• Jacky Surber

10 California Native Plants for Spring Planting

This year marks the 17th Annual Theodore Native Plant Garden Tour. Naturally we were sad when the in person version of the tour was cancelled (due to the “Safer-At-Home” order), but excited that TPF chose to move it to an on online platform. The goal of the annual tour that features gardens designed by homeowners and professionals, is simple, show that native plants are beautiful, honor the natural heritage of our land and the Tongva people, and inspire Angelenos everywhere to become a part of rewilding the city.

So it would be a complete tease,

to get you excited about planting your new CA Native garden, only to tell you that you have to wait until fall to plant, a misconception I hear too often. Well I’m here say that is simply not true, not for all native plant species anyways.

You can and you should plant a native garden now, (after all we still have about 3 months of mild weather before the heat waves kick in), so today I'm sharing a list of 10 plants, that in my experience have close to a 100% success rate in late Spring plantings, along with some pro tips to help you get them through the summer.

We need gardens now more than ever, and luckily for those fortunate enough to have the space and more time as of late, landscaping, gardening, and nurseries are considered essential services, and continue to operate.

That means DIYers can have plants delivered by many mail order and local nurseries or pick up through TPF’s new plant drive through. If you are a homeowner who wants more help, you can still employ gardener’s services, such as Saturate California, a company that specializes in holistic maintenance, including assistance with planting native plants, mulching, and irrigation.

For those of you who want full service installations of a newly designed landscape, most landscape contractors that I collaborate with are working through these novel times, and continue the vital role of making sure gardens get planted.

Without further ado here are the plants in alphabetical order, by botanical name, because that’s how my brain is wired. Click here for an expanded version of the list, with details, more images and information. All photos in this blog post were taken by me, Jacky Surber, so please credit my name when sharing them.


Achillea millefolium | Common Yarrow

This luscious evergreen ground cover, is super versatile, as it can be mowed for walking on, planted in groups for a carpet like feel or planted individually for a pop of color. It comes in a rainbow of colors, makes a great cut flower, attracts beneficial insects and is fast growing. It can be planted in mass from seeds or small pots, once established it can be divided and shared. While it thrives best in full sun, it can take part shade, and will grow in any soil type.


Anemopsis californica | Yerba Mansa

This highly medicinal and ornamental perennial is best suited to seasonally moist areas of your garden, such as a bio-swale or rain garden. If you aren't sure what that is read my other blog post about swales here. Anemopsis is not particular about soil or how much or little sun it gets, so anyone can find a place for it in their garden. If you are planning a native garden, you should definitely incorporate a rain water harvesting feature of some kind, in fact it is a requirement of the $3 per square foot rebate currently offered through LADWP and many other water districts. Anemopsis is the perfect swale plant, and though it will go dormant in the winter, it pops right back in the spring.


Artemisia douglasiana | Mugwort

A spectacular foliage plant, Artemisia, can vary in color from greyish silver to a brighter green, depending on the time of year and how much sun or shade it gets. This shrubby perennial isn't fussy about soil type or amount of sun, so it makes its way into most of my designs. It also is important for beneficial insects and has magical properties.


Asclepias fascicularis | Narrow-Leaf Milkweed

Asclepias is the only plant a Monarch butterfly will lay their eggs on, and whose larvae feed on the foliage as a caterpillar. This perennial goes winter dormant, and does best in full sun, but tolerates a range of soil types and moisture levels. To some people this plant can look a bit messy, but this plant is critical for saving the Monarch and so we have to look past that.


Bouteloua gracilis | Blue Grama Grass

Bouteloua is a long lived, warm season grass that requires full sun, but that is about it. A compact plant that thrives in many soil types. It is as beautiful in summer when the flowers emerge slightly purple as it is when they dry to a gorgeous blonde color in fall. Flowers hang on through the winter until it needs it's annual haircut down to the ground in early spring. There are a couple of varieties besides the species, a bigger one than the species is 'Blonde Ambition', and a smaller release by John Greenlee called 'Angel Eyelash'


Calystegia macrostegia | Island Morning Glory

This fast growing, evergreen vine, thrives in almost any soil type and as long as it gets plenty of sun it will bloom almost year round. Enough said! The chain link fence on the upper left, was planted with a 1 gallon plant every 10' and was filled in within 3 months.


Heteromeles arbutifolia | Toyon

Heteromeles is another ones of those tough Native plants that really should be in every garden. It can grow in full sun or shade, is not picky about soil types, and require virtually no maintenance if it is given enough space. White blossoms in spring and summer lead to berries that turn from green to orange in October or November, eventually going dark red in the winter, where they can be found hanging on through the spring. In larger gardens this shrub can be trained into a small to medium multi trunked tree, and in smaller gardens it can be clipped into a forma hedge or trained flat against a sunny wall as an Espalier.


Muhlenbergia rigens | Deer Grass

Muhlenbergia is a warm season grass that is stunning when planted in large groups, where the movement of its leaves and flowers is graceful in windy areas or where a breeze comes through. It is low maintenance, resilient and should be used in any garden with at least a half day of sun and at least 4' wide of space per plant. Despite it's name, it is one of the grasses less tasty to deer.


Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina' | Cedros Island Verbena

As you can see from the last photo of the Muhlenbergia, these two plants grow well together. This brighter variety of the species was discovered by Carol Bornstein, and is an especially fragrant flowered, bushy perennial quickly reaching 2'-3' tall and 4' wide. The leaves are bright green, dissected and ferny-looking. Verbena can appear to be flowering most of the year, if care is taken to regularly remove spent flowers. It attracting bees, butterflies, and curious humans alike.


Vitis californica | California Wild Grape

The California Wild Grape, and in particular the variety called 'Roger's Red' is one of my all time favorite plants. It isn't a CA garden in my mind without at least one type of grape. Dormant in the winter, it's branches have a sculptural quality to them, in the spring they burst forth with glossy new leaves, and flowers, followed by summer fruits, which the birds relish. I even have one client in the Valley that uses the grapes to make a fabulous wine! So find a wall, a fence, or a trellis and give this Vitis a try.

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