my dad and his garden – well, I hesitate to call it a garden, it’s basically an extension of his living room, a public space where he entertains. mind everyone and it must be clean. This is not a value statement but just a completely different way of looking at the pitch. His must be perfect – no flowers can die, no leaves can fall on the ground and be left there. Everything had to be cleaned up.”

But in a native garden, the carcass of a leaf is a valuable nutrient as it spoils; It also shaded the ground and helped it retain moisture, he said. And bushes, flowers, and trees work together to provide food and shelter for the insects and pollinators that help the plants spread and multiply.

Name tags identify native plants in a garden.

Name tags identifying native plants in the garden by Bruce Schwartz.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I’m not saying we need to cut down every exotic bonsai in Southern California, but have a lawn or terrace of rose bushes, pansies and petunias … those are really thirsty plants. that we don’t have water to use anymore. , “I said. “So to begin with, I suggest you can reduce your lawn and have a native plant victory garden where the food is not for you, but for the wildlife that lives here.” .”

Schwartz recommends focusing on three plants for that winning garden — buckwheat, sage, and sage, all of which have a variety to choose from and require little or no water once they’re planted. . “Those three plants are bulletproof, they’ll survive the semi-evergreen summer, and they’re amazing habitat plants,” he said. He adds that if you want extra color throughout the seasons, interweave other flowering plants like bush sunflower, California fuchsia, or easily propagate California poppies.

A California polyploid species in a garden.

A California multi-leaf tree in Bruce Schwartz’s native botanical garden will remain dormant during the summer, awaiting fall rain.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s a much better way to design a native garden,” he says, than planting a wildflower meadow in the front yard and looking like a vacant lot for eight months of the year. withered or inactive.

When it comes to maintaining your home garden in the summer, forget about lawn mowers and leaf blowers and pull out a rake and shears, says Schwartz, Kanter and Evan Meyer, chief executives of Theodore. hands, a pair of gloves and a watering can, Schwartz, Kanter and Evan Meyer, chief executive officer of Theodore, told the Payne Foundation.

Kanter and his partners at Studio Petrichor invented the term “June Groom” to help native gardeners learn how to maintain their summer yard, “because by June most plants are wildflowers and annual flowers are already pretty much consumed, so it’s a great time for grooming,” he says.

A bunch of weeds

Weeding is a routine task for maintaining a native garden.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times) How to care for a California native plant garden in summer

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