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.

Aesculus californica

Pronunciation
ES-kew-lus ka-li-FOR-ni-ka
Common Name
California Buckeye
Plant Type
Tree
Mature Size
Can grow 10 - 25 ft. or more, and spread 30 ft. or wider
Water Requirements
Very Low: water reply several time a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
White to pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

The California buckeye is a unusual native because it is summer deciduous. It will naturally drop its leaves with the heat of summer, but with regular watering it may hold its leaves longer.

The California buckeye nectar/pollen is poisonous to European honeybees, but not to native bees. The flower has a candy or perfume like scent, and blooms in very early spring. The tree produces a large nut that resembles a buck's eye, thus the name. The nut is poisonous to eat. The nuts easily reseed where they fall, so collect them if you don't want a lot of sprouts coming up.

Without summer leaves, the pale bark of the California buckeye offers interest and structure in the garden. This shrub is very easy to prune and shape for your desired size.

Although we are very fond of buckeyes, this plant is no longer in the Demonstration Garden. We decided to remove it because it is poisonous to honeybees.

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 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.

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.

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?

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.

Aster chilensis

Pronunciation
ASS-ter chil-EN-sis
Common Name
California Aster
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 ft. to 3 ft. wide and 18 in. to 3 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Purple, pale blue or white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This California native is a low growing, late summer bloomer that shines when much of the garden is quiet. It works well in the front of a low water perennial bed or native plant border.

California aster looks better if regularly deadheaded. After it is done blooming in the fall, we recommend shearing it back to to the ground to keep a tidy look in the garden. The plant will cheerfully return when winter is over.

California aster was a new plant in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden and we found that it spread very rapidly even without supplemental water. We have removed it from the native plant bed. It might work better in a situation where a rapidly spreading plant is needed for erosion control rather than in a small, mixed perennial bed.

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.

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.

Calamagrostis acutifolia 'Stricta'

Pronunciation
kal-ah-mah-GROSS-tiss ah-kew-tih-FLOOR-ah
Common Name
Feather Reed Grass
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
2-3 ft.. tall and wide, flowers to 6 ft.
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Taupe
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Calamagrostis is a wonderful vertical accent in the garden. We have used two plants to mark an entryway to the garden. They can also be massed to make a low growing screen.

In late winter we have cut these grasses back to several inches above the ground to renew the plants. Other years we have simply raked out the old growth in the spring. Either way, these grasses are extremely low maintenance plants with a big impact in the garden.

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.

Calylophus hartwegii

Pronunciation
kal-ee-LOW-fus heart-WEHG-ee-eye
Common Name
Sundrops
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1.5 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
  • Butterflies
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This is a very showy, low growing perennial. The flowers, which appear in mid-summer, are bright yellow. The delicate, lacy foliage is also an attractive addition to the garden. It is native to the southwestern US and northern Mexico.

This is a new plant in our water-wise garden, so we don't have a lot of experience with it yet. Sunset's Western Garden Book suggests shearing before spring growth. The stems on this plants can become woody, but that hasn't happened in our garden yet.

Carex divulsa

Pronunciation
KARE-eks dee-VOOL-sah
Common Name
Foothill Sedge
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
2 ft. tall and 1 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Foothill sedge is one of our water wise winners! It makes a lovely informal ground cover in shady areas. With occasional water this plant stays green over the entire summer. Foothill sedge will survive full sun, but can begin to look ratty in the summer.

This plant was once considered a California native, but that has recently been disproven. The new name is Carex divulsa, but you will still find it sold as Carex tumulicola in nurseries.

At the end of winter, many people cut this plant back to several inches above the ground, but we have not had to do that. Because our plants are in the shade, they never seem to get tattered looking.

We have not had a problem with Foothill sedge reseeding. This may be because we mulch extensively with bark and use drip irrigation in the water wise garden.

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

Pronunciation
see-ah-NO-thuss
Common Name
California Wild Lilac
Plant Type
Plant type depends on cultivar
Mature Size
Many different types
Water Requirements
None: avoid summer water
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
Purple, dark blue, medium blue, white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Ceanothus is a California native evergreen shrub. It is very showy in late winter and early spring when it covers itself with beautiful blossoms. Most Ceanothus have blue blooms that are very attractive to bees and other insects.

There are many different kinds of Ceanothus. Some are low growing ground covers, some are shrubs and some become tree-like. Most Ceanothus need to be planted in a dry part of the garden because they are very sensitive to summer watering. Ceanothus varieties originally from the coast, such as 'Carmel Creeper', are more tolerant of summer water. You should research cultivars carefully to select the right plant for your garden situation. A good resource is California Native Plants for the Garden written by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien.

Ceanothus can be tricky to prune. It is best to prune them in the late summer when they are dormant. Take care not to cut into large branches -- only prune branches that are an inch or less in size.

Even with proper pruning and watering, these plants can be short-lived (five to ten years), but their beautiful spring flowers more than make up for any challenges.

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.

Chasmanthe

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

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

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

Chondropetalum tectorum

Pronunciation
kon-dro-PET-al-lum tek-TOR-um
Common Name
Cape Rush
Plant Type
Grass
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 to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Tan brown bracts
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Chondropetalum is a low water plant from South Africa that has a nice reed-like look. In the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden we've used it on the edge of a dry creek bed. Many garden designers favorite it as a specimen for its strong architectural lines. It is often use in modern designs and in pots as the "thriller".

Overwatering the plant will make it floppy. We carefully remove old stems to highlight the new growth. Chondropetalum can also be sheared to ground just as new sprouts start to show.

We also tried planting Juncus, a similar looking plant, but found it did not do well with once every three weeks watering.

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.

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.

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.

Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick'

Pronunciation
er-IJ-er-on GLAW-kus
Common Name
Seaside Daisy 'Wayne Roderick'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1 ft. high and spreading up to 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Moderate: water weekly until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Pink to Lavender to Violet
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We've been growing Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick' in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden for several years now. The cultivar 'Wayne Roderick' is supposed to be longer lived, have larger blooms, and be more durable and heat tolerant than the species. Our experience with Erigeron 'Wayne Roderick' has been very good, although we have noticed that the foliage burns in the summer unless given more frequent water.

This plant has a long bloom period with regular deadheading. Ours starts blooming in the spring and continues into the fall. To keep this plant looking its best, we prune leggy growth back to 1 or 2 inches in the late fall.

In the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick' has been a winner. We would recommend to anyone looking for a plant with a very long bloom period.

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.

Euphorbia rigida

Pronunciation
yew-FOR-bee-ah RIH-jih-dah
Common Name
Euphorbia
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. to 4 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
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

These perennials from the Mediterranean Basin have done very well in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden. Euphorbias are tough as nails. The chartreuse or lime green flowers appear in late winter and hold well through spring. Euphorbias are very showy in the winter garden and continue looking good during the hot summer.

Euphorbias can be aggressive reseeders so cut off the flower stalks at the base sometime in May before they set seed. Be careful of the sap as it may irritate the skin. We let the cuttings dry an hour before tossing them in the recycling bin.

Hundreds of varieties of Euphorbias are available ranging from groundcovers to shrubs.

Festuca californica

Pronunciation
fess-TEW-kuh kal-ih-FOR- nih-kuh
Common Name
California Fescue
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
2 ft. high and wide, with inflorescence 2 - 3 ft. high
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Other birds
Flower Color
Golden
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Festuca californica is a commonly planted California native. It is larger than many of the Festucas, reaching two feet or more in height. It has a softer more arching habit. We have found it goes summer dormant with infrequent summer watering.

This plant is tough and resilient. Unlike many California natives, this plant can take moderate water and will stay green and lush with regular watering.

To keep this plant from reseeding, be sure to deadhead in early summer.

Festuca glauca

Pronunciation
fes-TOO-ka GLAW-ka
Common Name
Blue Fescue
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
1 ft high and 10 in. wide
Water Requirements
Moderate: water weekly until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Blue-green
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Blue fescue is a small, evergreen bunch grass with narrow blue-green leaves that form a mound. The fairly insignificant flowers appear in early summer.

This grass needs occasional water and good drainage. It tends to brown out in the middle, but can be divided and replanted to renew it. In a low water garden, these grasses seem to hold their blue green color better in the shade.

In the Water Wise Garden we have removed most of these grasses. We had hoped to use blue fescue as an edging plant throughout the garden beds, however, in our opinion, only a few looked good enough to keep in 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.

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!

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.

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.

Heuchera maxima

Pronunciation
HEW-ker-ah MAX-im-a
Common Name
Island Alumroot
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1-2 ft tall x 3-4 ft wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Pinkish-white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Heuchera maxima is a California native plant from the Channel Islands. This heuchera is one of the largest of this genus. It forms a low clump and looks great planted in mass, especially in early spring when the delicate flowers appear on thin stalks above the large green leaves. The flowers are useful as a cut flower.

In the Water Wise Garden we have several Heuchera maxima in a shady spot where the soil is quite rich. These plants have grown very large and are stunning in the spring when they bloom.

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.

Iris 'Canyon Snow'

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

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

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

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

Kniphofia

Pronunciation
ny-FOE-fee-ah
Common Name
Red Hot Poker
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
Varies by cultivar
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, orange, yellow, near white
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

The glowing torch-like flowers of Kniphofia are reliable midsummer bloomers. From a design perspective the flower spikes of these plants provide great vertical accents. Many sizes and colors of Kniphofias have been developed, including reds, oranges, yellows, and near whites. The the flower colors can be dramatic and intense, so take care in selecting flower colors that blend well with your plants.

The Palo Alto Demonstration Garden has several Kniphofias including "Christmas Cheer', which is a UC Davis "All-Star". It has brilliant orange buds that open to a deep-gold tubular flower. Kniphofia 'Christmas Cheer' blooms in the fall and winter unlike many other Kniphofias.

We deadhead these plants because the old flower spikes are not that attractive. When the leaves start looking shabby in the winter, we cut back the foliage about three inches above the ground. Kniphofia will then come back beautifully in the spring. The plant divides easily when you want to spread it around, but it doesn't seem to need dividing to stay vigorous.

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.

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.

Linaria purpurea

Pronunciation
lin-AR-ee-uh pur-PUR-ee-uh
Common Name
Purple Toadflax
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 - 3 ft. high and 1 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
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Linaria is an old friend that asks for little and gives much. This plant makes a great filler, especially in a young garden. The flowers are small, but the plant is large with many blooming branches. Sunset recommends planting these plants in mass for maximum impact.

The big drawback to Linaria is that it reseeds. The seedlings are easy to spot and pull out. If you deadhead the flowers and mulch your soil regularly you will cut down on the amount of reseeding.

Lobelia laxiflora

Pronunciation
lo-BEE-lee-ah laks-ih-FLO-ruh
Common Name
Mexican Lobelia
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. to 6 ft. wide and 3 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Red with yellow tips
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Many Lobelias need lots of water, but not this lovely red Mexican lobelia, which has done well in our low water garden. It blooms all summer!

Though very frost tender, Mexican lobelia comes back from the root stock in the spring and spreads vigorously. After frost damage, we prune some of the scragglier branches back to about three feet to make the plant look neater. When danger of frost is gone we prune the plant to the ground to encourage new growth.

Mexican lobelia has spread aggressively in our garden and needs regular root pruning to keep under control. We would not recommend this Lobelia for someone looking for a low maintenance plant.

Warning: Lobelia may cause serious illness or death if eaten. If ingested, immediately call the Poison Control Center or your doctor. In addition, the juice or sap of the plant can cause a skin rash or irritation. Wash the affected area of skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact.

Mimulus

Pronunciation
MIM-yew-lus
Common Name
Monkey Flower
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 1/2 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
White, cream, yellow, orange, copper, salmon, red, maroon
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Mimulus is a cheerful California native that adds bright color to the garden. This shrubby perennial has been hybridized heavily to produce a rainbow of colors. In the wild, different species of Mimulus can be found from southern Oregon to southern California.

Happy in sun or part shade, these plants prefer good drainage. With supplemental water, you can expect some repeat bloom all summer. Mimulus is a favorite in native plant gardens because of its color range.

When new foliage appears at its base in late winter, the plant is ready to be pruned back to the new green growth. This hard pruning will rejuvenate the plant. If there is no growth at the base, then gently pinch the tips to encourage new growth.

Some Master Gardeners have found this plant to be short-lived; other Master Gardeners have Mimulus plants in their personal gardens that are over five years old and doing just fine. These plants are easy to propagate from cuttings and seeds.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Yaku Jima'

Pronunciation
mis-KAN-thus sih-NEN-sis
Common Name
Silver Grass 'Yaku Jima'
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 to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Striking golden plumes in fall
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Miscanthus 'Yaku Jima' is a favorite of Roberta Barnes, one of the founders of the Palo Alto Water Wise Demonstration Garden. She has found Miscanthus to be one of the best looking grasses for full sun and low water. There are many cultivars of Miscanthus on the market that vary in size and foliage color including silver and reddish brown. The cultivar 'Yaku Jima' is a U.C Davis All Star plant.

From a design perspective, the delicate foliage and showy plumes of Miscanthus add movement and texture to the garden. The plumes look especially lovely in the fall afternoon light.

We have not experienced any problems with this grass reseeding in the garden. To keep a fresh look, cut Miscanthus to the ground in winter and divide every few years. That is the only maintenance needed for these trouble-free plants. We have found that sometimes Miscanthus takes a year or so to get established in our water wise garden.

Muhlenbergia emersleyi

Pronunciation
muh-len-BER-jee-ah e-MERS-lee-eye
Common Name
Bull Grass
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
1 1/2 ft tall and 3 - 4 ft wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Muhlenbergia emersleyi is a wonderful grass to include in perennial flower beds because it doesn't get too big. In the late summer and fall this grass has attractive reddish flower spikes on green foliage. The winter form is lovely as well. Some describe the winter color as cream or tan. We say let's call it brown.

We have a single specimen in the Demonstration Garden, but we think this grass would look attractive planted in a larger group or even in a meadow.

This grass is extremely low maintenance and unlike many other grasses doesn't need to be divided every couple years. To keep this grass looking good, we rake out the old foliage to make room for the green spring growth.

The only downside of this plant is that it can be hard to find in nurseries. It is well worth requesting from a nurseries as a special order.

Muhlenbergia rigens

Pronunciation
muh-len-BER-jee-ah RIG-ens
Common Name
Deer Grass
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
3 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
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Grasses are the backbone of late summer and fall dry perennial gardens. We love the movement and texture they add to gardens. The graceful leaves of grasses look particularly beautiful when highlighted by the late afternoon sun.

Muhlenbergia rigen is a reliably pretty California native grass. The flower stalks are persistent and look attractive year-round. We've used it as an accent plant in our native and non-native beds with good results. The UC Davis Arboretum, which has selected Muhlenbergia as one of their "All Stars", suggests using it as a low informal screen.

Muhlenbergia requires very little maintenance in our water-wise garden. UC Davis recommends shearing Muhlenbergia a couple inches above the ground in the early spring every three years to encourage new green growth. California Native Plants for the Garden suggests periodically raking out dead foliage with a fan rake. Otherwise, this is a maintenance-free plant.

The Palo Alto Demonstration Garden also grows Muhlenbergia dubia, a smaller cultivar. We have found this to be an attractive low-water plant, although the UC Davis Arboretum suggests giving M. dubia slightly more water than M. rigen

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 sidoides

Pronunciation
pe-lar-GO-nee-um sih-DOY-deez
Common Name
African Geranium
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1 ft. wide and tall forming a dense mound
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Dark purple
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We love Pelargonium sidoides elegant dark purple flowers and dense mound of silver-gray, heart-shaped leaves. Masses of the dark purple flowers keep coming all the way through mid-December with or without deadheading. Even without flowers, African geranium still looks great in the garden because of its attractive foliage.

This is a geranium that thrives in low water situations and in full sun. We've also seen it do well in part shade with generous water. This cultivar seems to be more cold hardy than other Pelargonium. The only regular maintenance it needs is occasional deadheading of spent flowers and that's only necessary if you enjoy deadheading. All in all it doesn't seem to be a very picky plant.

Like most Pelargoniums it is very easy to propagate from cuttings. 

Penstemon 'Margarita BOP'

Pronunciation
PEN-steh-mon
Common Name
Foothill Penstemon
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1 ft. to 2 ft. wide, 2 ft. to 3 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This is a very reliable, long-blooming California native that thrives in the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden's native plant border. Penstemon 'Margarita BOP' is a UC Davis All-Star because it does well in average garden conditions. Unlike many other California native plants, Foothill penstemon can tolerate some summer water.

The bright blue flowers on these plants are stunning and last well into late summer, especially if deadheaded regularly.

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.

Phormium tenax 'Amazing Red'

Pronunciation
FORM-ee-um TEN-ax
Common Name
New Zealand Flax 'Amazing Red'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 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
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Red (but grown more for foliage)
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

'Amazing Red' is reputed to be one of the smaller Phormium cultivars; our plant has grown to about 3 feet high and wide in six years. The sharp texture and brownish-red color of the leaves makes this plant an excellent focal point in the perennial bed.

We have never seen 'Amazing Red' bloom in our garden, but that's OK because Phormium flowers are not particularly attractive in our opinion. Prune out dead leaves, but don't try to reduce size Phormiums by cutting back their leaves. Unlike grasses, Phormium leaves won't grow back and you'll be stuck with stubby unattractive leaves.

Some Phormiums revert to the brownish color of the species after several years. 'Amazing Red' has held its color in our garden for six years and for ten years in some of our Master Gardeners' personal gardens.

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.

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 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.

Salvia Hybrid 'Christine Yeo'

Pronunciation
SAL-vee-uh
Common Name
Sage 'Christine Yeo'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
12-18 in. high and 24 - 36 in. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun, shade
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We are big fans of Salvias microphyllas in the water wise garden. These shrubby perennials come in a wide variety of colors and will bloom many months with deadheading. Salvia microphyllas also stay a nice size in the garden and will not overwhelm neighboring plants.

The flower pictured here is Salvia hybrid 'Cristine Yeo'. It is a cross between Salvia microphylla and Salvia chamaedryoides. This plant has only been in the garden for two years, but it is doing well enough to add to our favorites list.

Salvia microphyllas prefer full sun, but this plant is doing well with morning sun and afternoon shade. It seems a little floppy, but we are not sure whether that is a shade issue or just its natural form.

With a little work you can keep Salvia microphyllas in top form in your garden. We shear off all the flowers in early summer and again in our fall clean up. This keeps the plant more compact and encourages repeat blooming. In the spring we prune out one third of the oldest stems to keep the plant from getting woody. A nice bonus for your pruning work -- the leaves of these Salvias smell wonderful.

Salvia spathacea

Pronunciation
SAL-vee-a spa-THAY-see-a
Common Name
Hummingbird Sage
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
1-2 ft high x spreading
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

Salvia spathacea is a California native plant with an unusually (for California natives) lush appearance. The leaves of this plant are large and can grow up to a foot in length.

The plant spreads by underground rhizomes and can eventually cover a large area. Hummingbird sage can make a colorful ground cover in dry, shady conditions.

From spring until fall flowering stems appear above the foliage. The flower clusters are spaced evenly along the stems creating a bold vertical accent. Light pruning after blooming will help keep this plant neat.

In the Water Wise Garden, we found that too much summer sun burned the leaves and made the plant unattractive. Also, we found that our hummingbird sage spread more aggressively than we had anticipated. A few runners were replanted to shadier spots under oak trees and we will be monitoring them carefully. 

Santolina chamaecyparissus 'Nana'

Pronunciation
san-toh-LEE-nuh kam-ee-ky-par-ISS-us
Common Name
Dwarf Lavender Cotton
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
2 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Very Low: water deeply several times a summer
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Santolina chamaecyparissus 'Nana' is a compact shrub with silver grey foliage and bright yellow flowers. We found this dwarf cultivar at Sierra Azul Nursery several years ago. This cultivar is very slow growing and stays a nice size. We originally had a full sized Santolina, but the plant fell apart when it bloomed. It looked like a mess, so we removed it from the garden.

Santolina chamaecyparissus 'Nana' is a good choice for an edger or in a knot garden because it doesn't require the pruning that the larger species needs. We've used short silver plants as edgers throughout the Demonstration Garden as a way to tie the garden together visually.

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.

Sisyrinchium bellum

Pronunciation
si-si-RINK-ee-um BEL-lum
Common Name
Blue-Eyed Grass
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
12 inches high x 6 inches - 2 feet wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
Flower Color
Blue
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

This California native plant has green or bluish green strappy leaves. In early spring small blue flowers cover the plant.

In the Water Wise Garden Sisyrinchium bellum dies back when the weather gets hot, then we remove the dried foliage. With additional water throughout the summer, plants will stay evergreen and continue to occasionally rebloom. Some reseeding will occur, but not aggressively.

They are showiest when planted in masses. People love these little flowers, the clear blue is eye-catching in the spring garden. There are different cultivars that offer subtle variations.

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.

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.

Tagetes lemmonii

Pronunciation
tah-JEE-deez lem-mon-ee-eye
Common Name
Mexican Bush Marigold
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
4 ft. to 6 ft. wide and 3 ft. to 6 ft. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full to half sun
Wildlife
  • Butterflies
  • Deer resistant
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Tagetes lemmonii is a sprawling shrub-like perennial with cheerful yellow flowers and aromatic leaves. The plant is originally from Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

Mexican bush marigold can become large and ungainly, so we recommend shearing this plant several inches from the ground in the spring to keep the plant compact and give it a nice shape. Also you should prune out any frost damage once the danger of frost is over.

Tagetes lemmonii is not long-lived in the garden, but if you like yellow flowers and enjoy the smell of its leaves this plant is worth planting. In the water wise garden in Palo Alto, we removed Tagetes lemmonii because it repeatedly suffered frost damage and was not attractive.

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.

Triteleia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’

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

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

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

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

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

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