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.

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.

Asarum caudatum

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Echeveria sp.

Pronunciation
ech-eh-ver-EE-a
Common Name
Hen and Chicks
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
Less that 1 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Half sun to shade
Wildlife
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Pink, red with yellow tips
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

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

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

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

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

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 idahoensis

Pronunciation
fess-TOO-kah eye-duh-ho-EN-sis
Common Name
Idaho Fescue
Plant Type
Grass
Mature Size
1 ft. to 2 ft. tall and wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Idaho fescue is common native grass in California and many other western states. We have planted a number of Festucas, including Idaho fescue, in full sun and they look brown and scraggly during the summer months. Festucas seem to perform much better in dry shade. In the Palo Alto Demonstration Garden we are in the process of removing Festucas from sunny areas of the garden and transplanting them to shadier spots when we have room.

Miscanthus, another type of grass, does better in full sun. It is not a perfect substitute for Festucas because of its larger size. The Palo Alto Demonstration Garden is still searching for a grass that is low growing and does well in full sun with limited water.

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.

Heuchera 'Rosada'

Pronunciation
HEW-ker-ah
Common Name
Coral Bells 'Rosada'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. to 4 ft. wide with 1 ft. flower stalks
Water Requirements
Moderate: water weekly until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Half sun to shade
Wildlife
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Pink
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

There are many different kinds of Heuchera, but one of our favorites is "Rosada'. Heuchera 'Rosada', which was introduced to the nursery trade by the UC Davis Arboretum, is a cross between two different native species from the western U.S.

Heuchera rosada prefers light shade and occasional to moderate water. With beautiful rosettes of low growing foliage and stalks of pink blooms, it is a favorite of woodland gardens. Removing the flower stalks when the plant finishes blooming is all the maintenance this western native needs.

Although these plants will grow in full sun, they will need more water to look their best. Plants grown in the shade can tolerate less water.

UC Davis Arboretum selected Heuchera 'Rosada' for its "All Stars" series. "All Stars" are easy to grow, reliable, do not need a lot of water, and have few pest or disease problems.

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.

Pelargonium ionidiflorum

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

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

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

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

Polystichum munitum

Pronunciation
pol-ISS-tih-kum MEW-nih-tum
Common Name
Western Sword Fern
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 - 5 ft. tall and 3 - 4 ft wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Shade
Wildlife
Flower Color
No flowers
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

We highly recommend western sword ferns, although we are unsure about how much water they need to look good though the entire summer. Since this is a new plant in our garden, we've been watering it every week. Now that it has been in the garden several years, we are going to put it on our once every three weeks watering regime.

Western sword ferns are found in in forests throughout California and much of the west. These ferns help give shady landscapes a natural woodsy look that we like. These plants are very tolerant of competition from tree roots.

To keep these plants looking attractive, remove older fronds.

These plants provide forage for elk, deer, and black bears, should you wish for any of these animals in your garden.

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.

Ribes sanguineum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ribes speciosum

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

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

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

Rubus pentalobus

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

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

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

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. 

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.

Top of page

Webmaster Email: webmaster-mgsantaclara@ucanr.edu