A Bustle In Your Hedgerow: California Natives for your Vegetable Garden

Coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) photo by Art Shapiro

I’ve always been suspicious of some of the popular companion planting advice of the sort dispensed in old books like Carrots Love Tomatoes. From what I understand research just hasn’t proven a lot of the relationships these sorts of books tout. What makes intuitive sense to me, however, is that biodiversity in in a garden can create habitat for beneficial insects and birds that can help keep our edibles free of pests. For thousands of years in Northern Europe that biodiversity was maintained through the use of hedgerows.

Now, thanks to a study conducted by UC Santa Cruz researchers Tara Pisani Gareau and Carol Shennan, we’ve got some solid advice on what sorts of plants can create habitat for beneficials. The study, “Can Hedgerows Attract Beneficial Insects and Improve Pest Control? A Study of Hedgerows on Central Coast Farms” looks at a set of specific plants used in hedgerows in California: common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), California lilac (Ceanothus griseus and C. ‘Ray Hartman’), perennial buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), and coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica).

In their conclusion Gareau and Shennan note,

Planting a diversity of plants that have different floral architectures should increase the likelihood of conserving a diverse community of insect natural enemies. Coyote brush and yarrow would be especially important foundational plants in hedgerows. In addition . . . combining hedgerows with in-field floral plantings (in strips or randomly throughout) may increase the dispersal of small-bodied insect natural enemies through the fields.

Scott Kleinrock, who is in charge of the new Ranch project at the Huntington, tipped me off to this research and is making use of a lot of California natives to create the urban residential equivalent of a hedgerow. In short, a hedgerow in our yards and urban spaces means making sure to include lots of natives and flowering plants that can provide habitat for the types of critters we want. Hopefully this important research will be duplicated in other regions and climates with different sets of plants.

Now, I’ve got to get me some Baccharis pilularis!

ETA: Apologies for being California-centric here, but we don’t know of any research studies on native plant hedgerows in other places. However, be sure to check out this Mother Earth News article about living fences, which we’ve posted about before.

ETA 2: From our comments: check out the region-specific guidelines for plants which support pollinating insects, put together by the good folks at the Xerces Society.

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8 Comments

  1. Great post! There’s a farmer in No Cal that is an early adopter of the UCSC study. His farm is called Singing Frogs Farm. He has a pollinator friendly habitat by utilising native hedgerows on his farm, going beyond organic.

  2. My hedgerow idea on my city lot provides cover for rabbits, doves, and other animals I like to see running about. Okay, the doves seem to find shelter in the grape arbor, but they lie along the edges of the junk that I let grow for the rabbit shelter. I don’t plan and plant, I just mostly let it go until it needs cleaning out every few years. In this very old neighborhood, perfect yards are not common. Maybe it is the historic neighborhood that seems just right for leaving shelter for animals.

  3. oh I know scott! that’s great, he’s doing great stuff. I do have a problem with Coyote Brush though. We have it at our chino creek wetlands and educational park in chino and that stuff reseeds EVERYWHERE it is impossible to control! i hate that stuff! I have no problems with any of the other natives you’ve listed. but beware of that coyote brush. it’s a native invasive, and i hate it.

  4. Singing Frogs actually joined with Partners for Sustainable Pollination whose entire focus is generating funds to give grants to farmers willing to plants such hedgerows, especially in the biodiversity-starved central valley. They’re working to support native pollinator species, especially bees, and will happily take donations from folk who want to help get more hedgerows planted.

    Similar research has also been presented at the past two CA State Beekeepers Association conventions as well as being presented to groups like the Almond Growers and the CA Specialty Crops Council.

  5. I am planning to a hedgerow on our residential property this year. It is very difficult to find specific advise on how to establish a hedgerow. Good to hear about such research going on in your area. I wish I could find something pertaining to the northeast and mid-Atlantic. It seems that with this as with so many projects, I have to figure it out for myself, since no one seems to have written about what I want to do.

  6. You should read “Bring Nature Home, How you can sustain wildlife with native plants” by Douglas W. Tallamy. I picked it up when I wanted to convince myself to remove my 30 year old Camelias which don’t bring any insects to my yard. Now that I have backyard chickens, I wanted to draw in insects for them. It really convinced me to change my landscape.

  7. Kate, the Xerces Society is working hard in the east to help establish beneficial insect plantings like you describe. Check out our resource center (http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center/), seed store (http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-seed/), and our new book on creating habitat for pollinators (http://www.xerces.org/announcing-the-publication-of-attracting-native-pollinators/) to get everything you need. Best of luck! Mace Vaughan, Pollinator Program Director

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