UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA
University of California
UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA

Water Wise Plants

Here's a full list of all our water wise plants. You can also view an image gallery, or view the plants by categories.

Chasmanthe

Pronunciation
chas-MAN-thee
Common Name
Chasmanthe
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
3 ft. to 3 1/2 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Orange-red
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Chasmanthe is one of the South African bulbs that does so well in our climate. Foliage appears in the fall, orange-red flowers appear in the winter and then the plant goes dormant in the summer. There is also a yellow flowered version, called Chasmanthe floribunda duckittii. Chasmanthe needs no summer water.

Late frost can damage blooms. To prevent overcrowding, corms (bulbs) will need to be divided every two to three years. Also, diligently deadhead the flowers as this plant will reseed vigorously (invasively!) particularly the Chasmanthe aethiopica!

Dierama

Pronunciation
dy-er-AH-muh
Common Name
Fairy Wand
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
Leaves to 2 ft. long, stems 4-7 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Purplish pink to pink to white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Fairy wand, also know as Angel's fishing rod, has stunning flowers on long arching stems. It is definitely a "what is that?!" plant when it blooms in late spring and early summer. Be sure to put it in a spot that will showcase its tall blooms.

Sunset's Western Garden Book says this plant needs regular water, but we've gotten by with our once every three weeks watering regime. When fairy wand gets too big, we have successfully divided the corms and replanted them in new spots. This plant can self-sow but in our garden, with our heavy mulching, this hasn't been much of a problem. If reseeding is a problem in your garden, you may want to deadhead the flowers before they set seed.

Fairy wand is usually evergreen in our climate, however, we cut back the leaves after they start looking ratty in mid-summer. Otherwise this is a pretty trouble-free plant with a big impact when it blooms.

Iris 'Canyon Snow'

Pronunciation
EYE-riss
Common Name
Pacific Coast Iris 'Canyon Snow'
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
Flower stems reach 8 in. to 24 in. high
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
White
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We received this Pacific Coast iris cultivar from UC Davis in the spring of 2009, so it is a new plant in our garden. This cultivar is rumored to tolerate full sun better than many other California native irises. 'Canyon Snow' irises are also more floriferous and vigorous than most native iris, which is why UC Davis named this plant to its list of Arboretum "All Stars".

There are many, many hybrids of Pacific Coast iris, some of which are very showy. Flower colors available include white, blue, pink, copper, brown, maroon, and violet. The flowers appear in the spring.

Master Gardeners have found that in our own gardens Pacific Coast irises seem to prefer part shade and low to moderate water. Native irises are useful under oaks, in woodland gardens and in meadows.

Ixia

Pronunciation
IKS-ee-uh
Common Name
African Corn Lily
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
18 - 20 in. tall
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Cream, yellow, red, orange, and pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This South African bulb is one of our garden's best kept secrets. The late spring flowers come in pretty jewel tone colors that go well with many spring blooming plants. When it is blooming in the spring visitors always ask us what it is.

Ixia is one of the more versatile South African bulbs. Although it doesn't need it, we have found Ixia won't rot if it receives some summer water.

We remove the grass like foliage on this plant when it goes dormant (turns brown) in the summer.

Scilla peruviana

Pronunciation
SILL-ah per-u-vee-AN-uh
Common Name
Giant Scilla
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
Less than 1 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Blue, white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This bulb with its dome shaped cluster of blue flowers is a real show stopper when it blooms in the spring!

Scilla, which is from the Mediterranean Basin, is well suited for our climate. The flowers and strappy foliage will disappear in the summer's heat. The leaves will reappear with winter rains. Going dormant in the summer is an adaptation many plants from summer-dry climates use to survive.

Although our Scilla are in beds that receive water every three weeks in the dry season, some of our gardeners have had success at home in beds that only receive winter rain water.

Sparaxis tricolor

Pronunciation
spa-RAKS-iss
Common Name
Harlequin Flower
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
8-12 in. wide and 12 in. tall
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Red, pink, purple, while and yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Sparaxis are another South African bulb that deserve to be more widely planted in Mediterranean climates. Sparaxis have cheerful flowers and sword-shaped leaves. They come in an assortment of colors and look pretty spectacular in a mixed planting. Best of all, they don't need summer water, but will tolerate water if you irrigate.

Sparaxis is truly an easy plant that has few insect or disease problems and will naturalize without effort. The plants readily self sow. If you leave the leaves until the seed pods open, you'll have even more plants the next year. In fact, we sometimes need to pull some of the seedlings to keep them under control.

These plants go dormant after blooming. We wait until the leaves have lost most of their green color before snipping them off a couple inches of above ground. Other master gardeners wait for the leaves to go completely brown and then they simply pull off the dead leaves. It isn't necessary to do this, but we think getting rid of brown dormant leaves gives the summer garden a more lush look.

Unfortunately, snails and slugs love these plants as much as we do. The leaves will generally show it unless you are good at keeping snails under control.

Triteleia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’

Pronunciation
trit-el-AY-ah LAKS-uh
Common Name
Triteleia 'Queen Fabiola'
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
Flower stalks are 6 to 28 in. tall
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Triteleia ‘Queen Fabiola’ is a California native bulb with very pretty purple blue flowers in the late spring and early summer. It has grass like leaves that go dormant in the summer.

In the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden we have planted 'Queen Fabiola' in several beds on edge of the garden that receive limited or no supplemental water. We have found that because 'Queen Fabiola' has delicate flowers and blooms in the late spring when lots is going on in the garden, this bulb needs to be massed to make an impact.

Avoid summer water especially in clay soil. We remove the brown leaves in the summer to keep a tidy look, but that's not necessary.

Triteleia 'Queen Fabiola' used to be called Brodiaea and many bulb catalogs still list it under that name.

Watsonia

Pronunciation
wat-SON-ee-uh
Common Name
Watsonia
Plant Type
Bulb
Mature Size
21/2 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Pink, rosy red, white, lavender, peach, orange
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Watsonia is another South African plant that grows well in our area. The pink gladiolus-like flowers are a highlight of our late spring garden. The sword-shaped leaves provide strong accent points in our beds.

This is a summer dormant plant, which means it can get by on almost no water in the summer (good), but has unattractive leaves starting in July (bad). We solve the ugly leaf problem by cutting the leaves back to a couple inches above ground in mid-summer. This results in a bare spot in the bed. If that bothers you, install a plant next to the Watsonia that will fill in the bare spot during the summer and fall months.

Some retail nurseries carry a selection of Watsonia corms (bulbs) in the fall.

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