Last Thanksgiving break found me finishing a big project at the junior high garden. We received funding to plant out the hillside adjacent to the garden with California natives. I looked around for a volunteer landscape consultant, but when there were none to be found, I buckled down and did the research myself on the question: What are the best native plants for slopes?
Visiting the “natives only” Las Pilitas nursery in Escondido (and their super informative website: http://www.laspilitas.com) told me everything I needed to know. Planting natives requires adherence to a few important principles:
- Ground should be saturated before the plant goes in so all the water isn’t drawn away.
- Natives need lots of water the day they are put in the ground.
- After that, you water only when you test the soil with your finger and feel that it is dry. If it’s wet, leave it. One exception seems to be that slope plants need water twice a week to get established.
- Fall is a great time to plant because the rains will take up the slack in getting them established.
- After they are established, they may need supplemental water in the summer—but after that, they’re good to go!
- Shredded redwood bark (sometimes called “gorilla hair”) is a excellent choice for thick mulching around the plant. I bought as many bags as I could shove in my car.
- Natives are awesome: They are appropriate to the area, create habitat, and thrive with minimal resources.
Here’s another cool aspect of this project. We have four 60 gallon rain barrels hooked up to a portable classroom at the junior high. Up until a few weeks ago we used this water exclusively—-no tap water at all—-to plant 40 plus plants on the hillside. People wonder if small rainwater catchment systems make a difference. They do! Sixty gallon barrels fill very quickly catching even a modest amount of rain off a large surface, like a building’s roof. Of course, they are now empty with our (distressing) dry spell. We might get some rain tomorrow night, however, which will not only take care of the once-a-week watering they require to get established, but will also fill the barrels again to get us through the next stretch of (super distressing) drought.
I pulled students in to the planting when possible, grabbing a few volunteers at recess and taking students out during a Thursday enrichment class. Rains in November, however, dictated the planting schedule, so I found myself there alone, digging, planting and mulching. The hillside is bare and a little eroded, so putting in the plants helps to beautify one of the outdoor areas where children eat—an element in creating a Farm to School program. These plants will also stabilize the bank over time while creating appropriate habitat for birds and butterflies. So as I teetered on the hillside, digging holes and gazing down on our public school, I felt thankful for restoration work which turns out to be personally restorative as well—a good way to kick off my Thanksgiving break.
Many thanks to the Community United Methodist Church of Julian Gallo Fund for making this project possible!