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.

Agastache

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

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

Aloe striata

Pronunciation
AL-oh stree-AH-tuh
Common Name
Coral Aloe
Plant Type
Succulent
Mature Size
2 ft. to 3 ft. tall and 1 ft. to 2 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Red-orange
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

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

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

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

Echinops ritro ‘Taplow Blue’

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

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

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

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

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.

Eriogonum grande var. rubescens

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

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

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

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

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

Eschscholzia californica

Pronunciation
esh-SHOLZ-ee-ah cal-ih-FOR-nih-kah
Common Name
California Poppy
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
6 in. wide and 6 in. to 12 in. tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Beneficials
Flower Color
Bright orange, golden, pale yellow, red, cream, rose
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leonotis leonurus

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

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

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

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

Lepechina hastata

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Origanum

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Rosa 'Happenstance'

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

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

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

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

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

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis'

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

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

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

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

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Tuscan Blue'

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

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

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

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

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

Rosemary is useful herb in the kitchen.

Salvia chamaedryoides

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

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

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

Salvia 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 microphylla 'UCB Pink'

Pronunciation
SAL-vee-uh My-kro-FIL-uh
Common Name
Sage 'UCB Pink'
Plant Type
Perennial
Mature Size
3 ft. to 4 ft. wide and tall
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Deer resistant
  • Hummingbirds
Flower Color
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’

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

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

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

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

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