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.

Achillea 'Moonshine'

Pronunciation
ah-KILL-lee-ah
Common Name
Yarrow 'Moonshine'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 ft.
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Bright yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Yarrow MoonshineAchillea 'Moonshine' is a reliable mid-summer bloomer. It is a very strong yellow, so it will stand out in your garden.

These plants require very little maintenance. We regularly deadhead the spent flowers to keep a fresh look.
Vigorous clumps can be divided in the winter and given away to friends.

These plants are magnets for butterflies and beneficials insects. The flowers have lots of nectar and the flat shape of the flower serves as a perfect landing pad for butterflies.

Achillea 'Taygetea'

Pronunciation
ah-KILL-lee-ah tay-GET-ee-uh
Common Name
Yarrow 'Taygetea'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
12 in. to 18 in. wide and tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Creamy yellow
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

'Taygetea' Greek yarrow is a cheerful, reliable summer bloomer. The flowers start out bright yellow in midsummer and fade to a more mellow shade over time. We also like the grey-green foliage that blends in well with many plants found in low water gardens. This cultivar of yarrow seems to be more drought tolerant than the popular Achillea millifolium.

Greek yarrow doesn't need a great deal of maintenance. To encourage reblooming, you can deadhead it regularly. Also, this plant will spread, so don't plant it too tightly.

Agastache

Pronunciation
ag-ah-STAK-ee
Common Name
Agastache
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. wide and 2 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We've had mixed success with Agastaches in our garden. These plants are originally from the Southwest and Mexico, a climate that is somewhat different from our Mediterranean summer-dry climate. According to our references, these plants require well draining soil, but our soils tend to be slow draining clay soils. Even so, we've have had success with this unnamed cultivar.

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.

Arctotis 'Purple Torch'

Pronunciation
ark-TOE-tiss
Common Name
African Daisy
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1 ft. to 1 1/2 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
Purple
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This African daisy begins blooming in the winter and continues until the weather gets hot. Other varieties of African daisy will bloom through the summer.

This plant is a low growing ground cover with gray felty leaves that are attractive even when there are no flowers. At our Palo Alto Demonstration Garden we have repeated plantings of 'Purple Torch' throughout the front of our beds to unify the garden. It combines well with Bulbine frutescens, which blooms at approximately the same time.

We do not consider this to be a low maintenance plant. To keep Arctotis looking its best, the flowers should be regularly deadheaded when past their prime. If you have a lot of Arctotis planted in your garden, it can be a chore.

Cuttings root easily in the cool months and that's a good thing because Arctotis looks best when replaced every few years.

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.

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.

Echinops ritro ‘Taplow Blue’

Pronunciation
EK-in-ops RIH-tro
Common Name
Globe Thistle
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 - 4 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Bright blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Echinops has beautiful blue flowers beginning in the spring and continuing through the fall. The coarse leaves may not appeal to everyone, but we think they add an interesting texture.

The flowers of Echinops make a great cut flower. The spiky texture adds interest to flower arrangements.

To encourage new blooms and keep the plant looking fresh, remove the entire flowering stalk. Even with minimal water and no fertilizer, we find these plants need stacking. When we put supports in place in the early spring, they are quickly covered with foliage and hidden from view.

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.

Eschscholzia californica

Pronunciation
esh-SHOLZ-ee-ah cal-ih-FOR-nih-kah
Common Name
California Poppy
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
6 in. 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 sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
Bright orange, golden, pale yellow, red, cream, rose
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

To provide design unity in our water-wise beds, we like to have one or more plants repeat in all the beds. In the spring, bright orange California native poppies fill that role in our garden. Although California poppies are perennials in our area, they can be treated as annuals.

California poppies can be problematic because they are aggressive reseeders. They must be heavily thinned out in areas you want to keep them and removed in areas you don't want them. They can get to be a sizable one and a half feet wide and can smother other plants.

California poppies look great in wild areas and are lovely massed. They make excellent temporary fillers if you are starting a new bed with small plants.

California poppies can get by on almost no summer water, but they tend to look shabby and weedy under these conditions. To encourage continuous bloom, you should provide moderate amounts of water and trim the plants back to almost ground level when the foliage turns grey and the plants lose their flowers.

Most retail nurseries and many hardware stores sell seeds for California poppies. Larner Seeds, a mail order company, is a good source of seeds for some of the less common varieties of these California natives.

Plant seeds in the fall for a spring show. Be sure to cover seeds with mulch to hide them from the birds and water regularly until they sprout if the winter rains have not arrived.

Ficus carica ‘Panachée’

Pronunciation
FY-kus KAR-ih-kah
Common Name
Panachée Striped Tiger Fig
Plant Type
Tree
Mature Size
15 -30 ft.
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Inconsequential flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Can edibles be ornamental? Yes! Tiger figs have beautiful striped green fruit in the fall and large attractive leaves. Unfortunately the fruit on this cultivar requires a long warm season to ripen. For eating, we usually recommend 'Black Mission', a cultivar that is more likely to ripen in Palo Alto.

Every year we have pruned our two fig trees hard to keep them from overwhelming our modest sized beds. While our radical pruning has kept the trees under control this may be more work than the average homeowner wants to take on every year. We recently decided to remove our two tiger figs and replace them with a dwarf fig cultivar called "Black Jack".

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.

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.

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.

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.

Muhlenbergia dubia

Pronunciation
muh-len-BER-jee-ah DOO-bee-uh
Common Name
Pine Muhly
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
2 ft. to 3 ft. wide and tall with plumes rising 4 ft. to 5 ft.
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Muhlenbergia dubia from the southwest U.S. is one of our favorite grasses for the summer dry garden. It looks very similar to the more common Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass), but it is a third of its size. That makes this plant a better choice for pots and small spaces.

Like most grasses Muhlenbergia dubia really shines in the fall when its graceful leaves add movement and texture to the garden.

In the spring we like to rake out the older growth to encourage new green leaves. Every three years we shear this plant down the ground. That is the only maintenance we do on this plant.

Origanum

Pronunciation
oh-Rig-an-um
Common Name
Oregano
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
Varies depending on cultivar
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We enjoy mixing herbs in ornamental plantings. Herbs like oregano are very attractive and thrive under tough conditions. Some oreganos are grown for their aromatic qualities, others for their interesting foliage and others for their attractive flowers.

'Hopley's, a variety with purplish pink flowers looks good in pots. 'Aureum', the variety shown in this picture, looks better with morning sun. The hot afternoon sun can bleach its leaves.

Herbs are great for attracting beneficial insects to gardens. Also the less they are watered, the more intense the flavor.

Many oreganos benefit from being sheared to the ground in the fall. You can harvest oregano any time for cooking, but the intense flavor will be right before the plants bloom.

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.

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.

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.

Rosa 'Happenstance'

Pronunciation
ROE-sah
Common Name
Rose 'Happenstance'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. tall and wide with regular pruning
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
Light yellow to white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Roses have a reputation for being lovely shrubs that require a great deal of maintenance and water. 'Happenstance' rose is a beautiful, disease-free shrub rose that is doing fine on our low water diet.

The pale yellow flowers of 'Happenstance' provide a calming contrast to the more brightly colored flowers in our water wise border. The arching branches of 'Happenstance' rose form a neat mound.

This rose is a slow grower in our garden and doesn't need a lot of deadheading or pruning because we don't provide much water or fertilize. In February, we prune back some of the longer canes of 'Happenstance' to about two feet to keep the rose a three foot mounding shrub over the summer.

Despite our low maintenance approach, this rose blooms continually in the spring, summer and fall. It's amazing! If you want to add a medium-sized rose to your water-wise perennial garden, we highly recommend this one.

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 chamaedryoides

Pronunciation
SAL-vee-uh kam-ay-dry-OY-deez
Common Name
Germander Sage
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 ft. wide and 3 ft. to 4 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Bright blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Salvia chamaedryoids is one tough cookie. This plant needs very little water and blooms like crazy in the late summer.

We grow this plant as much for its pretty silver leaves as its bright blue flowers. Deadheading will encourage those lovely blue flowers to come back in the fall. Shearing back to the ground in late fall rejuvenates the plant.

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. 

Salvia microphylla 'UCB Pink'

Pronunciation
SAL-vee-uh My-kro-FIL-uh
Common Name
Sage 'UCB Pink'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. to 4 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
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This hot pink Salvia is pretty especially in late fall when fewer plants are blooming. Salvia 'UCB Pink' seems to bloom more consistently than many of the Salvia microphylla types. Salvia "UCB Pink' is available from specialty nurseries, several of which are listed in our references.

In the fall, we shear off the skinny branches of this plant to form a neat ball. We suggest avoiding cutting into the thicker woody stems because you may not get regrowth. Regular pruning keeps this plant fuller and encourages more flowering the next season. In general Saliva microphylla plants are very well-mannered in summer-dry perennial gardens and don't need a great deal of maintenance.

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

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.

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.

Verbena bonariensis

Pronunciation
ver-BEE-na bo-nar-ee-EN-sis
Common Name
Verbena
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3-6 ft tall x 1-3 ft wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Purple
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This is a fast growing plant, which if happy in the garden, will spread by seed. It has a small clump of green leaves that produce tall flowering stems in the hot summer months. The overall look is light and airy. Tall stems should be cut down when flowers have faded. Best used as a background plant. Verbena bonariensis does best in hot, dry locations with good air circulation and well draining soil.

This plant is no longer in the Water Wise Garden. When we grew it, it needed some supplemental water to keep it thriving.

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.

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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