How to Create a Sustainable Ecosystem in Your Own Yard                             

Succulents are an obvious solution to nature’s unnerving lack of water. However, an abundance of other beautiful, sustainable plants require little water—or time.

By Linda Brooks

Californian native plants have survived droughts and floods for thousands of years. Some 6,500 species, subspecies, and varieties of plants occur naturally in California, many of which are found nowhere else in the world, and they’re diverse in the role they play to maintain our ecosystem.

Take geophytes (bulbs, corns, rhizomes, and tubers) like the checker lily, which live in habitats predominantly dependent on fire. These florae lie dormant underground to protect their storage organs from burning, only to emerge after a fire, in full force, to continue their work in balancing our ecosystem. Then there are the “nitrogen fixers,” such as the California lilac, which replenish the soil with nitrogen that plants use to survive. When the leaves fall, creating mulch, or the plant or root nodules die, the nitrogen is released into the soil.

However, working in tandem with Mother Nature is hardly an arduous (or unattractive) task. Here’s a look at how to create a sustainable ecosystem in your own yard.                                                                                                               

-Plant natives in the fall when the soil is cooler and there will be less moisture evaporation.

-Promote a strong root system with initial deep watering. Once established after the first year, they will require less water and maintenance while reducing pests, additional fertilization and soil erosion, and will support vital pollinators for crops while making your garden beautiful.

-Know your landscape. It’s important to select the right plant for the right place. Evaluate which areas provide sun and shade and which get more water than others to help determine your selection and placement.

-Define your objectives: hedge, fire consideration, shade, border, color. If you want a hedge that’s fire retardant look for the sugar bush (Rhus ovata), which produces pink or white blooms in winter and spring. For border or color, the canyon snow iris (Douglasiana), with its springtime, orchard-like white flower and yellow markings, blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), with small blue or purple flowers that bloom in winter and spring, or the California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), which blooms scarlet flowers in summer and fall. All are vibrant and require about as much water as agave.

-Select plants that are regional to Southern California: bulbs like butterfly mariposa (Calochortus venustus), which blooms from May to July and comes in colors from white, yellow, and purple to dark red, all with the “peacock eye” at the base of the petals; ground cover like California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense), which does well on slopes; shrubs/small trees like big berry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca), which has striking mahogany bark with lantern-shaped white to pink flowers blooming in winter and spring; ferns like giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), which is hearty and can exceed five feet in height; and grass from Stover Seed (, which offers a California native grass-seed mixture that can be mowed.


Bloom! California ( is a statewide, grant-funded, three-year campaign created by the California Native Plant Society ( to increase California native plant inventory in local nurseries by 20%. Phase two is directed toward the consumer and kicks off September 15. Learn just about everything you need to know about introducing California native plants into your garden is available on their websites, including searchable databases of plants and participating nurseries by zip code, as well as an easy-to-use garden planner at

The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers & Native Plants ( in Sun Valley offers on-site education, plant nursery, and 3.9-mile nature hiking trail.


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