Wondering what to plant under Oaks?

in our front yard
Hummingbird Sage and Yarrow under the shade of a Coast Live Oak in my yard.

I’ve been enjoying my holiday break and I hope you have, too. Today I was reminded by one of my Herb Walks friends that, with the rainy season approaching, now is the time to plant drought-tolerant native plants. She asked what to plant under Oak trees. My yard is mostly under Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) so I’ve had good results with Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) as a low-growing flowering plant. I sparingly water the Hummingbird Sage to keep it green all year. Native California Yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. californica) provides a drought-tolerant ground cover in the same bed.

Toyon berries provide color and food in the winter months.

I also have two established Toyon trees (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that require no water at all after their second summer and produce flowers and berries that the birds love. I also dry the berries for a chewy snack with a cherry-like flavor.

Hollyleaf cherry
Hollyleaf Cherry (“Islay”)

Like commercial cherries, Toyon is in the Rose family, as is our native Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). Also known by its Spanish name “Islay,” Hollyleaf Cherry prefers some sun but will grow in the shade of oaks as well. The cherries are edible and the plant can be grown as a shrub, tree or hedge, making it extremely versatile. Furthermore, it is proven to be resistant to Armillaria mellea, the dreaded Oak Root Fungus.

Here is a link to an excellent article on what to plant under Oaks by Ron Singer, the Nursery Manager for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.

Here is a link to an article on plants resistant to Oak Root Fungus by Robert D. Rabe, Department of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.

I look forward to seeing you on the trail again in 2016 as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Herb Walks. Happy New Year!

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