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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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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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