Try Water-Wise Plants This Spring

Douglas Iris 'Canyon Snow' is a lovely addition to the dry shade garden

The abundant rains we received this past winter have our reservoirs feeling less empty, but any long-term California resident knows how quickly this can change. With spring weather comes the opportunity to make changes in the garden that reflect our need to conserve this precious resource.

Although everyone’s garden is unique, there are plants of all sizes, shapes, and colors to choose from. The following plants are some of my favorites, being easy on your water budget, easy to care for, and native to California (except where noted).

If you have a large garden, consider planting a Valley Oak tree (Quercus lobata). They are invaluable to the ecosystem, offering food, shelter, and reproductive habitat for wildlife. Their spreading, gnarled branches are an icon of the Central Valley, and too many have been lost due to extreme drought (they do need some water in the summer, contrary to popular belief).

For urbanites with small gardens, try medium-sized trees. Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ is a native evergreen tree with dark green leaves and clusters of purple, pollen-rich flowers in late winter. Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana), native to South America, has bright, silvery-green foliage and beautiful pink and red flowers in spring that attract hummingbirds. A lesser known but easy to grow tree is the Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), another native plant with evergreen, scallop-shaped leaves and whimsical, feathery plumes attached to the seeds.

Large shrubs (and trees) provide permanent structure to your landscape and habitat for wildlife. Bush Anemone, a California native plant with large, white flowers in late spring and dark green foliage. is easy to care for and prefers part sun. Another tough plant with a wide range of light tolerance is Coffeeberry ‘Mound San Bruno’ (Frangula californica). Like the Bush Anemone, it has dark green foliage but without showy flowers. If given a little water in summer, it will produce berries in winter that change color from white to dark purple as they mature. These are a favorite for birds, but could potentially stain a sidewalk so plant it away from paths.

With all the little “cutie-pie” perennials out there; it’s difficult to narrow down the choices! Rosy Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande v. rubescens) is low-growing with evergreen, oval-shaped leaves, and flower stalks topped by cluster of pink blossoms. A favorite of pollinators, they grow in full sun or afternoon shade. Douglas Iris ‘Canyon Snow’ is a variety of evergreen iris with snowy-white blooms in spring. They prefer part sun and can be divided every three-four years like other members of the iris family. Another favorite is Dudleya, a group of native succulents (plants that store water in their foliage and stems, like Hens and Chicks). Dudleyas have silvery or silvery-green leaves and stalks of brilliant orangey-red or yellow flowers for hummingbirds. Dudleya species such as Large Chalk Dudleya (Dudleya brittonii) form large rosettes, making them perfoct for a focal point. They also make great container plants.

Some of the plants listed above can be found at local nurseries with a good selection of  California natives. These and many more water-wise plants can also be found at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery during their spring (and fall) plant sales. There are two more plant sales this spring, on April 8th and 29th from 9am-1pm. For more information, go to their website at <>.

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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