(By Karen Boness) We have had over nine inches of rain since I wrote about drought tolerant trees. With all that rain falling in such a short time frame it is easy to forget that we are still way below our yearly average rainfall. It is important to be ever mindful of converting our landscapes to water-wise species. So I offer you here three more very drought tolerant plants. This time we’ll focus on shrubs.
Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis) is an evergreen, sun-loving, deer-resistant, fast-growing, California native shrub measuring up to 8’ high. Its leaves can look like small bright green shields. It sports small, insignificant white flowers from late summer through fall. Coyote Bush is excellent for habitat by providing food for native insects and protective hiding places for birds and small mammals. It is not fussy about soil conditions. I recommend two different low growing cultivars. They both spread quickly and provide ground cover excellent for slopes or level ground. “Twin Peaks” grows 2-3’tall by 8’ wide and prefers a little afternoon shade in hot areas. Trim it back in spring to keep it from getting lanky. “Pigeon Point” is the male form of the plant. It loves the sun and grows 2’x8’ quite rapidly.
Nevin’s Barberry (Berberis nevinii) is a lovely large evergreen shrub from Southern California. It is rare and endangered due to habitat encroachment. Its grey-green leaves have prickly edges so it is fairly deer resistant. Nevin’s Barberry grows at a moderate rate to 8’x8’ and also displays copious scented yellow flowers in spring followed by a bouquet of bright red berries. It loves the sun but can take some shade. It needs good drainage. Birds love the berries.
Red Valarian or Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber) delights in poor, dry alkaline soil so it is perfect for water wise gardens. This perennial grows 2-3’ tall by 2’wide and has narrow grey green leaves. Red Valarian is best known for its profuse magenta-red star-shaped flowers but there are also cultivars that come in white, pale pink and pale blue. It takes sun or part shade and self-propagates easily. It you don’t want it to spread in your garden cut off the flower heads once they have faded. Red Valarian is also a good habitat plant for butterflies, bees and other insects. It does not like moist, rich soil.
Please note that all drought tolerant plants require some regular water to get established. You can’t just plant them and walk away.
Karen Boness is a Sonoma based landscape designer, certified arborist and licensed landscape contractor #974035. Her business is Wild Willow Landscape Design. 707.481.8561. Wildwillowdesign.com.