P80804+Native plants should be the most sensible options for local landscapes and home gardens. It seems natural that they would be the most sustainable, since they survive in the wild without watering, soil amendment or fertilizer. Once established in landscapes, they should be satisfied with the moisture they get from annual rainfall. Plants that are not native are considerably more demanding.

However, even native plants are not perfect. Some of the same qualities that help them survive in the wild are not so desirable around the home. To make matters worse, adapting to unnatural landscapes and home gardens can be as difficult for native plants as it would be for many of the common exotic (non-native) plants to adapt to the natural climate and endemic soils without help.

Natives obviously do not need much water. They certainly do not get much in the wild. They are resistant to drought because they disperse their roots so efficiently. The problem with this technique is that it does not work while plants are confined to cans (nursery pots). Once planted, new plants might take a bit of time to disperse their roots enough to survive without supplemental watering.

This might not seem like much of a problem for those who do not mind watering new native plants while they get established. New native plants still use less water than established exotic plants. The difficulty is that too much water can rot roots before they disperse! So, new native plants need to be watered regularly, but also need to not be overwatered! Monitoring them can be a hassle.

It might seem that larger new plants would be more resilient than smaller plants would be, but it is quite the opposite. Smaller plants (such as #1 or 1 gallon) disperse roots more efficiently, so get established sooner than larger plants (such as 5 gallon). Roots contained within small volumes of media (potting soil) are damaged less when planted than roots in larger volumes are. Roots of native plants, although efficient at dispersion, are innately sensitive.P90309+++++

6 thoughts on “Some Plants Should Stay Wild

  1. Interesting to note that we should buy smaller native plants so that they will adapt better to our landscape. I haven’t heard that but it makes perfect sense.

    Also important that you point out that just because something is native and doesn’t need water when established (or much water), it still will need supplemental watering to get established.

    I find that’s where folks fail with plants the most–in watering to establish them. They think a quick sprinkling with a hose is “watering.” It’s a little heartbreaking.


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  2. Some natives may not get the nutrients from the landscape as they do in the wild. I have native trees on my lot and I never remove the leaf litter. The trees have stayed strong enough to survive a couple of hurricanes and drought.

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    1. That is even more obvious here where the soil types and ecosystems are so variable. This side of the Santa Cruz Mountains is very different from the other side, and very different from the Santa Clara Valley, and there are isolates spots of who-knows-what tossed in the mix by eons of tectonic activity. Redwoods that grow like weeds here are not at all happy in the sand hills where the ponderosa pines are so happy, even though the sand hills are surrounded by redwood forests. There are a few perennials that live in the redwood forests that barely survive without the redwoods, and more importantly, the soil bacteria that are specific to the site from which they come.

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    1. Joshua tree is one of the worst!. It is almost never planted, but when homes are built near them, and they get their roots under a lawn, they grow so bulky and heavy that they can not support their own weight, and then fall apart. Some just rot and fall over before they fall apart. That is not a tree to mess with!

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