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 '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.

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?

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 '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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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