Hero Image

Spring 2023

Native Plant Gardening in the Spring

Native Plant Gardening in the Spring

by Laurinda Ochoa

Courtesy Laurinda Ochoa
Courtesy Laurinda Ochoa
In the 2023 Winter issue of News to Grow By, we learned winter is the ideal time to add California native plants to our gardens so they can become established during our cool growing season and winter rains. But for those of us who didn’t get around to casting those wildflower seeds or starting seedlings in pots, can we plant natives during the spring months? 

Yes! Although March and April are too late to start a spring-blooming native wildflower garden, there is still time to plant summer and fall blooming California native perennials. However, it is important to do the following:

  • pick plants suitable for your garden conditions (go to https://www.calscape.org/ and type in your address to see what plants are local to your area
  • water your new plantings during our hot summer and fall months while they become established. 

Here are three native plant groups that bring color and pollinators to our yards during the summer and fall – penstemons, asters, and salvias.



Penstemon - Courtesy Laurinda Ochoa
Penstemon - Courtesy Laurinda Ochoa
 Penstemons, also commonly known as beardtongues, are members of a large family of diverse, flowering plants with beautiful tubular flowers on long branches or spikes that are a favorite of both bees and hummingbirds. 

There are over 100 varieties of penstemon native to California. They grow in a variety of garden conditions, but generally favor full sun, good air circulation and drainage, and don’t want to be overwatered or fertilized. When happy, penstemons will survive in the home garden with little care and begin to reseed. 

California native penstemons range in color from white, yellow, pink, blue, purple and red. There are many varieties and cultivars that grow in our county’s bay and inland areas and are available at local nurseries. These include:

Asters and Fleabane ‘Daisies’

Aster - Photo Courtesy of Laurinda Ochoa
Aster - Photo Courtesy of Laurinda Ochoa
Many gardeners are familiar with the composite flowers of daisies and sunflowers and know that each single flower is actually a cluster of smaller flowers. 

In California, common native composite flowers include asters, fleabanes, and daisies. With over 100 native varieties, there are many that grow easily in gardens and become sources of food for birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects. These native plants can be annuals, perennials or small shrubs and have white, yellow, blue, pink, and purple flowers.

Some of the more well-known California varieties that work well in our gardens include:

 Pacific Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense)

Many asters form a nice groundcover planting as they spread by rhizomes and help stabilize coastal hillsides and creek banks.


Salvia - Courtesy of Laurinda Ochoa
Salvia - Courtesy of Laurinda Ochoa
Salvias, or sages, are well known members of the mint family and are commonly used all around the world in cooking, herbal remedies, and gardens. They generally require several hours of sun and good drainage. Many of the more popular cultivars grow well in pots. 

There are approximately 89 native salvias in California, with many commonly known to gardeners, including:

Local nurseries also carry beautiful non-native garden salvias which can provide nectar and pollen for our hummingbirds, bees and other insects. Please buy and plant only those plants that are neonicotinoid* free, and do not use any harmful pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals around your plants. 

Remember to Research and Water

Winter is always the best time of year to plant and establish native plants in our gardens. However, with a little research to find the best varieties for your location (https://www.calscape.org/) and careful attention to watering to maintain your new plants during our hot dry summer and fall months, it is possible to plant California natives during our spring months. 

Enjoy colorful blooms in your garden while you create a healthy environment for our native birds, bees, and other insects. 

* Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides that are absorbed by plants and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to bees.