by Rachael L. Olliff Yang, Ph.D.

Slide19This past month CNPS released a new Bay Area Garden Planner as part of its Calscape website, making planting native in the Bay Area even easier than before!

California is a huge state which means plants “native to California” can be as drastically different as opuntia cacti and redwood trees. While my parents did have both opuntia and a redwood in our yard when I was a child, I think we all agreed that the poor redwood tree did not belong in our East San Diego County desert. Focusing on locally native plant species makes it easier to keep your plants alive and thriving because they are better adapted to your local microclimate. Local species also provide the most benefit to the wildlife in your specific area and are essential for specialized insect species with limited host plants, such as caterpillars which tend to be highly specialized.

BAGP art 1But how does this Bay Area Garden Planner improve on the previous garden planner in Calscape? The main difference is that the planning questionnaire allows gardeners to sort by ecoregions and habitat type within the Bay Area. Ecoregions are areas that are characterized by similar soil type, slope, climate, and plant assemblages. The habitat types listed are naturally occurring plant communities from within the Bay Area ecoregion such as meadows, coastal shrub, chaparral, and woodland habitat. These choices were especially exciting for me since meadow or grassland habitats are often overlooked in the native gardening world, despite being such an important habitat type in California. Like the original Calscape garden planner, the Bay Area tool also asks for gardening preferences: provide support for birds or pollinators, ease of care, or wildfire risk reduction.

The plant species lists produced by the Bay Area Planner are quite different from the original Calscape lists, as this Planner narrows down the species for you based on more regionally-specific habitat goals. Therefore, I think this new tool will help enthusiastic gardeners like me focus on the species that are most important to plant for the wildlife in our area. During Marin CNPS Chapter plant sales, I want to buy ALL of the different native plants available for my home, but using this Planner will guide me in choosing those best suited for the specific ecoregion and habitat of my garden.

The Bay Area is the first to have this helpful new site to use, but plans are in the works to create similar regionally-specific sites for other parts of the state. The Bay Area Garden Planner was made possible by a grant from the Saratoga Horticultural Research Endowment, with special thanks to The Butterfly Net for lepidoptera-plant interaction data.


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