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 densiflora 'Howard McMinn'

Pronunciation
ark-toe-STAF-i-los den-si-FLOR-us
Common Name
Manzanita 'Howard McMinn'
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
5-7 ft tall x 6-10 ft wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Whitish pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

California native Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn' is reputed to be the manzanita most tolerant of typical garden conditions. Manzanitas in general need excellent drainage. In heavy clay soils, be careful not to over water or over fertilize.

If the tips of Arctostaphylos branches are pruned, this large shrub will become very dense and make a good privacy screen. At the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden, we have chosen instead to remove the interior stems and leaves to expose the interesting red bark. This is a good approach if you want the shrub to be more of a focal point instead of a background plant.

We planted three 'Howard McMinn' manzanitas at the entrance of the Water Wise Garden. They have struggled there over the years. Damaged by foot traffic and the occasional joy rider, they have not lived up to their reputation. Now, they are receiving too much shade as the oak trees reach overhead. How much longer will we keep them?

Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pigmy'

Pronunciation
BER-ber-is thun-BERG-ee-a
Common Name
Japanese Barberry
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
2 ft x 3 ft
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This plant is a great way to get dramatic foliage color into the garden. When planted in full sun, the small leaves on this spiny, naturally graceful plant are a deep purplish red. The purple red leaf color contrasts nicely with the yellow flowers that appear in spring. If grown in semi-shade, the foliage takes on a greener cast. In the fall, the leaves turn a vivid red before falling. The small size makes this plant an easy addition to any garden.

In our original planting we used three pygmy barberries along the front bed. Unfortunately, only one plant survived, but it is doing well. Barberries are slow growing plants and in the Water Wise Garden they were slow to get established. More frequent watering would have benefited these plants.

Callistemon 'Canes Hybrid'

Pronunciation
kal-is-TEM-on
Common Name
Bottlebrush
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
8 ft. to 10 ft. wide and 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
Soft pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Callistemon 'Canes Hybrid' is a beautiful shrub that adds height and structure to the perennial garden. We especially like its soft pink flowers that bloom repeatedly throughout the summer. The cultivar 'Canes Hybrid' is smaller and has softer, greyer foliage than the more common red Callistemon citrinus.

Callistemon are very adaptable plants for our area and the hummingbirds love them. There are many cultivars of Callistemon ranging from tree-size to shrub-size to ground cover height. We haven't prune the Callistemon in our garden yet because we want it to be tall. When it gets to the size we are looking for we will use pruning to shape it and keep it shrub-sized.

The Callistemon in our photo is next to Miscanthus sinensis 'Yaku Jima' -- an excellent plant combination.

Carpenteria californica

Pronunciation
kar-pen-TIER-ree-uh kal-ih-FOR-nik-uh
Common Name
Bush Anemone
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
6 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide or possibly larger
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
White
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We recently removed a Carpenteria shrub from our garden because it was crowding other plants, but the shrub has definitely been a winner in our garden with its pretty leaves and cheery 'egg over easy' flowers. We have another one on order and are looking for the right spot in the garden to showcase it.

Carpenteria is an evergreen shrub and works well as a background shrub or in mixed plantings under oaks. It is a fairly flexible plant. It will tolerate light to moderate water and full sun to partial shade.

One drawback of this plant is the brown leaves don't always drop off in summer. If this shrub is in a very visible spot, you may want to cut off the brown leaves for a cleaner appearance. Last fall we radically pruned our Carpenteria to rejuvenate it and control its size. We will be trying the variety 'Elizabeth', which is supposed to be a smaller plant with more abundant flowers.

Carpenteria californica is a UC Davis Arboretum All-Star and a California native.

Ceanothus 'Concha'

Pronunciation
see-a-NO-thus
Common Name
California Wild Lilac 'Concha'
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
6-8 ft tall x 6-8 ft wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Ceanothus 'Concha' is one of the best Ceanothus cultivars for our area. It is more adaptable to typical garden environments than many other Ceanothus, tolerating heavy clay soil, drought or summer watering. Over watering will shorten the life of any Ceanothus so be sure to allow the soil to dry between waterings.

'Concha' has rose colored buds that open to cobalt blue flowers in late winter or early spring. Leaves are small and a deep dark green.

Ceanothus 'Concha' is a California native plant.

Ceanothus x. pallidus 'Marie Simon'

Pronunciation
see-an-OH-thus PAL-id-us
Common Name
Wild Lilac 'Marie Simon'
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
Up to 6 - 8 ft. high and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Ceanothus x pallidus 'Marie Simon' is an interesting plant. It is a cross between a native Ceanothus and another unknown plant. As you can see, it looks very different from a native Ceanothus. It is semi-deciduous and has red stems and light green leaves. Instead of blue flowers, this Ceanothus has delicate pink flowers.

If you look at photos on the Internet, you will see a plant covered with pink flowers. We haven't had that kind of luck with our plant yet. The flowers have been pretty but sparse and the plant does not look vigorous.

Is this plant a keeper? We'll get back to you on that. It has been in the garden three years, but it is quite a slow grower. It may take several more years before this plant shows us its stuff.

Update: Several year later, Ceanothus x pallidus is still a non-performer in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden. We can't recommend this plant for low water gardens in the Palo Alto area.

Ceanothus x pallidus 'Marie Simon' is a UC Davis All Star.

Cercis occidentalis

Pronunciation
SIR-sis ok-sih-den-TAY-liss
Common Name
Western Redbud
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
12-20 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Magenta
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We wish we had a picture of a Western redbud in full bloom, but our five year old plants have not produced many blooms. The book, California Native Plants for the Garden, says this tree will bloom more profusely with winter chill and full sun.

The magenta flowers are quite a sight in the early spring. After blooming this small multi-trunked tree or large shrub has pretty heart-shaped leaves. This California native is an excellent choice for a small space or an edge of woodland design.

After the plant blooms, Western redbud sets distinctive seedpods. We can't say we are crazy about how they look, but the gorgeous flowers help us put up with them.

Like many natives, this plant needs good drainage, so consider planting it on a mound. Avoid summer water. Cercis can be pruned over the winter to open up the branching structure to give the plant a more tree-like appearance.

Cercocarpus betuloides

Pronunciation
ser-koe-KAR-pus be-tull-OY-dees
Common Name
Mountain Mahogany
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
5-12 ft. tall and wide, adult size can vary
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Small yellow flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Cercocarpus is a useful informal hedging plant. It can also be pruned into a small tree. In the Palo Alto Demonstration garden we have it planted on the edge of our garden in an infrequently watered bed. It provides a buffer to the ivy cover area beyond our demonstration beds. The plant is evergreen, which adds to it usefulness as a screening plant.

We were recently inspired by a picture in Plants for Summer-Dry Climates to prune this Cercocarpus to have a more open form. It is very hard to see from this photo, but it is now a very attractive, airy shrub. This plant has been very slow growing for us, so we hope it will not be difficult to maintain this form.

Sunset says this plant requires full sun, but it has does just fine in an area that receives some shade. Because it is a California native from the foothills, it can get by on little to no water once established.

Because this plant is so slow growing, the only maintenance we've had to do is light pruning to keep its open branching form. The plant has had no problems with pests or diseases. Cercocarpus is a soft and elegant looking shrub that we think should be planted more frequently in Bay Area gardens.

Cistus x pulverulentus ‘Sunset’

Pronunciation
SIS-tus pul-ver-oo-LEN-tus
Common Name
Rockrose
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
2 ft. tall and 6 - 8 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Hot pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This hot pink rockrose was a long blooming, low growing shrub in our water wise garden until it got crushed by a Teucrium. Even though we had to remove it, we will be looking for a new spot to showcase this reliable performer.

There are a number of different rockrose cultivars. Some grow up to 6 feet, some have white flowers, and others have lavender flowers.

Rockroses thrive in hot, dry areas. They like well draining soil and will quickly die if overwatered. Our experience has been they will die within two years in a regularly watered landscape with clay soil. Our rockrose was planted on a berm (small hill) and received minimal summer water.

You can prune this plant to shape it, but don't cut into the wood because it may not resprout.

Correa 'Dusky Bells'

Pronunciation
KOR-ree-uh
Common Name
Australian Fuchsia
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
6 ft. to 8 ft. wide and 2 ft. to 3 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Reddish pink to red, cream, orange, and greenish yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Correa is a plant that doesn't get used enough in Bay Area gardens. Let's list its attributes: it thrives in sun, partial sun, or shade; it is deer resistant and bird friendly; it has pretty, long-lasting flowers that provide winter color; it does well with moderate to occasional water, it does not get too big, it tolerates our alkaline soil, and it is evergreen.

What's not to like? Well, some Master Gardeners have found Correa to be short-lived in their home gardens. At the Palo Alto Demonstration garden this plant is still going strong after several years in the garden.

Look for some of the newer cultivars of Correa that have been bred to have flowers more visible above the foliage.

One more thing -- this shrub requires no deadheading or pruning. It is practically maintenance-free!

Correa alba

Pronunciation
KOR-ree-uh AL-ba
Common Name
Australian Fuchsia, White
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
8 ft. high and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Correa alba looks very different from the more commonly grown Correa 'Dusky Bells'. The flowers are more open and less downward facing than other Correas. The foliage is fuzzy on the back side and the stems are bronzy brown. Although Sunset says Correa alba is a summer bloomer, this picture was taken in late fall.

This shrub can get to be 8 feet by 8 feet, but we keep it more compact in our garden by regular pruning. If you plant this shrub in a big enough spot, you can avoid having to prune your Correa.

Correa is a plant that doesn't get used enough in Bay Area gardens. Let's list its attributes: it thrives in sun, partial sun or shade; it is deer resistant and bird friendly; it has pretty long-lasting flowers; it does well with moderate to occasional water; it does not get too big; it tolerates our alkaline soil; and it is evergreen.

What's not to like? Well, some Master Gardeners have found Correas to be short-lived in their home gardens. Another issue can be scale on the stems if the plant gets very dense. Sunset notes that this plant is sensitive to overwatering and overfertilizing. At the Palo Alto Demonstration garden, this plant is still going strong after several years in the garden. The beds in Garden are mulched with wood chips, but not fertilized and watered deeply with drip irrigation once every three weeks.

Epilobium 'Select Mattole'

Pronunciation
Ep-ih-LOW-bee-um
Common Name
Hummingbird Fuchsia 'Select Mattole'
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
1 ft tall and 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Red orange
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

If you are searching for a summer blooming California native, put California fuchsias at the top of your list. Hummingbirds love them and so do we.

There are a number of cultivars out there, but one of our favorites is 'Select Mattole'. It has wonderful silver foliage and sweet red orange tubular blooms. We love the fact that it is well behaved -- it stays compact and doesn't spread.

The book California Native Plants for the Garden recommends cutting California fuchsias back to one inch stubs in the fall and winter. The book also suggests pinching the outer tips in late May or June to prevent flopping. With 'Select Mattole' we haven't found this to be necessary, but with other California fuchsias you might want to give this a try.

We have learned that California fuchsias look better with a once a month deep watering. It is not critical, but you will have a lusher looking plant with occasional water.

Eriogonum grande var. rubescens

Pronunciation
ee-ree-OG-oh-num GRAHN-day roo-BESS-ens
Common Name
Rosy Buckwheat
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
1 ft. to 2 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Rosy buckwheat, a California native from the Channel Islands, has pretty rosy flowers in summer. It is one of the most showy and most compact of the buckwheats. Because of its size and neat growth habit, it makes a great filler plant in a native garden.

Rosy buckwheat shines in late summer when the flowers turn from rosy to a coppery tint. The mellow colors of this plant blends well with other perennials.

At the end of the coppery color phase we suggest you deadhead the blooms as they can get really ratty looking. Every couple of years we do a light pruning to new growth below the taller branches. The best time to do this pruning is in the late fall before the winter growth starts. You may also want to shape this plant every so often to keep its mounding form.

Buckwheat will require some summer water the first year it has been planted. After the first year, avoid summer water. Although some sources say these plants live only three to five years, we have found these plants to be longer lived. Buckwheat freely reseeds so you won't have to buy new plants.

Grevillea rosmarinifolia

Pronunciation
grah-VIL-ee-ah rose-ma-ree-nee-FOH-lee-uh
Common Name
Grevillea
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
3 ft. high and 6 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
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Red and cream
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Grevillea is one of our favorite no fail plants. It's not showy, but it is tough, deer resistant, loved by hummingbirds, and a fall to spring bloomer.

The Grevillea in this picture is a dwarf form of Grevillea rosmarinifolia. It has evergreen rosemary-like leaves and stays a nice size for a perennial garden -- 3 ft. high and 6 ft. wide according to Sunset. It's a nice combination to have flowers in the winter when not much is blooming and a tidy, low growing shrub in the summer when other plants take center stage.

Sunset says there are over 250 species and hybrids of Grevillea. Some have fine leaves, others have courser leaves. Some make great ground covers, others grow to be the size of the small trees. Some tolerate cold weather weather better than others. Research carefully cultivars carefully before going to the nursery.

Dwarf Grevillea is practical choice for planting in a parking strip that challenging area between the sidewalk and road. For safety reasons most cities require plants shorter than 3 feet in areas next to roads.

Grevillea does well getting a deep watering once every three weeks. We've also seen it do well in gardens that get regular water. Be careful of using fertilizer with phosphorus around Grevillea.

There is no maintenance required for this plant. No deadheading or trimming back, it really is easy peasy!

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Pronunciation
het-er-OH-mi-lees ar-bew-ti-FO-lee-a
Common Name
Toyon
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
10-20 ft tall x 10-15 ft wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
  • Other birds
Flower Color
White
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Toyon is an attractive dark green, large shrub that can, over time, develop into a small multi-trunk tree. This plant is native to many chaparral areas of California and easily adapts to garden cultivation.

It is a member of the rose family, producing small white flowers in early spring that are followed by showy red berries. The berries remain on the shrub for a number of months while they slowly ripen. Once ripe, they attract many different species of hungry, grateful birds.

Young toyons may take a few years to settle into the garden but once established they are easy to grow and can be pruned to manage their size or to keep them looking fresh.

The toyon in the Water Wise Garden was planted in the winter of 2008 from a one gallon container in a spot where it gets afternoon shade. As you can see from this recent photo, our toyon is still a modest sized shrub several years after planting.

Lavandula stoechas 'Otto Quast'

Pronunciation
lah-VAN-dew-lah STOY-kas
Common Name
Spanish Lavender
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
1 ft. to 2 ft. tall and 2 ft. to 3 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Purple
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Lavenders are a favorite plant for low-water gardens with their aromatic foliage and showy spikes of scented flowers. We have several different types of lavenders in our garden. 'Otto Quast', one of the cultivars we've had success with, is a UC Davis "All Star" plant.

Lavandula stoechas is an early bloomer and will repeat bloom if deadheaded and given supplemental water. Full sun and good drainage are essential for lavenders. Shear the plant after blooming to maintain a neat appearance and discourage the plant from becoming too large and woody.

One drawback is lavender is a short-lived shrub that needs to be replaced when it becomes leggy or woody. We are considering replacing our lavenders after about six years in the garden.

Leonotis leonurus

Pronunciation
lee-oh-NO-tus lee-oh-NURE-us
Common Name
Lion's Tail
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
4 ft. to 6 ft. wide and tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Orange-red
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This upright shrub from South Africa has bright eye-catching orange flowers. A single lion's tail works well as a late summer/early fall garden focal point. The flowers can also be stunning in a flower arrangement. From a design standpoint, we don't recommend massing a large number of lion's tail plants because the strong color can overwhelm a garden.

It is a good idea to prune these shrubs in the early spring after the danger of frost is past to control size. Some of our Master Gardeners prune these shrubs down to six inches from the ground; others prune by half. How much you choose to prune lion's tail is just a matter of deciding how large you want these plants to be in your garden. With no pruning at all these plants can get really big, really quickly.

Lion's tail can be frost tender but in our experience, they rebound quickly. If this plant does get frost damaged, it is recommended that you cut down to live growth in the spring after the danger of frost is past.

Lepechina hastata

Pronunciation
le-peh-KIN-ee-uh hass-TAH-tuh
Common Name
Pitcher Sage
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
3 ft. tall and wide in low water gardens
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Magenta
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Pitcher sage is an aromatic member of the mint family that is attractive in wild gardens. In late summer these plants have reddish purple flowers on medium-sized spikes. Hummingbirds and bees love them, so they add quite a bit of life to a garden. Another nice feature is the plant has large leaves, which is a nice contrast to many plants from the Mediterranean region that have smaller foliage.

One caution about these plants: Some reference books say this plant can get up to 6 feet tall, but in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden they have stayed a modest 3 feet tall and wide. The trick is not to overwater them.

Although some pitcher sages are native to California, Lepechinia hastata is from Mexico.

Leucadendron 'Jester'

Pronunciation
lew-kuh-DEN-dron
Common Name
Jester Conebush
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
4 ft. to 6 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Rose, red or yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Leucadendrons are evergreen shrubs from South Africa and are related to Proteas. Some Leucadendrons have interesting cone-like heads with colorful bracts that may be used in flower arrangement; others are grown primarily for their foliage.

We grow our Leucadendrons on a one foot mound to encourage good drainage. Their color and size add a bit of drama to our beds, especially during periods where other plants are dormant.

We have several different cultivars of Leucadendrons in the garden, including this one, appropriately named 'Jester'. 'Jester' is also known as 'Safari Sunshine'.

Leucadendron 'Rising Sun'

Pronunciation
lew-kuh-DEN-dron
Common Name
Rising Sun Conebush
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
6 ft. to 8 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Red
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Leucadendron 'Rising Sun', a South African native, has beautiful reddish stems and terminal bracts (colorful flower-like leaves toward the end of a stem). In our water-wise garden 'Rising Sun' is a garden focal point during the winter.

We like the cultivar 'Rising Sun' because of its subtle coloring. From a design perspective, the brash colors of the some Leucadendron cultivars can be hard to incorporate into a garden.

Some Leucadendron can be frost tender but we have not had any problems with frost damage in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden.

This Leucadendron has stayed small, so we have not had to prune it. The Leucadendron in our demonstration garden may have stayed small because the plant is on top of a gravel mound and receives limited water.

We recently removed Rising Sun from the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden because it had a bizarre twisting way of growing that we did not find attractive.

Philotheca myoporoides ‘Profusion’

Pronunciation
fil-oh-THEK-uh my-oh-por-OY-deez
Common Name
Waxflower 'Profusion'
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
4 - 5 ft. tall and wide
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

Philotheca myoporoides ‘Profusion’ is an evergreen beauty from Australia. This plant prefers part shade and has lovely citrus-like blooms in the spring. Philotheca is one of those hard to find plants that should be used more in water wise gardens.

We've only had this plant in our garden for a couple of years and it is growing slowly so we haven't had to prune it.

Phlomis fruticosa

Pronunciation
FLOW-miss fru-tih-KOE-sah
Common Name
Jerusalem Sage
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
4 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
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

From the Mediterranean Basin, this sun-loving shrub has unique yellow ball-shaped flowers. The large wooly-gray leaves are a good texture complement to other water-wise plants, many of which have small-leaves to conserve water.

Occasional water will encourage repeat blooms, however, Phlomis fruticosa will tolerate very dry conditions. You can cut this plant back by half in the fall to keep it compact. Some Master Gardeners are a little more daring and like to cut Phlomis back to six inches above the ground. This will keep the plant even more compact. Another option is to do nothing at all if the size and woodiness of the plant doesn't bother you.

Polygala fruticosa 'Petite Butterfly'

Pronunciation
pol-ee-GAH-luh froo-tih-KOH-suh
Common Name
Petite Butterfly Sweet-Pea Shrub
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
2 ft. to 3 ft. wide and tall
Water Requirements
Moderate: water weekly until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Purplish pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

It's always nice to find a neat, round evergreen shrub that blooms a lot and doesn't get too big. Polygala fruticosa plays nicely in the perennial garden. Its flowers look a bit like sweet peas hence the common name 'Sweet-Pea Shrub'.

Cut back Polygala to about 10 inches above the ground in late winter to maintain its compact shape.

Sunset recommends providing regular water for Polygala. We are currently trialing this plant to see if it can survive in a low water garden. Several Master Gardeners have not found Polygala fruticosa to be long-lived in their home gardens.

Punica granatum

Pronunciation
PU-ni-kuh grah-NAT-um
Common Name
Pomegranate
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
15 ft. to 20 ft. tall and wide, but can prune smaller
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Orange-red flowers with ornamental yellow, orange, or red fruit
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We are always looking for small, well-behaved shrubs for the perennial garden. Pomegranates fit the bill nicely. Pomegranates flower in the early summer and have attractive golden leaf color in the late fall. The fruit, which forms in the mid-fall, adds color to the fall garden. One drawback is pomegranates lose all their leaves in the winter and don't have a particularly attractive branching structure.

Sunset's Western Garden Book recommends regular water, but says pomegranates tolerate considerable drought. We have found that pomegranates do quite well with deep and infrequent watering. Another bonus of a low water regime is the tree grows more slowly and requires less frequent pruning.

In our garden, we prune pomegranates in the late winter to maintain them as shrubs. Since pomegranates can grow to be quite large, some gardeners may choose to prune off the bottom branches of the shrub to give the plant a pleasing tree-like form.

There are a number of ornamental cultivars that are grown for showy flowers. There are also dwarf cultivars. We do not grow these pomegranates in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden, but encourage you to give them a try.

Rhamnus californica 'Mound San Bruno'

Pronunciation
RAM-nus kal-ih-FOR-nik-uh
Common Name
Coffeeberry 'Mound San Bruno'
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
5 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Inconsequential pale yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We planted the California native coffeeberry 'Mound San Bruno' in our native plant bed that receives both sun and shade. The amount of sun the bed gets varies depending on the time of year and time of day. That's a common condition in many gardens and not all shrubs do well in both sun and shade.

Coffeeberry isn't a flashy shrub, but it does add much needed structure to the native plant bed. The berries on the plant are attractive and beneficial for birds and small mammals.

There are many different varieties of coffeeberry. They can be used as an informal hedge or screen or gently pruned to be a bedding or foundation shrub. 'Mound San Bruno' is one of our favorites because of its compact growing habit, which works well in a perennial bed.

We watered our coffeeberry once a week to get it started, but now that it is established, we water it once or twice over the summer to wash the dust off the leaves.

Rhus ovata

Pronunciation
rus oh-VAY-tuh
Common Name
Sugar Bush
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
8 ft. to 12 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

The California native, Rhus ovata, is very adaptable in the garden. This evergreen shrub can be pruned up by removing the bottom branches to create a small tree. It can also be formed into a hedge or left to grow naturally as a large, rounded shrub. Rhus ovata takes sun or partial shade and tolerates occasional water in the summer.

This plant is more of a garden workhouse rather than a star, but a garden full of stars would be overwhelming. These are good background shrubs for places that get no irrigation. The flower bracts, which appears in the fall, are red and show up well against the shiny green leaves. The flowers appear several months later and are small and white.

Ribes sanguineum

Pronunciation
RY-beez san-GWIN-ee-um
Common Name
Pink Flowering Currant
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
5 ft. to 12 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Half sun to shade
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Pink, red, yellow, white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Ribes sanguineum is a useful landscape plant because it is a rare shrub that shines in dry shade. Pink flowering currant is one of the first plants to awaken in the spring with a beautiful display of pendulous pink flowers and green maple-like lobed leaves. Ribes, a deciduous shrub, loses all its leaves in the late fall.

This large shrub can be used as a focal plant in the garden surrounded by smaller perennials or as an understory plant when combined with large, low-water using trees such as our California oaks.

There are many different cultivars of Ribes available with flowers ranging from red to pink to yellow to white. Some types of Ribes work well in full sun.

Pink flowering current can get by with very little water but looks fuller when a moderate amount of water is applied in the summer. When using a currant under a California oak avoid summer water.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers, especially since they bloom when not much else is flowering. In the fall the shrub has blue-black berries that attract fruit-eating birds including mockingbirds and cedar waxwings. Ribes sanguineum is found along the Pacific coast from California to British Columbia, Canada.

Ribes speciosum

Pronunciation
RIE-bees spes-ee-OH-sum
Common Name
Fuchsia Flowering Gooseberry
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
4-8 ft tall x 6-10 ft wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Red
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This California native is a large, spiny shrub that can exist with no summer irrigation. In our experience, Ribes speciosum will go fully dormant during the summer, therefore it's not recommended as a summer focal plant. As soon as the winter rains begin, the plant will unfold glossy green leaves and fuchsia-like red flowers that bloom all winter. The flowers that hang along the undersides of the long arching branches are loved by hummingbirds.

Because of the spiny branches this shrub should be kept away from walks. It does makes a formidable barrier.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis'

Pronunciation
ROE-sah chin-EN-sis mew-TAB-ill-iss
Common Name
Butterfly Rose
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
8 ft. to 10 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

While most hybrid tea roses like regular water and fertilizer, there are many antique roses that withstand tough conditions. Rosa x ordorata 'Mutabilis' is very successful under our low water/no fertilizer regime. This rose likes full sun, but will grow and bloom in part shade.

Rosa 'Mutabilis' grows into a large shrub with delicate blossoms that open orange then turn pink and finally maroon as it ages. The bronzy colored new foliage is also attractive. Blooming all summer, it is a focal point in our garden.

We pruned this rose back to about four feet in February, selectively cutting smaller branches back to a main stem. This helps keep the plant a manageable size and encourages lots of blooms over the summer.

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Tuscan Blue'

Pronunciation
ross-mah-RYE-nus oh-fi-shi-NAH-lis
Common Name
Tuscan Blue Rosemary
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
6 ft. to 7 ft. tall and 1 1/2 ft. to 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
Flower Color
Blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Rosemary is one of the toughest shrubs in the garden and a great evergreen plant to anchor a summer dry bed. It is from the Mediterranean Basin and is well suited to our climate. There are many different varieties and forms, some tall, others spreading. Flower color can also vary from pale blue to deep blue, and less commonly, pink and white. The variety in the Palo Alto Demonstration garden is 'Tuscan Blue'.

Rosemary starts blooming in the winter and provides food for bees when little else is blooming. Rosemary sometimes has a small bloom in the late summer and fall as well.

The 'Tuscan Blue' rosemary shrubs in our Palo Alto Demonstration Garden have never grown taller than 4 feet and are more ball shaped than vertical. Part of this may be due to less watering and part of this may be due to our pruning regime. We prune it by 1/3 to 1/2 after it finishes blooming in late spring to control its height. We also prune side branches that fall on other plants. Once the plants become mature, we prune out up to 1/3 of the large woody branches to control plant size and maintain vigor.

To minimize pruning, we have taken out several of our 'Tuscan Blue' rosemary shrubs and replaced them with the smaller cultivar 'Mozart', a UC Davis Arboretum "All-Star". We'll let you know how are experiment works.

Rosemary is useful herb in the kitchen.

Salvia clevelandii

Pronunciation
SAL-vee-uh kleev-LAN-dee-eye
Common Name
Cleveland Sage
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
3 ft. wide and tall
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

'Winnifred Gilman' is a Salvia cultivar that is compact and has lovely violet-blue flowers. It is one of our favorite late spring California natives because the grey-green foliage smells like a chaparral morning.

Like many sages, these are short-lived plants. Even with regular pruning, Salvia clevelandii needs to be replaced every five to ten years when the stems become woody. We like to prune 'Winnifred Gilman' back by about a third in the late summer and early fall to prolong the life of the plant and maintain a nice shape.

We previously had a Salvia clevelandii 'Whirly Blue' in the water-wise garden. It was beautiful, but grew too large for our compact perennial garden. We removed it and replaced it with 'Winnifred Gilman'.

If you want to learn more about Salvias, we suggest reading Betsy Clebsch's The New Book of Salvias. 

Symphoricarpos albus

Pronunciation
sim-for-ih-KAR-pus AL-bus
Common Name
Snowberry
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
3 - 5 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

When fall and winter comes, shrubs with berries and fruit add interest to the garden. Snowberry, a California native, has wonderful white berries that show up in the fall and last through winter. These berries are attractive to birds too.

One of the best features of snowberry is it actually likes dry woodland conditions. It is a rare shrub that will thrive under a thicket of oak trees. At the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden we have it growing in a shady area that gets no summer irrigation.

Some people find the branching structure of snowberry to be messy. We have not tried this yet, but California Native Plants for the Garden recommends occasional coppicing to improve its appearance. Coppicing means to cut back a plant to about one foot from the ground. This usually works best right before a plant puts out new growth in the spring.

Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’

Pronunciation
Tew-kree-um FREW-ti-kanz
Common Name
Bush Germander
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
4 - 6 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Violet blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Teucium fruticans 'Azureum' has to die for blue flowers all winter long. The rest of the year it has a smaller floral display. The deep blue really stands out against the grey foliage. The species (original unnamed plant) is dull in comparison.

The only draw back to bush germander is it can get really big. In June of 2010 we pruned our bush germander back to 4 inches to help control its size. The shrub came roaring back with a natural shape and a slightly smaller size. The winter blooms are a plentiful and as lovely as in previous years.

We recently planted a smaller Teucrium cultivar, 'Compactum' that is reputed to stay 3 feet tall and wide and have intense blue flowers. We will report back on its behavior in a couple years.

Trichostema lanatum

Pronunciation
try-CO-stem-uh la-NAY-tum
Common Name
Woolly Blue Curls
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
3-4 ft. high & wide
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Violet to blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We approached growing the California native woolly blue curls with some trepidation because it has a reputation for being difficult. It is sensitive to overwatering and poor draining soil and often is short lived. But it has beautiful flowers! The foliage smells like bubble gum when rubbed, which is also a neat feature of this plant year round.

Several years ago we added a woolly blue curls to our California native plant bed. The plant was mulched with rock to improve drainage and received no additional summer water. Our woolly blue curls has bloomed and grown over the years, but it really wants a sunnier spot. The plant is reaching out for more light and has woody, unattractive stems.

We’ve avoided cutting the plant back hard, because we have read it does not get new growth on old wood. Some sources suggest planting woolly blue curls as an annual; if you love the flowers that might be an option for you. In all honesty, if your heart is not set on a California native, there are probably easier low water plants with lavender flowers. Lavender and Mexican sage are two lavender flowered plants we think are safer choices for the novice gardener.

Westringia fruticosa 'Wynyabbie Gem"

Pronunciation
west-RING-ee-uh froo-tih-KOH-suh
Common Name
Coast Rosemary
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
3 - 6 ft. tall and 5 - 10 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
White to light lavender
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This shrub from Australia looks a lot like rosemary, but its leaves are finer and have no fragrance. It has pretty light lavender flowers that appear in midwinter and last through spring.

Westringia gets big so plan ahead unless you want to be doing a lot of pruning. Unlike rosemary, the stems of Westringia do not get woody, which makes it is a better long term landscaping choice.

Unfortunately we had to remove this plant from the garden to make way for a city of Palo Alto well project. 

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