Drought-Tolerant and Native Plants
Pincushion Flower (Leucospermum)
If you are converting your yard to be drought tolerant, there are many plants from which to choose. First of all, be aware that there is a difference between drought-tolerant plants and natives. Drought tolerance refers to a measure of how well plants will survive during extended dry periods. Though they may have low water requirements, natives are best defined as those that have adapted to a specific location and have remained genetically unaltered by humans. After becoming established in your landscape, natives usually do not need supplemental water or feeding.
David Ross, manager and green-goods buyer at Walter Andersen Nursery in Poway, particularly likes the Grevillea family of plants, which are native to Australia and which hummingbirds adore.
Grevillea ‘Coastal Gem’ and ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ are the groundcovers he recommends. ‘Coastal Gem’ can be used where you might want a low juniper.
The plants have very tightly spaced, small leaves that give it a fine texture. They grow to 2 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ flowers from March to December, with showy bunches of pink and cream flowers resembling large raspberries. The leaves are gray-green with hairy undersides and are smaller and much more compact than others of the species.
Additionally, you might consider Calylophus and Santa Barbara daisies. Calylophus, or Texas primrose, is a low and spreading groundcover that blooms with yellow, papery flowers from late spring through fall. Santa Barbara daisy, or fleabane, can be used for more than groundcover purposes. This evergreen perennial grows to 2 feet tall and can spread to 5 feet wide. Pinkish white, daisy-like flowers may bloom year-round. It can be used as a spiller plant that trails from a container.
If you are looking for something taller than a groundcover, David suggests Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘Scarlet Sprite.’ This is a mounding shrub with soft-textured, needle-like leaves that grows 4 to 5 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The rosy pink and cream-colored flowers are showy during winter and spring. It’s hardy to 20 degrees F.
Among California natives is the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry Ribes speciosum, a 4-foot, nearly evergreen shrub with red fuchsia-like flowers that appear January through May. This gooseberry has spiny stems and fruits and glossy, dark green leaves. The fruits look like red jewels. This plant tolerates clay soil, grows in shade to sun and requires little, if any, irrigation.
Salvia greggii (autumn sage) is a herbaceous perennial native from southwest Texas. It typically grows in rocky soil at elevations from 5,000 to 9,000 feet. This plant can take some shade. Because there are many varieties, there is a size that fits nearly every landscape need.
For color, take a look at Teenie Genie lantana and Mexican Bird of Paradise. Teenie Genie is an evergreen, dense shrub with a continuous display of multicolored flowers that open chiffon yellow and transition to fuchsia pink. It can be used in containers, mass plantings and borders. Mexican Bird of Paradise is covered with 6-inch clusters of yellow flowers almost year-round.
For interest, try Leucospermum, or pincushion flower, a native to Zimbabwe and South Africa that yields profuse and interesting blooms.
Andy Shearer, also at the Poway store, says the first plant he shows customers who want to add drought-tolerant plants to their landscape is leucadendron from the protea family and native to Australia. “I like the different varieties, the leaf shapes, sizes and foliage color,” he says. “It’s halfway between a shrub and a succulent.” Most get about 5 feet tall, and all need good drainage.
Andy also likes Grevillea and phormium with their wide choice of sizes and colors and Catalina ironwood (also called Lyontree), a subspecies of the ironwood tree. Now a native only to Catalina Island, it used to grow on the mainland. It can be grown as a shrub with several crooked stems or as a tree reaching up to 60 feet tall. The leaves look delicate, but are as rough as sandpaper.
Walter Andersen Nursery
3642 Enterprise St., San Diego
12755 Danielson Court, Poway