UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA
University of California
UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA

Water Wise Plants

Here's a full list of all our water wise plants. You can also view an image gallery, or view the plants by categories.

Achillea 'Moonshine'

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

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

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

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

Achillea 'Taygetea'

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Lavandula stoechas 'Otto Quast'

Pronunciation
lah-VAN-dew-lah STOY-kas
Common Name
Spanish Lavender
Plant Type
Shrub
Mature Size
1 ft. to 2 ft. tall and 2 ft. to 3 ft. wide
Water Requirements
Low: water every three weeks until the root ball is wet
Sun/Shade Requirements
Full sun
Wildlife
  • Beneficials
  • Butterflies
Flower Color
Purple
Maintenance- Design- Planting Tips

Lavenders are a favorite plant for low-water gardens with their aromatic foliage and showy spikes of scented flowers. We have several different types of lavenders in our garden. 'Otto Quast', one of the cultivars we've had success with, is a UC Davis "All Star" plant.

Lavandula stoechas is an early bloomer and will repeat bloom if deadheaded and given supplemental water. Full sun and good drainage are essential for lavenders. Shear the plant after blooming to maintain a neat appearance and discourage the plant from becoming too large and woody.

One drawback is lavender is a short-lived shrub that needs to be replaced when it becomes leggy or woody. We are considering replacing our lavenders after about six years in the garden.

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.

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.

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