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Go native to support wildlife and save water, too

These drought-tolerant shrubs and trees provide food for bees, butterflies and birds

A hummingbird enjoys a hollyleaf redberry  (Rhamnus ilicifolia), a native shrub.

A hummingbird enjoys a hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia), a native shrub.

Courtesy Sac Valley CNPS

Chris Lewis and Robin Rietz know the power of native plants: They’re irresistible – especially to native wildlife.

After all, native plants and native wildlife were made for each other. Native birds, bees and butterflies like to eat the plants where they have always lived; that’s what nature intended.

Near the American River Parkway, Lewis and Rietz grow scores of varieties of wildlife-friendly native plants at the Sac Valley CNPS Nursery and Gardens. Located on Soil Born Farms’ American River Ranch in Rancho Cordova, the nursery – also known as Elderberry Farms – propagates a wide range of local favorites. Its demonstration gardens show off those native plants year round.

At 9 a.m. Oct. 8, Soil Born will host a workshop devoted to California natives. Registration ($30) is now open for “Gardening with Natives Plants,” a hands-on introduction to planning, planting and growing natives. (Go to Led by Mark Shaffer of CNPS, the class includes a tour of the nursery and demonstration gardens.

Fall is the best time to transplant most native plants, especially shrubs, trees and perennials. It allows them months (hopefully with rain) to put down roots and get established before the stress of summer heat next year.

Native plants tend to be naturally drought-tolerant; they were meant to grow in our often-dry climate. But they also provide food and shelter for native species.

That’s important, notes Lewis. Available habitat and food sources are crucial to native species’ survival.

According to the Audubon Society, the continental United States has lost more than 150 million acres of native plant habitat to urbanization over the past 100 years. That’s devastated the native wildlife that depended on it.

Growing native plants in urban or suburban gardens can help make up for that habitat loss. Otherwise, more species of birds and butterflies will disappear.

“The native plant habitat we protect or add to our landscapes today will determinewhat life looks like tomorrow,” Lewis says. “We’re all part of the web of life.”

Wildlife, especially birds, needs food sources every season. Otherwise, they leave – or starve. In the CNPS demonstration gardens are examples of native plants that offer something for birds and beneficial insects spring through winter.

This year, the nursery’s team created a new “lawn replacement” demonstration garden that would be acceptable to even picky home owners associations. Says Lewis, “We call it our HOA-friendly garden.”

Rietz, the nursery’s propagation director, planted a mix of perennials, shrubs and small trees that mimic traditional landscaping forms but with a lot more life and color. Birds dart among mountain mahogany and hollyleaf redberry while bees buzz the asters and penstemon. Hummingbirds zip between California fuchsia and scarlet monkeyflower.

“The Sonoma sage is beautiful this summer,” Rietz notes. “It hugs the ground and has nice blue flowers.”

Shrubs and trees give structure to any landscape. They also can provide habitat as well as food for wildlife. At the CNPS nursery, dozens of examples are on display.

Berry-bearing bushes add interest to the landscape, too. In late summer and fall, coffeeberry is loaded with marble-size black berries. Conversely, snowberry lives up to its name with pearl-like berries.

“We try to give ideas of how shrubs can be used in the home landscape,” Rietz says. “For example, the mountain mahogany can be hedged.”

Elderberry can be pruned as a small tree or large shrub, Rietz notes. So can toyon.

“These are mega-pollinator plants,” Lewis adds. “There are lots of winter berries for birds, but when they’re in bloom, bees are all over them. I love shrubs that are multi-functional.”

Sac Valley CNPS Nursery and Gardens are located at Soil Born Farms’ American River Ranch, 2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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