Fall, winter, and early spring are good times to plant our native and also the drought tolerant plants. In our mild climate, these plants which can endure drought during the summer to varying degrees are now making vigorous root growth. They do this as part of their response to a dry environment. Grow roots while there is moisture and cooler temps. and then they will be ready to tap into lower soil moisture reserves when rains stop and conditions become dry alter in the year. Those are the traditional planting times which are recommended for these kinds of plants, but remember, you can plant from containers at ANY time of the year, provided a little care is excercised when doing the planting. Some things will always be a bit tricky no matter what you do to make things the best as possible when planting. Fremontodendrons are notorious for their difficulty in garden situations that are watered amply during summer, fall. In the wild they are very drought resistant, but remember, they have had to make tap roots that grow very deep and also have excellent drainage where they occur naturally. Nursery produced plants do not have that kind of root system or time to establish from seed when grown in containers. They are somewhat fussy plants and can die for no apparent reason, many consider them short lived plants. Even arboreta and botanical gardens have to make sure they keep a steady supply of younger plants growing on just in case the mature specimen dies suddenly. But not all natives are so fussy and difficult. (Fremontodendrons are very showy and that is why we take special pains to grow them! I prefer the wild sorts since their flowers are smaller and more pleasing to my tastes.
Manzanitas and other natives are far easier to grow in many landscape situations. The same goes for many of the herbaceous perennial and bulbous species. A good rule of thumb is to make sure they all have good drainage, and take it easy with watering in summer and fall once they are well established. This can take several years to grow deep roots, depending on soil type and culture. Madrone is another touchy species (Arbutus menziesii), but so beautiful that it is tried by many enthusiasts. The same for the native dogwood, Cornus nuttallii. So easy in its native range, but so difficult when out of it and with excessive watering in summer and sunburn on its tender bark. (Don’t prune it unnecessarily either or you just might kill the tree).
But back to the planting time topic. Now is a great time to plant these wonderful species, our natives as well as other species from similar Mediterranean climates. Just be sure that you plant them slightly high, or at grade of the surrounding soil, mulch them to conserve moisture(this can be added in latter spring when it gets warmer and drier.)
Do wait to plant until the soil dries out a bit from all the recent rains. You do not want to dig in muddy ground or you will destroy the soil structure which enhances the air spaces between soil particles which is so necessary for good root growth. All natives can be planted in the fall, winter, and early spring with good results. The showy perennials like the native irises (Iris munzii, I. douglasii, etc.) will all be showing active root growth now or very soon. They do this to make sure they have established roots for later when it dries and becomes hot.
It is important to have some kind of design plan before you shop and begin to plant. You will need to have some kind of idea as to mature dimensions, culture(sun or shade, moist soil or dry, the needs of the plant).
Some natives are very tolerant of summer watering, and will make good growth when they are planted in an average garden culture and watering regime. The native hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii) is a good example as well as those flowering currants(Ribes sanguineum glutinosum cvs., R. speciosum, R. indecorum, R. malvaceum; and the creek bank holding shrubby dogwoods: Cornus sericea/ C. stolonifera cvs. there are many from which to choose now!)
I’ll expand on this topic in more detail later and do check the website for more detailed info than is written here. Also email if you have questions, and by all means post comments related to any topic.