Buckwheats for Central Valley Gardens

Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) paired with Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)

There are a lot of great water-wise California native plants to choose from, and some of my favorites are members of the buckwheat genus (Eriogonum spp). California’s myriad native buckwheats are truly multifunctional; they act as the base for a mini ecosystem by attracting pollinators, predatory insects (the beneficial kind), and by extension, larger insects and birds that eat these pollinators and predators. Birds also benefit from seeds and the cover provided by larger buckwheats.

Buckwheats come in a variety of shapes and sizes, though their general growth habit is an evergreen basal mound topped with umbels of creamy, pink, or yellow flowers. Maintenance consists of trimming the umbels after blooming (wait until after seed drop for maximum wildlife benefit) and pruning out dead wood. Do not cut into old woody growth as they might not grow back. With proper cultural care, buckwheats suffer few disease or pest problems.  Here are some varieties that do well in the Central Valley:

Very Low water (1 watering/month during dry season)

St. Catherine's Lace

St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
This is the largest species available to Central Valley gardeners. It is also one of the toughest; it likes full sun, is adaptable to most soils, and will grow to 6 feet tall and wide or more. The blooms are white fading to a lovely bronze that looks great in dried flower arrangements. Blooms summer to fall.

 

 


California Buckwheat

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
The next size down and just as tough is California buckwheat.  This shrub’s moderate size, ease of care, and attractiveness to beneficials make it a one-stop-shop. Forms a 2’-4’ tall and 4’ wide shrub with creamy flowers fading to russet. Likes full sun; blooms in summer. Cultivars such as ‘Warriner Lytle’ and ‘Theodore Payne’ are lower growing and require more water.

 

 


Low water (2 waterings/month during dry season)

Red-flowering buckwheat

Red-flowering buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens)
This variety likes morning sun and afternoon shade in the valley. Forms a 2’ basal mound with lovely red-pink flowers from summer to fall. Good in a mixed perennial planting and an excellent choice for clay soil.

 

 

 

Coast buckwheat

Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)
Very similar to red-flowering buckwheat in shape and size, but with lovely cream to light pink flowers in summer. About 1’ tall and 18” wide. Prefers well-drained soil.

 

 

Moderate water (3-4 waterings/month during dry season)

Seacliff buckwheat

Seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium)
I love the beautifully delicate little foliage and creamy-white flowers of this species. It prefers full sun and is adaptable to different soil types. Grows to 2’, producing pinkish-cream blooms in summer.

 

 

 

Sulfur buckwheat

Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)
A low-growing buckwheat with yellow blooms from late spring to summer. At 1’ tall and 3’ wide, it does best in well-drained soil and full sun. Although it will survive on low water, it needs a little more to bloom well in our climate. Unlike other buckwheats, the flower umbels don’t hold up well as they dry and are best removed after seed drop.

 

Garden pairings
Purple-flowered plants offer a lovely contrast to the creamy whites and pinks of buckwheat. Easy-care, low-water California natives include Cleveland sage, ‘Margarita BOP’ Penstemon, and Lilac verbena. For moderate-water use buckwheats, try pairing with Hummingbird sage or Seaside daisy. If you are blessed with well-drained soil, you can also try Silver bush lupine, California lilac (Ceanothus spp), or Woolly blue curls. Other natives such as Deer grass and Liveforevers (Dudleya spp.) offer a nice foliage contrast.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

 

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