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Steps to Help You Design Your Garden using Native Plants

Garden Guides | At Your Home Garden Design Service | In House Bed Design | Garden Tune-Up Service

Prioritize the areas you wish to landscape and perhaps start with one or two sections of your yard. For EACH area of your garden, map out what you have:
  1. Make a scale drawing by measuring the length and width of each section and sketching this on graph paper. Note the scale of your drawing: 1 square = 2 feet, etc.
  2. Position large immovable objects on your diagram. These would include your house, driveway, walkways, fences, trees and shrubbery you do not plan to move.
  3. Indicate dimensions of areas you wish to plant (in length & width)
  4. Note North, South, East & West.
  5. Note areas of sun and shade. Best would be to indicate # hours of sun for each major garden area based on summer sun.
  6. Note irrigation sources for each area. Keep in mind that planting beds near lawns can receive both direct and indirect irrigation from sprinklers. Sloped areas may even receive irrigation from neighboring properties!
  7. Put your name and the city you live in on your plan.
  8. Make a separate page of special considerations that would affect plant selection such as deer, slope, oak trees in area, gophers, wind, unusual soil type, neighbors big house, etc.

Research possible plants for use in your design:
  1. Visit Yerba Buena Nursery and/or our online plant album and note plants that appeal to you.
  2. Visit areas where native plants grow: Botanical Gardens such as Tilden Park in Berkeley and others (call us and we can recommend some), or local undeveloped parks or open spaces that may represent some of the native plant communities in your area.
  3. Purchase books that contain photographs and information about native plants such as "California Native Plants for the Garden," "Gardening with a Wild Heart," and "Plants and Landscapes for Summer Dry Regions." We have all of these and more here in our bookshop.
  4. Sign up for a gardening tour such as the "Going Native Garden Tour." You will get to visit people’s private gardens and talk with them about the process they went through in designing their gardens.

Compile a plant list

If you have a "theme" you are trying to follow such as butterfly plants, bird-friendly plants, deer resistant plants, drought tolerant plants, etc. you will find many plant lists with this emphasis on our website and may wish to start with some of the favorite plants from these lists.
  1. Indicate plant name, type (shrub, perennial, tree, fern, etc.), dimensions (height & width), sun requirements and water requirements. You can print a list from our website or print a separate sheet for each plant you choose to use.
  2. Assign a series of letters that refer to each plant. Example- manzanita = MNZ.
  3. Cut out a square of paper that represents each plant in the scale of your plan and label each paper piece with the assigned letters.
  4. Move these pieces of paper onto your plan until they form a pleasing plan. What you do on paper will rarely work exactly in reality, but it can give you a good approximation of how many plants you will need.

Grouping Plants:
  1. Consider what height you want your major shrubs/trees to be. You want to consider their mature size and what they might block or shade in the future .
  2. Taller plants should go in back of shorter plants (generally).
  3. Group plants by similar needs (water, sun)
  4. Group plants that grow together in nature (coastal plants, etc.)
  5. Consider colors of flowers and foliage and how to combine these.
  6. Consider leaf forms and use a variety of interesting combinations.
  7. Consider the effect of deciduous plants in your design- some fall color could be lovely.
  8. Consider rate of growth- some plants grow quickly and others are slower- use a combination?

Planning Considerations: (MANY!)

A novice gardener can never foresee all the nuances that come with years of practical gardening experience, hence the phrase, "Live and Learn." If this is your first experience with plants, native or not, seek out advice from those who have done this before. This may be a garden consultant, designer, landscaper or nursery professional.

If you have questions about your garden design, please bring your scale drawing with you when you come to the nursery. This will help us to help you better.

Professional advice can save you many dollars in avoided mistakes. Shade plants will not grow in the sun and vice-versa. Plants that like it dry in the summer will not appreciate regular water.

Yerba Buena Nursery has a Garden Consultation Service which makes house calls. The cost for a visit and report is $300. More information can be found about that here.

Executing your Design

Depending on whether you need an irrigation system installed, require weeds or existing landscape to be removed, or hardscape work to be performed (rock walls or paths), you may choose to work with a contractor, your gardener, or to do the work yourself. Most of our customers choose to hand water their plants and install the plants by themselves. If you are doing the work yourself, here’s what’s next:

Once you have documented your plan, you will want to select your plants at the Nursery. Keep in mind that most likely you will not find all the plants you have specified at any one time. You may have to make substitutions (which we can help you with), or choose to wait until the plants you want become available.

Also, resist the tendency to over-plant and instead, complete your garden in "waves." Put in the main plants and add layers of plants as they become available or as you have time.

Be prepared to put your plants in the ground within a short time of taking them home. It is much harder to care for plants in the pot than plants in the ground.

Transplanting & watering techniques are detailed here. Read & follow these instructions carefully. We receive many phone calls from customers who have not followed these transplanting instructions and are having problems with the performance of their plants. We are generally unable to help when a mistake has been made at this crucial stage in the plant's care.

Once the plants are in the ground, make sure they are properly watered. All native plants, drought tolerant or not, require water to establish their root system in a new environment. This usually takes at least 1 year, during which the plants need to be watered either by you or by the rain. The amount of water you give the plants will depend on many factors: type of plant, type of soil, climate in your area, etc. With few exceptions, you would NEVER want to keep any plant constantly wet, and the water required to establish a plant might be a single weekly watering. Check with us if you have any questions about your watering techniques.

Again, our Garden Consultation Service is available to come on-site and help you with the installation of your plants. We can send our designer to your home to position the plants where the holes are to be dug and we can also supervise your gardeners to make sure the roots of the plants, size of the holes and other details are properly done.


Enjoy the process of creating your garden. Your garden will be like no other. It will be a place of refuge for you and the wildlife your native plants invite.

Recommended Books
  • California Native Plants for the Garden
  • Growing California Native Plants
  • Designing California Native Gardens
  • Plants and Landscapes for Summer Dry Regions
  • Gardening with a Wild Heart
  • The Landscaping Ideas of Jays
  • Native Treasures
  • Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants
We have these and many other books in our gift shop at Yerba Buena Nursery.

Garden Guides | At Your Home Garden Design Service | In House Bed Design | Garden Tune-Up Service

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Yerba Buena Nursery
(650) 851-1668

Visit Us:
@ Pastorino Farms
12511 San Mateo Road (Highway 92)
Half Moon Bay, CA

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 3188
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Open Tuesday - Friday 9 am-4:30 pm, Saturday 9am - 5 pm    CLOSED Sundays & Mondays
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