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Backyard Rock GardenWater isn’t getting cheaper or more plentiful is it? That is why drought-tolerant plants and rock gardens are becoming so very popular…and why we are such great supporters of you changing your garden into ones like you see here.

A “drought tolerant” plant is one that can SURVIVE drought — it doesn’t mean it can go WITHOUT water. Surviving and thriving are two different things. Many of the drought tolerant plants we use here in Southern California come from similar areas in the world, such as the Mediterranean area, Australia, South Africa, Madagascar, to name a few.

Obviously, some of the top drought tolerant plants are cactuses and succulents. Yet, not ALL of those can take freezing temps however, nor can ALL drought tolerant plants take freezing.  This is why it’s so important to know your climate zone and the plants climate zone. We are in climate zone 9 in most of the Antelope Valley.

Drought tolerant plants do extremely well on DRIP IRRIGATION. It saves you water and puts it exactly where it can benefit the plants roots the most, so it’s a top recommendation. Why water the fence anyway? Typical sprinklers lose up to 40 percent of the water to evaporation — ever notice that “mist” going up into the air when most sprinklers are running? Ground cover — whether it’s rocks (gravel) or shredded bark both help keep moisture in the soil.

This diagram, from University of California Cooperative Extension shows many good drought tolerant plants

UCOP DR plants

What’s in the table is the short list.  Here’s a longer list of drought tolerant plants and grasses.

Drought Tolerant Trees

Australian Willow – Gejeria parviflora – this is a fairly large evergreen “weeping” type tree, similar to California Pepper but not as messy and invasive. The flowers have also been described as strong smelling or citrus scented, but do attract bees.

Crape Myrtle – Lagerstroemia indica – smaller tree, rarely above 20’, great in heat, beautiful flowers (purple, red, magenta, hot pink, light pink, or white) in summer and fall color.

Strawberry Tree – Arbutus ‘Marina’ – beautiful evergreen medium sized. There is also a smaller version called Arbutus Unedo which is perfect for a smaller yard.

Chinese Pistache – Pistacia chinensis – deciduous, slow growing, medium to large eventually, incredible fall color, one of the best in our area.

Mulga – Acacia aneura – a nice smaller sized silvery gray evergreen tree good for patio.

Drought Tolerant Shrubs

SHRUBS – Manzanita – many varieties – ‘Howard McMinn’ is a good one to try.

Mexican Bush Sage – Salvia leucanthia – great color and shape, low maintenance and hummingbirds love it.

Texas Sage – Leucophylum frutescens compacta – grey leaves and light purple flowers. Also varities “Green Cloud” and “White Cloud” are great choices, Green Cloud has greener leaves, White Cloud has white flowers and very light grey leaves, giving it the appearance of a white cloud.

Butterfly Bush – Buddleia – MANY sizes and colors to choose from – an absolute favorite of butterflies!

Autumn Sage – Salvia greggii – dark green foliage, fantastic red blooms, only about 2-foot high.

Lavender – lavandula species – Many varieties to choose from, I prefer “French”, “Grosso” and “Spanish.”

Nerium Oleander – yes, it’s common, but it’s a great plant – many colors and sizes to choose from, and very low maintenance! Try “Petite Salmon”, it’s a nice size and I like the color, kind of peachy.

Ceanothus – also known as “California Lilac” – this is a native plant, so you must be sure to never over water these or they will die. Needs some water until established. As with all native plants, they need little water in summer, when they typically go into their “dormant” mode, winter, if we have little rain again, is when they like to receive water. Many sizes and varieties to choose from.

Drought Tolerant Ground Cover

Myoporum parvifolium – a nice low growing evergreen plant that needs little water, can eventually get a little woody, but very low maintenance other than maybe a bi-monthly trimming around the edges.

Ceanothus ‘Carmel Creeper’ – see Ceanothus above, this is a very low growing one, you can see it thriving around the Temecula Library.

Rosmarinus officinalis prostratus – Dwarf Rosemary – great evergreen plant, I’m sure you know what it is, bees love it when its flowering, and of course, it’s great in cooking, and lovely scent year round.

Verbena peruviana – Peruvian Verbena – fast spreading with colorful flowers, most of the Verbenas available are great.

Prostrate Junipers – several varieties out there, all good, check variety and zone.


All succulents store water in their leaves, such then, all cactus ARE succulents, but not all succulents are cactus.

Agaves are usually quite hardy and will thrive almost anywhere, with the exception of A. attenuate aka “Foxtail Agave,” which does not thrive in Zone 8 or 9, unless protected and grown in semi-shade. So many great succulents out there, why waste time on those that don’t like your area?

Rock Purslane – Calandrina grandiflora – fantastic succulent with tall spikes of bright magenta flowers all summer long, loves the heat.

Sempervivums can take frost, so if you find any of these, feel free to purchase and plant – just make sure they don’t get waterlogged.

Sedums – many to choose from – from low growing mats such as Sedum spurium “Tricolor” to larger, fall flowering S. spectibilis “Autumn Joy,” many are great ground covers.

Yuccas – indigenous to our area – beautiful plants in the landscape. Yucca filamentosa, Yucca flaccida and Yucca gloriosa all take frost and are real focal points in any landscape.

Other drought tolerant plants and grasses

– Too much to cover here, but clumping grasses are a favorite, varietiesLittle Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Dwarf Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima’), Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca), Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax).

Lambs Ears – Stachys lanata or byzantine, both great, large grey fuzzy leaves, low growing, makes a great ground cover if you let it spread also.

Kangaroo Paws (Anigazanthos flavidus) and Gaura lindheimeri, both great flowering plants.

Penstemons – beautiful flowering plants, come in MANY colors and sizes, the native ones are more drought tolerant than the hybrids so check to make sure which one you’re buying.

Salvias – we have native varieties and lots of choices in hybrids, all shapes, colors and sizes, they also attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Come on by and visit us.  You will find some great layout examples of what you can do to your yard to improve it.

Thanks to Linda McDonald-Cash, Landscaper, at  (951) 764-4762 www.uniquelandscapes.net for much of this article