With mandatory water cuts hanging over every city and suburb in California, state officials are urging folks to pull out their lawns in favor of drought-tolerant landscaping. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power even offers rebates for residents that replace their lawn with drought-tolerant foliage!
Unfortunately most drought-tolerant plants commonly found in nurseries come from areas outside of California, such as Arizona, South Africa or Australia. Ecologists say these kinds of plants often aren’t as beneficial to the local ecology because they are not as inviting for California’s animals, insects and birds as native plants.
Native and drought tolerant plants are important for this region, not just because they are water efficient, but because they are the cornerstone of biological diversity and the foundations of the native ecosystems in our environment.
With our current climate conditions of increasing warmth and less moisture, more and more Californians are becoming interested in replacing high-maintenance, lawns that require a lot of water and fertilizers, with water-conserving plants. These can be anything from ground covers to a field of meadow flowers to stately oak trees – they all provide the benefits of lower water needs, reduced maintenance requirements, restored soil health, increased diversity that attracts birds and butterflies, as well as the aesthetic beauty of blending in with the natural landscapes. Using native California plants for everything from backyard gardens to wide scale re-vegetation is a positive practice that will benefit the local habitat and all residents who live here.
So what plants should you consider? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some great options to get your new California-friendly garden started!
Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
A perennial shrub that is great in a dry garden or on a slope. Orange flowers are stunning when in full bloom. Okay to cut back in autumn. Excellent butterfly plant.
Arroyo de la Cruz Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)
A beautiful wildflower that forms clumps of grassy, bluish green leaves and blooms in clouds of violet with golden stamens in the spring and summer. This Blue-Eyed Grass grows 1 foot tall by 1 foot wide. It is useful in a dry border, on a bank, and in a rock garden. Plant in full sun with little or no summer water.
California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum or Zauschneria)
A perennial plant, notable for the profusion of bright scarlet flowers in late summer and autumn. It is a subshrub growing to 60 cm tall. Native populations of these plants exhibit considerable variation in appearance and habit. Flowers vary from white, pink to orange and red with gray or green foliage. Wide leaves and narrow leaves. Prefer cool sun, but tolerate part-shade or hot sun with moisture.
California Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
A small tree or shrub that blooms from March to May. It has thin, shiny brown branches that bear shiny heart-shaped leaves which are light green early in the season and darken as they age. The showy flowers are bright pink or magenta, and grow in clusters all over the shrub, making the plant very colorful and noticeable in the landscape.
California Yarrow (Achillea millefolium californica)
A small perennial with cream-colored or off-white flowers in 3 – 4 inch clusters. Aromatic, feathery fern-like leaves grow to 6 inches in height. Flat-topped clusters of flowers rise to 2 feet. Good cut flower in a meadow planting or as a lawn substitute. Great for a butterfly garden.
Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa)
A perennial wildflower that forms a small bush or matted groundcover tangle of hairy mint-scented foliage. It produces rounded inflorescences of small, thready, bright lavender or pink flowers from June to August. Foliage is furry gray-green and butterflies are attracted to the plant. Likes sun to partial shade.
Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)
A warm season perennial bunchgrass found in sandy or well drained soils. Characterized by dense, tufted basal foliage consisting of narrow pointed leaves that reach lengths of about 3 feet and range in color from light silver-green to purple. The spike-like plumes are less than half an inch wide and 3–4 feet in length.
Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla)
An evergreen shrub that grows up to 3.3 to 4.9 feet tall and wide. Leaves are a light green in the spring, turning grayish-white as they mature, with graceful branches that arch to the ground, sometimes rooting when they touch the ground. Flowers grow in tight whorls on 5.9 to 7.9 inch long inflorescences, with a pinkish-purple flowering stem. Beautiful and tough groundcover for hot dry areas. Does best with infrequent deep soakings –especially inland. Highly recommended for erosion control and bird habitat.
Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa)
A spring annual with yellow and white daisy-like flowers on top of long stalks. Seeds germinate with winter rain and need no supplemental water. If transplanted from seedlings, plants should be watered occasionally. Common in grassy places at low elevations in grassy slopes and openings in coastal sage scrub, grasslands and chaparral, coastal plains, and the High Desert.
White Sage (Salvia apiana)
An evergreen perennial shrub that reaches 4.3 to 4.9 feet tall and 4.3 feet wide. The whitish evergreen leaves have oils and resins that release a strong aroma when rubbed. Several 3.3 to 4.3 feet flower stalks, sometimes pinkish colored, grow above the foliage in the spring. Flowers are white to pale lavender and are very attractive to bees. White sage is an important Native American ceremonial plant. Tolerates heavy soil.