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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - June 30, 2005

From: Monterey, CA
Region: California
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Low maintenance native plants for college campus in Monterey, CA
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am a graduate student at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. We are researching ways to save money (decreased maintenance, pesticide/herbicide use, etc) on our campus. I need some ideas on: Wildflowers that will grow here year round (and hopefully bloom a lot) and low-maintenance landscaping ideas to help beautify our campus. Thanks in advance.

ANSWER:

For an excellent discussion of plant communities and information on designing a garden with native plants from California, visit Las Pilitas Nursery in San Luis Obispo. They also have a listing of native plants with descriptions of the plants and growing conditions and helpful tips.

Here are a few suggestions for evergreen plants:
1) Chaparral Yucca (Yucca whipplei) or the percusa varietal (Yucca whipplei var. percusa)
2) Beach wormwood or Beach sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
3) Ceanothus or Low blue blossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)
4) Coyote bush or Dwarf coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis)
5) Evergreen currant or Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium)

To find a list of more nurseries specializing in native plants in your area visit National Suppliers Directory on the Wildflower Center webpage. Looking through the list of available species at one of these, Central Coast Wilds, in Santa Cruz will give you an idea for other plants that would be suitable for your project.

You might also contact Monterey Bay Master Gardeners to find out more about the plants that grow best in your coastal area. They are associated with the University of California Cooperative Extension. The Master Gardeners do take on projects and yours might qualify for volunteer help.

You didn't ask for any data to support your plan to use native landscaping but I am including information on a study reported by a group in Illinois called the Openlands Project. According to its web page, the "Openlands Project, founded in 1963, is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing public open space in northeastern Illinois." The study (results of which are available as a downloadable PDF file on their web page) was undertaken by Applied Ecological Service of Brodhead, Wisconsin and estimates that maintaining prairie or wetlands costs only $3000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses over a 20 year period.
For another estimate, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes "A Source Book on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials" on line that outlines the economic benefits of using natural vegetation.
 

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