November 5, 2002

Drought Tolerant Plant Recommendations

            W E A T H E R

    Santa Ana Gets    No October Rain

Santa Ana received no measurable precipitation during October as the region's drought worsened, increasing wildfire danger across Southern California.

The city has received only trace amounts of precipitation-- less than a 10th of an inch of rain-- since July 1.  And the city recorded 3.82 inches of rain during the year ending June 30-- less than 25% of normal.

The county has not received a full inch of rain from a single storm since Feb. 13, 2001-- or 598 days ago.                              

There's no relief in sight.  The National Weather Service says the jet stream is dipping into the United States in Montana and the Dakotas, rather than plunging into Southern California as it usually does in the fall.

                            Gary Robbins                             714-796-7970

November 5, 2002

This November 3 article in the OC Register points out what we’ve been saying . . . it is really dry out there. And, it doesn’t look as though significant rain is on the horizon either. Brief showers, such as we got one happy day in late October, benefit plants by washing dust, insect debris, and secretions from the foliage. Light rains also begin a gentle moistening process of non-irrigated soils, priming them to receive heavier rains later in the season. The weather guys are predicting some sprinkles this week, but we need more than a biweekly spritzing to get soil moisture back to normal, to say nothing of lake and underground water supplies.


Planting drought-tolerant landscapes is therefore, again and again and again, highly recommended in southern California. A common misconception is that only “Native” (meaning California native) plants are drought tolerant. California natives, depending upon the ecosystem they inhabit, have a full range of soil, nutrient, and water requirements just like all plants do. One common theme among Southern California natives is summer dormancy. This is due to our climate pattern, with hot dry summers and cool (but not frozen) wet winters. Having adapted to this pattern, therefore, these plants typically want little or no water in summer. In fact, many natives cannot tolerate summer water, and are unsuited for planting in a mixed-need garden setting. Conversely, you might be surprised at the range and quantity of commonly used landscape plants that are moderately to very drought tolerant.

 Fall is the ideal planting time in Southern California, and early spring is next best. Following is a list (by no means exhaustive) of landscape plants that tolerate moderate to extreme drought in summer, for your consideration.


Aesculus californica, CALIFORNIA BUCKEYE; Deciduous, showy flowers, interesting seeds; CA native

Brachychiton populneus, BOTTLE TREE; Evergreen, leaves shimmer like poplar, pod litter might be a problem

Cedrus atlantica, ATLAS CEDAR; ‘Glauca’ is a popular silvery blue variety of this stately conifer

Ceratonia siliqua, CAROB; Dense broadleaf evergreen, females produce carob pods used as chocolate substitute

Eucalyptus, many species to choose; try:

E. nicholii, PEPPERMINT; Willowy foliage smells like peppermint

E. polyanthemos, SILVER DOLLAR: Round leaves are used in arrangements

E. spathulata, SWAMP MALLEE; Small, narrow tree with ribbon-like foliage makes a good screen

E. torquata, CORAL GUM; Small round-crowned tree with beautiful flowers

Geijera parvifolia, AUSTRALIAN WILLOW; Hardy tree with graceful weeping willow effect

Koelreuteria paniculata, GOLDENRAIN TREE: Deciduous, papery seed capsules like lanterns. Fall color

Lagerstroemia indica, CREPE MYRTLE: Deciduous w/good fall color, flowers in many colors, nicely mottled bark

Laurus nobilis, SWEET BAY: Dense, can clip as topiary or hedge. Nds good drainage. This is bay leaf you cook with.

Melaleuca linariifolia, FLAXLEAF PAPERBARK; Bright green needlelike leaves/willowy branches; fluffly white flowers

Olea europa, OLIVE; California classic w neat grey foliage. Fruitless types available. Root rot a problem in some areas

Parkinsonia aculeate, MEXICAN PALO VERDE; Deciduous. Yellow flowers, feathery leaflets. Lends a desert atmosphere

Pinus eldarica, AFGHAN PINE; Nice dependable pine for our area

Pistachia chinensis, CHINESE PISTACHE: Deciduous w/great autumn color. Needs good drainage

Quercus suber, CORK OAK: Best oak for drought condition. Corky bark. Needs good drainage.

Rhus lancea, AFRICAN SUMAC; Attractive red bark, graceful weeping branches, trunk gnarls with age

Schinus molle, CALIFORNIA PEPPER; Weeping branches on gnarled trunk. Red berries.

Schinus terebinthifolius, BRAZILIAN PEPPER; Upright crown, coarser leaves, showy berries

Tristania conferta, BRISBANE BOX; Looks like a large-leafed eucalyptus, without some of the problems



Callistemon citrinus, LEMON BOTTLEBRUSH; Bright red flowers on large shrub attract hummingbirds

Cistus (several), ROCKROSE; Many leaf colors, textures, flower colors. Needs good drainage

Dodonaea viscosa ‘Saratoga’, HOPSEED BUSH; Willowy purple leaves and pretty seed pods on large upright shrub

Eleagnus pungens, SILVERBERRY; Tough shrub for barrier hedge. Look for variegated types.

Euryops pectinatus, EURYOPS; Yellow daisylike flowers yearlong on bright green shrub

Lantana hybrids; Lots of flower colors available. Aromatic. Needs full sun

Juniperus (most); Popular conifers come in many forms. Watch for mites, may be subject to root rot

Myrtus communis, TRUE MYRTLE; Neat hedge/screen w shiny green leaves, white flowers.

Nandina domestica, HEAVENLY BAMBOO; Finely divided leaves create airy look. Winter foliage color and berries

Pittosporum tobira; Basic landscape shrubbery; variegated/dwarf forms available

Plumbago auriculata, CAPE PLUMBAGO; Fluffy mound of bright green leaves, white/blue flower clusters

Prunus ilicifolia, HOLLYLEAF CHERRY; Makes good clipped hedge with rich green hollylike foliage, berries

Punica granatum, POMEGRANATE; Showy orange flowers on deciduous shrub. Some varieties bear fruit.

Rhaphiolepis indica, INDIA HAWTHORN; Common landscape shrub. Many varieties and flower colors; tolerant of wide range of growing conditions

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’; Rich green aromatic needlelike leaves on erect shrub up to 6’ tall, blue flowers

Teucrium fruticans, BUSH GERMANDER; Informal hedge 4 – 8’ w/silvery leaves + small lavendar flowers

Westringia fruticosa; Loose, spreading shrub or train to small tree. Greyish leaves, small white or blue flowers



Acacia redolens; Tough, grey-green leaves. Yellow flowers in spring.

Bougainvillea (many varieties); Tropical shrubby vines w/brilliant flower bracts. Will damage in frost, but can recover once established

Delosperma alba, WHITE TRAILING ICEPLANT; Fleshy round leaves, small white flowers

Lampranthus spectabilis, TRAILING ICEPLANT; Grey-green fleshy foliage, brilliant spring bloom

Lantana montevidensis; Twiggy trailing stems with dark green leaves, blooms yearlong white or purple

Myoporum parvifolium; Shiny bright green leaves, flowers white/pink. Grows fast

Oenothera (several), EVENING PRIMROSE; Fastgrowing, freeblooming wildflower look. Could be invasive, control by cutting back severely in winter.

Rosa b. ‘banksiae’ or ‘lutea’, LADY BANKS ROSE;  M stly evergreen clamboring rose w/white or yellow bloom

Tecomaria capensis, CAPE HONEYSUCKLE; Finely cut glistening leaves, bright orange trumpet flowers



Buddleia davidii, BUTTERFLY BUSH; Fast annual regrowth to 8’, fragrant summer flowers clusters attract butterflies

Cassia artemesoides, FEATHERY CASSIA; Grey, airy foliage, sulfur yellow blooms winter – spring

Coreopsis grandiflora; Bright yellow flowers borne in profusion on small herbaceous plants

Dietes (all), FORTNIGHT LILY;  Clump of swordlike leaves, taller flower spikes in waves every two weeks or so

Festuca ovina ‘Glauca’, SHEEP FESCUE; Blue-grey grassy clumps make nice small ground cover

Gaillardia grandiflora, BLANKET FLOWER; Daisylike flowers in warm colors summer- late fall on small plants

Gaura lindheimeri, GAURA; Wispy stems bear white or pink flowers over long period. Will self seed.

Kniphofia uvaria, RED HOT POKER; Succulent basal leaves, red--yellow flower spikes attract hummingbirds

Pennisetum setaceum, FOUNTAIN GRASS; Dense clumps topped by fuzzy pink-purple flower heads

Phormium tenax, NEW ZEALAND FLAX; Dramatic swordlike leaves in various unusual colors. Lg flowers spikes

Salvia (many); Too numerous to describe or even list here—indulge and experiment

Stipa tenuissima, FEATHER GRASS; Clump of thin, bright green leaves, fine golden flower heads

Tagetes lemmonii, BUSH MARIGOLD; Finely divided very aromatic foliage/yellow flowers winter-spring

Watsonia pyramidata; Deciduous late summer; gladioluslike flowers late spring. Several color selections.

The drought tolerance of any planting is determined both by the plants’ inherent biology AND the treatment they receive during the all-important establishment period. The ideal time to plant in southern California, with the exception of tropicals, is fall. This gives the plants the long, cool winter and early spring period to develop deeper roots. Dig a decent sized hole, and spread out any circling roots in the root ball. With average soil, it’s not really necessary to amend the soil, but be sure to compact the backfill well to eliminate air pockets. Water new plants during fall and winter if there is not sufficient rainfall to moisten the root zone; but do not keep the soil wet. Occasional deeper waterings are more beneficial than constant surface spritzing. During the first several years of the plants’ lives, expect to give them supplemental water during summer. Again, less frequent deeper watering is best. Check the soil moisture before watering, also observe the condition of the plant for subtle signs of stress. As a rule of thumb, the longer-lived a plant is the longer you might expect the establishment period to be. After plants are established, they should require no watering during fall and winter (with normal rainfall), and from occasional to no watering during the summer.

Many species can be limited in their growth by withholding water. Many of the listed plants will look better (greener, more abundant flowers, thicker growth) with some water, but will survive most summers with little or no water. Conversely, some plants actually bloom best when water is withheld. Several of the listed plants are sensitive to wet soils; they require good drainage. If yours is a tight, clay soil that drains poorly, these plants are more difficult to manage.

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