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.

Agave americana

Pronunciation
ah-GAH-vay ah-mer-ih-KAY-nah
Common Name
Century Plant
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
6 ft. wide to 10 ft. high
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Yellowish green flowers on 15 ft. to 20 ft. stalks
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

As you can see from the photo, this plant is quite the show-stopper in our perennial beds. Agave makes a powerful statement when placed among grasses and softer, small-leaved perennials. We think Agave helps keep our beds from becoming boring and predictable.

Small plants form around the base of the plant, but they are easily pruned out if you don't like the look. Because the water-wise garden is a public garden, we prune off the spiky tips of this plant, which can be quite sharp.

Aloe striata

Pronunciation
AL-oh stree-AH-tuh
Common Name
Coral Aloe
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
2 ft. to 3 ft. tall and 1 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
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Red-orange
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Like many succulents, Aloes are from South Africa. Aloe striata tolerates cold better than most aloes and grows successfully in the Bay Area.

The large, broad, fleshy leaves and tall clusters of flowers are bold additions to the summer-dry perennial bed. As a bonus, hummingbirds and bees are attracted to its orange-red blossoms.

After that flowers have dropped off, we cut back the inflorescence. That's the only maintenance this plant needs. Aloe striata is easy to propagate too. We just remove the pups (baby plants) from the base of the plant, let the stems dry and harden, and then plant the cuttings in a pot of cactus soil mix.

Aloe x spinosissima

Pronunciation
AL-oh spin-oh-Siss-e-ma
Common Name
Spider Aloe
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
2-3 ft. high, 2-4 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-orange
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Spider aloe has to be the slowest growing succulent ever! Still it worth adding to a small garden because the plant has an interesting form -- almost like a piece of modern sculpture. And you don't need to worry about it outgrowing its space or crowding its neighbors.

In the winter spider aloe is rumored to have red flower spikes that are attractive to hummingbirds. Unfortunately, we can confirm that because the plant in the Palo Alto has never bloomed..

This plant is frost tender so be sure to protect it on cold winter nights.

Spider aloe is striking and very undemanding. It makes an excellent specimen for a small low water garden.

Bulbine frutescens

Pronunciation
BUL-bin-ee froo-TESS-enz
Common Name
Bulbine frutescens
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
1 ft. high and 2 ft. 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
  • Bees
Flower Color
Yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This South African native is a great plant to mix into your low water flower border. It is evergreen, has spikes of star-shaped yellow flowers and cool fleshy pencil-shaped leaves. We want these plants for our home gardens!

The yellow-flowered Bulbine frutescens blooms mostly in the winter when very few plants are in flower. The cultivar, 'Hallmark', which we have also successfully grown in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden, is more compact, has orange flowers and blooms in the summer.

Though it looks best when watered several times a summer, Bulbine can survive on less water.

When Bulbine starts to flop open in the center, it is time to dig up and start fresh by planting a piece of the original plant. Digging up Bulbine is not the easiest easiest garden job, but the cuttings will grow without much special treatment. Just stick them in the ground and wait for a new plant. The best time to start a new plant is in the rainy season.

Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga 'Macrantha'

Pronunciation
kot-EE-lee-don Or-bee-kul-AY-tuh
Common Name
Pig's Ear
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We love this Cotyledon cultivar with its bright green, red-edged leaves. Many summer-dry plants have small, fine leaves; Cotyledon with its brightly-colored, fleshy leaves adds a much needed PUNCH to the garden. This is especially important during the quiet months in the fall and winter when not much is blooming.

Like many succulents, Cotyledon is easily propagated from cuttings and does well in containers. According to Sunset's Western Garden Book, Cotyledon does better with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. In the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden, some of the plants are in full sun and seem to do just fine. Cotyledon also seems more cold tolerant than many of the succulents we have trialed. We have never experienced any frost damage with this Cotyledon.

Echeveria sp.

Pronunciation
ech-eh-ver-EE-a
Common Name
Hen and Chicks
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
Less that 1 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
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Pink, red with yellow tips
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Echeveria is a nice filler or edging plant for the summer dry flower border. Echeverias also do well in pots. The sculptural quality of the fleshy leaves provides a nice contrast to the more delicate leaves of many perennials.

For gardeners at the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden part of the charm of this plant is watching the hummingbirds enjoy the flowers. Our water-wise garden features the UC Davis "All Star" cultivar 'Imbricata'.

Echeverias are often referred to as 'Hen and Chicks', but so are Sempervivums. One of the the problems with using common names is they can be confusing. In this case, it is better to use the botanical name, Echeveria.

Some Echeverias do well in full sun, but the cultivar in the Demonstration Garden seems to do better in half shade. We have also found that Echeverias seem to do better with a drip very close to their roots.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Pronunciation
SEE-dum
Common Name
Stonecrop 'Autumn Joy'
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
1 - 2 ft. high and 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
Flower Color
Pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This is a very easy plant to have in your garden. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' stands very upright with no need for extra support, needs very little water and generally is not bothered by garden insects. In late summer the plant blooms a nice strong pink and slowly fades to a rust. Good for adding color to the garden when most other plants are tired and resting. During the winter months 'Autumn Joy' dies back to the ground and returns in the early spring.

In the Water Wise Garden, Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is planted in a very rocky, well drained spot. It has grown very slowly, but steadily. It is a favorite of many gardeners because of the long lasting fall color.

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