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.

Arctostaphylos 'Emerald Carpet'

Pronunciation
ark-toe-STAF-il-lohs
Common Name
Manzanita "Emerald Carpet"
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
5 ft. wide and 8-14 in. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Pink flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

'Emerald Carpet' is a slow growing California native manzanita from the coast of Mendocino County. It is a very attractive plant with dark glossy leaves, reddish stems and small flowers in the early spring. We have mixed feelings about 'Emerald Carpet'. Although it has not died, it has not thrived either. We suspect that it needs more water than most manzanitas. It is in a part of the garden that gets no water. Some Santa Clara Master Gardeners have had success using the cultivar 'Carmel Sur' as a ground cover in low water landscapes.

There are many, many different cultivars of manzanita ranging from ground covers to small trees. Manzanitas are a good wildlife plant and typically tough as nails. They do well in very dry situations. Most manzanitas need superb drainage or they will struggle and die. Plant on a mound or slope and water weekly for the first summer and less after that. By the third summer, stop watering. Avoid fertilizing the plant.

These plants rarely need pruning. Remove the odd branch that dies back in the late summer and the plant will fill in. Some gardeners will remove the lower branches on some of the larger manzanitas to highlight the interesting branching structure and reddish bark.

Artemisia versicolor 'Seafoam'

Pronunciation
ar-te-MIZ-ee-uh VER-suh-kuh-lor
Common Name
Artemisia versicolor 'Seafoam'
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 - 12 in. high can spread 15 - 18 in.
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Yellow and orange
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We have used Artemisia 'Seafoam' as a small edging plant in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden. The leaves are silver and frilly, which add a nice texture to the garden. We have repeated silver foliage plants around the edge of the garden beds as a way of tying different beds together.

'Seafoam' has its challenges. The plant wants to bloom, but then it dies back after blooming. Cutting off the yellow flowers to keep the plant looking good may be more work than many of us want to do in the garden. We have found it to be a short lived perennial that needs to be replanted after several years.

Asarum caudatum

Pronunciation
ah-SAR-um kaw-DAH-tum
Common Name
Wild Ginger
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
7-10 inches high and spreading
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
Maroon, generally hidden by leaves
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This California native boasts large, shiny, heart-shaped leaves that give the plant a lush, almost tropical look. We think the leaves, which can be two to four inches long and up to seven inches wide, are really lovely. They tend to hide the interesting maroon flowers that bloom in late winter or early spring.

Asarum caudatum grows naturally in the coastal redwood forests and prefers a cool, moist environment. In Santa Clara County gardens with their coastal influences, wild ginger can do well on a low water diet if given a nice shady spot and rich soil full of organic material.

In our Palo Alto Water Wise Garden, ginger disappears when it is unhappy (in the dry summer months) and reappears when the conditions are more to its liking (after the winter rains). It may need more irrigation to keep it from going dormant during the summer months.

This plant is extremely low maintenance. All it seems to need is the occasional removal of old leaves.

Euphorbia myrsinites

Pronunciation
yew-FOR-bee-ah mur-sin-ee-teez
Common Name
Creeping Spurge
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 - 12 in. tall and 12 in. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Euphorbia myrsinites has a wonderful texture as you can see from this picture. It makes a good ground cover for dry areas.

Like all the Euphorbias, these plants have very showy flowers in the spring. Be sure to cut off the flowering stalks to the base before seeds develop. These plants will reseed vigorously if you do not deadhead. When deadheading, be sure to leave the new growth intact. These will be next spring's flowers.

Take care when you cut Euphorbias. They have a sap, which can be very irritating to the skin.

Gazania

Pronunciation
gay-ZAY-nee-uh
Common Name
Gazania
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 in. tall and 12 in. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Yellow, orange, white, and pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

There are some out there who look down on Gazanias as gas station plants, but hey, we love colorful, easy to grow, low water plants. We've repeated Gazanias along the edges of the garden to help tie together different beds. The cultivar we grow has silver foliage that works well with other Mediterranean plants.

Gazanias do better with occasional water. With regular water, they seem to become leggy.

We deadhead tired blooms on our Gazanias, but you don't have to. When a clump of plants becomes too crowded or too large, take cuttings during the cool season and plant them around the garden.

Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'

Pronunciation
ji-RAY-nee-uhm kan-tuh-brij-ee-EN-see
Common Name
Cranesbill 'Biokovo'
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 - 8 in. tall and spreading
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
Pale pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This is a pretty ground ground cover for dry shady areas. The pale pink flowers have a long season and look great with anything from roses to California native shrubs to coast live oaks. We have used it as an edger.

It's easy to propagate and transplant to new areas. Just cut off a small piece, plant it directly in the soil and keep it wet until the plant roots.

Sunset recommends shearing this plant in the fall to get fresh growth in the spring. We haven't tried shearing 'Biokovo' yet in the demonstration garden, but plan to experiment with cutting this plant back.

The only drawback with the plant is if you fertilize your soil and water regularly, Geranium 'Biokovo' will become aggressive and spread quickly. Neglect it and will be a workhorse in your garden.

Helianthemum nummularium 'Henfield Brilliant'

Pronunciation
hee-lee-AN-them-um num-ew-LAH-ree-um
Common Name
Sunrose
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 in. to 12 in. high and 18 in. to 3 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Orange-red
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

A low-growing, trailing ground cover from Turkey, Helianthemum is covered with small flowers in the spring.

There are many cultivars with different flower colors -- red, apricot, yellow, pink and white. 'Henfield Brilliant' is a striking form with its silvery leaves and orange flowers.

Shear the dead flowers off to encourage repeat blooms. Helianthemum likes full sun and well-draining soil with low to moderate water.

Hypericum reptans

Pronunciation
hy-PARE-ih-kum REP-tanz
Common Name
St. Johnswort
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
2 in. tall and 1 1/2 in. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Bright yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Hypericum reptans, or ground cover St. Johnswort, is a cute ground cover for dry sunny and partially shady areas. The cheerful yellow flowers that appear in the summer really pop.

This ground cover form looks and behaves differently from other species of St. Johnswort. It has very small leaves and flowers, grows close to the ground and spreads slowly.

We shear the spent flowers off when the plant is done blooming. It is easy to start new plants by putting cuttings directly in the soil when the weather has cooled.

Lessingia filaginifolia

Pronunciation
les-IN-jee-a fi-la-jin-i-FOL-ee-a
Common Name
California Dune Aster
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
Two ft. wide and 18 inches high, cut back in winter
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Pink to lilac
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This picture of Lessingia felaginifolia is from the Sunnyvale Demonstration Garden. We planted Lessingia seeds in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden as a groundcover, but ended up removing the plants. We felt Lessingia looked scraggily by the end of summer when it bloomed.

Whether you like this plant or not probably depends on your level of fussiness. The Sunnyvale Demonstration Garden is a fan of Lessingia and continues to plant it. They cut it back in November to freshen it up.

Lessingia is big favorite with butterflies, so the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden is trying it again. We are currently trialing a cultivar called 'Silver Carpet', which is recommended in the book, California Native Plant for the Garden, in the front of the native plant bed. Lessingia 'Silver Carpet' was planted last fall so we are waiting to see how it does in our garden before recommending it.

Nepeta x faassenii

Pronunciation
NEP-eh-tah ex. fah-SEEN-ee-eye
Common Name
Catmint
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
1 ft. tall and 1 1/2 - 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Lavender-blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Catmint was one of the earliest plants in the demonstration garden and it provided much needed color the first summer. Catmint is a wonderful edging plant for perennials borders. We have used it extensively in the Palo Alto Demonstration garden to visually tie the beds together. It has lovely soft gray leaves and lavender-blue flowers in the spring.

After the first set of blooms finishes we like to cut back catmint several inches to keep it from getting leggy and to encourage another set of blooms. After seven years in the garden, it might be time for us to divide this plant. This is a fun job because catmint leaves have a wonderful smell.

Be aware that some cats also love the smell of the plant and will roll their bodies in the plant and flatten it.

Pelargonium ionidiflorum

Pronunciation
pe-lar-GO-nee-um eye-oh-nid-ih-FLOR-um
Common Name
Celery Scented Pelargonium
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
12 - 18 in. high and 15 -24 in. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Half sun to shade
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Magenta pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Pelargonium ionidiflorum was recommended to us by Jeff Rosendale of Rosendale Nurseries. It has quickly become one of our favorite front of the border plants. It stays low and compact and seems to do well in partial shade. We love the bright pink flowers. Another plus, this plant blooms throughout the year.

So far the only maintenance we do is occasional deadheading. Unlike many other Pelargoniums, this plant seems to stay compact and not get leggy.

This plant is highly recommended for low water Bay Area gardens!

Rhodanthemum hosmariense

Pronunciation
rowd-AN-theh-mum hos-mar-ee-EN-see
Common Name
Moroccan Daisy
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
2 ft. wide and 8 ins. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
White daisies
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Rhodanthemum hosmariense has lovely silver foliage and white daisy flowers. This plant makes a wonderful edging plant. We also like Moroccan daisy because it flowers profusely in the winter when not much is in bloom.

Don't over-water this plant or it will rot. It can survive on very little water.

The only maintenance we do to this plant is occasional deadheading of spent flowers.

Rubus pentalobus

Pronunciation
ROO-bus pen-tuh-LOH-bus
Common Name
Creeping Raspberry
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 ft. wide and 6 in. to 12 in. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Half sun to shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
Small white flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Rubus pentalobus is a tough, low maintenance ground cover that does well in dry shade -- a rare combination. We also like that the dense, spiny branches discourage weeds.

The tiny fruit of Rubus pentalobus is edible, although you'll probably only get enough to sprinkle on a bowl of cereal.

Stachys byzantina 'Countess Helen von Stein'

Pronunciation
STAKA-is bye-zan-TEEN-ah
Common Name
Lamb's Ears
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
3 ft. wide and 6 in. to 12 in. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Ok, not every plant in the garden has that "wow factor" going for it and that's a good thing. You need plants to fill in bare spots and give the eye a rest. Lamb's ears is a classic filler plant for a water-wise garden. We have used it and other silver-leaved plants to visually tie together the edges of our beds.

"Helen von Stein' is a wonderful cultivar because it has extra-large leaves and doesn't bloom a lot. We are always looking for summer- dry plants with large leaves to provide contrast to other plants in our garden, many of which have small leaves.

Some people love the dramatic flower spikes on lamb's ears. We have mixed feelings about the flowers. Sometimes we cut them off and sometimes we leave them in place.

After a couple years, these plants tend to spread and die out in the middle. Just get out your sharp shovel and divide the clumps in fall or early winter and they will be cute again by spring. Lamb's ears may also have some die back over the winter; we recommend leaving the ugly leaves in place until all danger of frost has passed.

Tanacetum densum amani

Pronunciation
TAN-uh-SEE-tum DEN-sum AHM-an-eye
Common Name
Partridge Feather
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
6 - 8 in. high, spreading slowly to make a mat about 1 1/2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Moderate: water weekly until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
Yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Tanacetum densum amani is an interesting ground cover that is native to Turkey. Its leaves are silver and have a feathery texture that people are drawn to. We have used this plant as an edger in one of our beds.

One drawback to the plant is the small yellow flowers that appear in late spring. Some people like them, but we cut them off.

This plant has survived, but not thrived at in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden. One of the reasons may be it likes more water than it receives in the demonstration garden. We water deeply every three weeks. We suspect this plant would look lusher in the summer with deep weekly watering.

This plant is not easy to find in nurseries and gardens. If you like the texture, Tanacetum densum amani is worth seeking out.

Thymus vulgaris

Pronunciation
TY-mus vul-GAR-iss
Common Name
Thyme
Plant Type
Groundcover
Mature Size
3 in. high and 3 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Many herbs, including thyme, are great additions to water wise gardens. You can use them in cooking, they smell great and their foliage and flowers are attractive.

Thyme makes a nice ground cover for small spaces. It has grey-green leaves and small white flowers. We have repeated grey-green plants in the edges our borders to tie together the look of our beds.

To keep thyme neat, we shear back the faded flowers in early spring. Many thymes are not long lived, but Thymus vulgaris has proven to be long-lived in our water wise garden.

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