California Native Plants for Drought Tolerant Home Gardens
California native plants are not all drought tolerant. California is geographically diverse: ranging from a foggy coast to the hot central plains, and foothills that climb up into the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. This diversity is closely reflected in the native plants that have successfully adapted to their environment. The native iris shown in the photograph can be commonly seen along the Central and Northern coastal areas.
Another example, Claytonia sibirica (Siberian Miner's lettuce) shown in the photograph below, is an edible annual native to Siberia and California. It grows in the shade of the foothills of the Sierra and were eaten by gold miners to prevent scurvy. This plant needs water to survive the summer heat. Without water it will die early in the summer, but reseeds itself profusely to await the Winter rains. Is this a drought resistant plant? It is, by the definition that it has adapted to survive the dry summer heat through its reseeding method.
To choose California native plants for your location, there are climatic zone maps published by the USDA that are based on average minimum temperatures. Sunset magazine has published its own climatic zone maps. The Sunset zones use multiple factors and are therefore rather more useful than the USDA zone maps. Since many nurseries use the USDA zone on their plant descriptions, you need to be aware of both systems.
If you are interested in understanding the huge diversity of the native plants of California, there are some wonderful books that have been published on this topic. To visit our resources web page for a list of books about California's flora, click here.
An informative book by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook called “Designing California Native Gardens”, describes native plants using the idea of plant communities. The plants that belong to plant communities adapted to dry summers are exactly the ones that are useful in a drought tolerant home garden.
Plants communities such as Coastal Prairie, Oak Woodlands, Mixed Evergreen Forest, Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral, Desert, Valley Grasslands, Rocky Cliffs and Bluffs, and Channel Islands all provide an enormous variety of possible plants for the water-wise garden. There are some differences naturally among these plant communities, and these differences range across soil types, dry or moisture-laden winds, and different sun and shade requirements.
Click through the plant community descriptions to understand the differences and similarities between them. Then look up your USDA or Sunset zones and examine the dominant soil, sun, and shade conditions that prevail in your backyard and front-yard. Use these pieces of information to narrow down your choices when you are picking a plant design for your use. Click here to use our 7 step guide to convert your lawn to native plants. Click here to download our free landscape design that uses only California native plants. This free design provides a wonderful home for insects, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife, while providing year-around beauty and interest to humans.
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