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Native plant gardens can bring habitat, city rebates to replaced lawns

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Theodore Payne Foundation is a nursery and non-profit up in the foothills of Sun Valley — about 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles — dedicated to promoting California's native plants. As you might imagine, business has been booming lately.

Wondering how to rip out your lawn yet?  Theodore Payne Foundation may be able to help. 

The group is a nursery and non-profit up in the foothills of Sun Valley — about 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles — dedicated to promoting California's native plants. As you might imagine, business has been booming lately. 

RELATED: Rip out your lawn, then rip open an envelope of cash in LA

Municipalities throughout the state have been offering rebates to residents who choose to rip out their lawns for native plants. There's a reason why there are such attractive incentives for lawn replacement.

"Natives evolved with native animals, and part of gardening is not just making a pretty folly on your property, but it's creating habitat," said Lili Singer, director of special projects and adult education at the Theodore Payne Foundation. "All gardens bring in animals, but when you bring in natives, you get so many more butterflies and so many more birds."

RELATED: FAQ: what you need to know about wrangling lawn rebates in Southern California

Four years into the rebate program, the Department of Water and Power upped how much you'll be paid to replace your lawn, from $1.50 per square foot to $2.

But switching over to native plants isn't as easy as ripping up your lawn and planting a few succulents. There's a lot of research and planning that goes into the transition.

"What you need to know is the conditions in your garden and pick plants that match those conditions so you're not changing the soil," said Singer.  "It's important to know that not all California native plants are drought-tolerant."

Some of California's native plants thrive next to streams and rivers, other thrive in the desert, meaning no matter what your soil conditions might be, there will always be a native plant that can fit. 

"We do have plants for every corner of the garden, including the little place where you wind up the hose where it's always wet," said Singer. "Then we have the plants that are used to going for eight months without any measurable water on the surface."

The City of Santa Monica has been documenting plant species at two of its gardens on Santa Monica City property. What they've found is that native plants use one-seventh of the water of a traditional garden, and need only a fifth of the maintenance. 

Singer recommends choosing a variety of sage, including Cleveland sage and its hybrids, which are sweet, fragrant and have beautiful blooms. She also recommends Manzanitas, California lilacs and buckwheats, which bloom white or pink flowers and attract lots of butterflies.  

You may think that the summer months mean your native plant garden will dry and wither, but that's not the case. 

"It's very easy to make a garden with 12 months of color with California natives," said Singer. "You can have something flowering every month."

One thing to keep in mind if you're planning to make the native plant switch is that even drought-resistant plants need at least a year of regular watering for their roots to take. 

"We have this mindset that these plants are really drought tolerant, but for the first year or two, all of these plants need to be watered regularly," said Singer. "That's why we sell little ones, the smaller they are the more readily they transplant and root."

Though your water bill may be a bit higher the first year or so, there are some longterm benefits. 

"Once these guys are established, if it's a drought tolerant plant, it can go for a couple months without water," said Singer. 

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