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.

Native Plant Workshop

Vitus californica covering our ugly chain link fence

There’s a couple of common misconceptions amongst novice gardeners about native plants:

1. If you use native plants the whole garden has to be natives.
In fact, it’s great to mix natives with non-native plants. The natives bring in beneficial wildlife, are hardy and are efficient in terms of water use. Flexibility is key here–go ahead and mix natives with vegetables, fruit trees and other climate-appropriate plantings.

2. Natives aren’t edible.
Many natives yield edible and medicinal crops. In North America the best way to delve into this topic is to figure out the plants that Native Americans in your area used.

3. Southern California is a desert and native plants are desert plants.
Coastal Southern California has a Mediterranean climate not a desert climate and native plants adapted to this region do not look like desert plants. Coastal natives can be very lush and attractive.

Note: the workshop listed below has been postponed due to rain. See the Green Beacon Foundation website for more information.

In order to dispel these myths and offer practical advice, a new non-profit organization, the Green Beacon Foundation is hosting a native plant talk and demonstration conducted by Lisa Novick of the Theodore Payne Foundation. Theodore Payne is a great resource for finding native plants and seeds and, in Southern California, now is the time to get those natives in the ground. Here’s the 411 on the workshop:

“The Green Beacon Foundation (GBF) located in historic Elysian Heights serves as a community resource for the public to have tactile experiences of “going green,” through on-going workshops, lectures, and tours.

The Green Beacon Foundation is hosting Lisa Novick of the Theodore Payne Foundation who will present the lecture entitled, “Why Plant Natives?”on Saturday, February 7th. at 2pm. If you have always wanted to learn more about California Native plants and how to incorporate them into your garden, this is the event you’ve been waiting for!

Native plants not only save water, they save species. Learn about crucial native plant-animal relationships and gardening to attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.

With only 4% of our wild lands left, urban and suburban native plant gardens will be the “make or break” difference to the support and preservation of bio-diversity.

Lisa will show and tell you about several varieties of native plants as well as provide samples for sale.

Immediately after the lecture in the garden we will be conducting a tour of the house to show and tell you about green products and renovation processes that will help save money while caring for the earth.

Suggested donation for the lecture and the tour: $10 each

Please RSVP for address to Julie Solomon:

[email protected]

or call 323.717.9636″