How to Create a California Native Garden

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How to Create a California Native Garden

Are you ready to plant your first native garden, but don’t know where to start? No need to be intimidated! This easy guide breaks down the process into 5 simple steps. 

  1. Identify your garden goals.
  2. Learn about your yard conditions.
  3. Select the right plants.
  4. Place your plants.
  5. Care for your plants.


1. Identify your garden goals.

What are your priorities for your garden? Do you want to attract butterflies, birds, and bees? Do you want a beautiful and calming place to relax? Do you prefer your yard to look wild or tidy? Are you designing with children, dogs, or cats in mind? Identify your personal priorities and decide on a clear vision for your garden — it will go a long way to guide your process! It is sometimes helpful to come up with 3 words to describe your garden goals, taking aesthetic and use into account.


2. Learn about your yard conditions.

Which parts of your yard are shady and which parts are sunny? Do you have fast-draining sandy soils or slow-draining clay soils? The better you understand your site conditions, the more informed decisions you will be able to make about plant selection. See our plant lighting guide and our planting guide to learn about light conditions and soil tests you can perform at home.


3. Select the right plants.

This is the step that many people get stuck on. It is easy to get lost in endless research of plant options and to feel uncertain about making the right decision. Here’s how to break the decision down into easier chunks:

  1. Narrow your search to plants that match the light and soil requirements of your yard conditions. Some plants need shade, sun, or fast draining soil while others tolerate clay soil and are more flexible about the light.
  2. What functions do you need from your plants in different spots in the yard? Do you need groundcover, a tall privacy hedge, or some showy attractive flowers?
  3. What looks nice to you? Do you like dark green leaves, light green leaves, big leaves, little leaves? Do you prefer certain flower colors over others? Do you want lots of contrasting textures, or simplicity and uniformity?

A visit to the nursery can be really helpful when making these decisions, so you can see what the plants look and feel like in real life. And of course, our nursery staff are always available to consult about your plant selection decisions. 


4. Place your plants.

It is time to arrange your plants - the most fun part of design! Think about how to space your plants. If you are patient and planning for a garden that will look lush in 2-3 years, you will want to space plants according to their actual full size. If you are less patient and want your yard to look more full within a year, you can space plants a little closer than their full size, but just know that you may have to deal with overcrowding in a few years. 

Additionally, think about water requirements for your plants - make sure you are grouping plants together that want a similar amount of water. Lastly, place your plants based on what looks nice to you. You can think about creating contrast in colors and textures, and framing views from different angles. It is a general rule of thumb to place taller plants behind shorter plants, so the shorter plants don’t get lost from view.


5. Care for your plants.

You have done all the hard work of designing! Now marks the beginning of a long term relationship with your garden and your plants. See our care guide for more tips about native plant maintenance.

You can always expect some losses. Even the most pro-gardeners can’t always explain why one plant does well in one spot while another struggles a few feet away. At the end of the day, gardening is all about trial and error, getting in tune with your plants’ needs, and learning how to support life around you. 

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