Debs Park native plant nursery gets growing without El Niño rains

Photo by Martha Benedict

Photo by Martha Benedict


MONTECITO HEIGHTS –– Plenty of gardeners in Northeast Los Angeles are wondering when – if ever – the El Niño rains will appear.

“We were hoping that the rains would do our watering for us this winter,” says Justin Yee, National Park Service restoration technician and manager at Los Nogales Nursery,  located on the grounds of the Audubon Center at Debs Park. “It’s been so unusually dry and hot here; maybe next month it will unload on us. We hope.”

The native plant nursery is a partnership between the National Park Service and Audubon that kicked off last summer. At that time, the nursery had been abandoned, and  effort went into weeding around and restoring the enclosure that protects the plants. Yee then started the slow but rewarding process of propagation using locally collected plants, making sure to not gather so much to disturb the natural seed dispersion.

Today, in the nursery, flats contain new seedlings of bunch grasses, coast live oaks, lemonade berry bushes and more. Once they grow big enough, they will be transplanted into larger containers, awaiting their chance to rejoin the terra firma. When you walk among the numerous California sages (both black and white), California buckwheat, heart-leafed penstamon and the almost endangered black walnut trees, you get a living lesson in the local ecology and plant communities of coastal scrub and woodlands.

Nogales Nursery after renovation | Courtesy Justin Yee

Nogales Nursery after renovation | Courtesy Justin Yee

The thing about native plants, says Yee,  is that the first few months to a year is critical for them to survive and establish themselves. Getting a correct amount of water is instrumental in keeping them alive.

“We just put in the first plants in the ground last month, and even though natives need less water than ornamental plants, they do need it,” he says, adding that a good deep watering once a week is necessary. So with no rain, the volunteers have been breaking out the hoses and watering cans to do what Mother Nature hasn’t been.

“We have a core team of about five that come once a week, but also we have a good group that supports us on Saturdays,” says Yee, describing the weekday volunteers as retired but weekend helpers are all ages, from high school to older. In addition, school and scouting groups have rolled up their sleeves and help in a variety of ways, including putting plants in the ground.

The Los Nogales Nursery is the only nursery project that the NPS is connected to in the Los Angeles area. The big idea of partnering the NPS and Audubon is to help establish the nursery as a community resource and make residents aware of conservation issues while restoring habitat and food sources for wildlife.  Yee hopes to offer workshops in the future with possible topics on how to propagate natives, creating bird habitat with natives and more.

“We hope this will be a model for how the NPS can engage in interagency partnerships in the future,” he says.


Justin Yee transplanting a native into its new home | Martha Benedict


First plantings at Debs Park | Martha Benedict


A fragile beginning | Martha Benedict

For more information on how to volunteer at Los Nogales Nursery, contact Karin Flores at the Audubon Center at (323) 221-2255.

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

One comment

  1. Great! Best of luck to them.

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