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
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.
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;
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
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
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
Quercus suber, CORK OAK: Best oak for drought condition. Corky bark. Needs good
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
Callistemon citrinus, LEMON BOTTLEBRUSH; Bright red flowers on large shrub attract
Cistus (several), ROCKROSE; Many leaf colors, textures, flower colors. Needs good
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
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
Prunus ilicifolia, HOLLYLEAF CHERRY; Makes good clipped hedge with rich green hollylike
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
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
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
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 –
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
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
Kniphofia uvaria, RED HOT POKER; Succulent basal leaves, red--yellow flower spikes
Pennisetum setaceum, FOUNTAIN GRASS; Dense clumps topped by fuzzy pink-purple
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
Tagetes lemmonii, BUSH MARIGOLD; Finely divided very aromatic foliage/yellow flowers
Watsonia pyramidata; Deciduous late summer; gladioluslike flowers late spring. Several
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