San Diego County Overseers approve a program to increase the use of native plants

California lilac
A California lilac in bloom. Courtesy of the County News Center

San Diego County supervisors voted 4-0 Wednesday to support a multi-year program to increase the use of native plants in the area.

The program was developed by the San Diego Regional Biodiversity Working Group, formed at the suggestion of supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Terra Lawson-Remer.

Lawson-Remer said more native plants are not only good for the environment, but also benefit the region’s economy in the form of more landscaping and related service contracts. She said the program will “incentivize local residents, landscapers and businesses to protect the biodiversity that makes our region so beautiful and unique, and will require the use of native plants in many county projects.”

With climate change threatening the county’s unique habitats and ecosystems, “the good news is that we have the power to protect these delicate habitats, and this initiative will make that easier than ever,” she added.

Fletcher added that more native plants will also help with habitat corridors, drought management and stormwater reduction.

The program calls for the planting of demonstration gardens and the development of educational materials for San Diego County students. Seven development strategies are:

  • a landscape design guide with definitions, best practices and parameters for installation
  • a requirement for native plants in new district facilities or retrofits where possible
  • a website with educational and training resources
  • Educational materials and resources for residents and landscapers
  • a certification program for landscape gardeners in cooperation with community colleges and other regional partners
  • Incentives to native plants for private developments in the unincorporated areas in the form of rebates for conversion of lawns
  • Free, easy-to-use landscape design templates online
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The full program will be implemented over a six-year period, according to a report from the county’s Planning and Development Service.

Native plants include California lilac, Cleveland sage, live coastal oak, penstemon and sticky monkey flower.

During Wednesday’s public comment period, most speakers supported the program.

Frank Landis of the California Native Plant Society said his group is committed to making the program a success. “We still have a long way to go and hope it will be a very rewarding journey,” he added.

Mary Liesegang, a manager at conservation group Wildcoast, said native plants can support 10 to 15 times more species, while healthy wetlands can absorb 10 times the amount of carbon.

Mary Matava, president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said the organization supports an education/incentive-based approach, but some native plants are difficult to establish in certain areas. Matava suggested the county hire a specialist to work with nursery gardeners and offer workshops to homeowners.

Suzanne Hume, founder of CleanEarth4Kids, said that while her group supports more native plants, they were not invited to participate in the original program development. She added that the county “must stop using toxic pesticides.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond was absent Wednesday, and his office gave no formal reason. Wednesday’s regular meeting, which focuses on land use and environmental issues, was the last for 2022.

County officials who won their elections last month – including Desmond and Fletcher – will be sworn in during a Jan. 9 ceremony. The first regular board meeting of the new year will take place on January 10th.

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The City News Service contributed to this article.

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