Water Smart Plant Picker

Water conservation is an essential consideration when designing and managing Sonoma and Marin County landscapes. Our area enjoys a Mediterranean climate characterized by wet winters and long, dry summers with little rainfall. Plants that are suited or adapted to local conditions not only use less water but generally grow more successfully and robustly, with fewer insect and disease problems. They ultimately create a healthier, more beautiful and more sustainable landscape.

Below is a hand selected plant list for Sonoma and Marin counties that displays mostly native species that will thrive in our climate. You can search, filter and save specific plants.

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Bouteloua gracilis

Blue Grama Grass
Grass
Organization

North American native, warm-season bunchgrass with narrow, grayish green leaves. Ornamental flowers like small brushes form at right angles to slender stems during the summer and persist for many months. Blue grama is adapted to heat, drought, cold, and foot traffic. It does not thrive in shade or wet soils. Blue grama can be used in small clumps among other plants, in a mass as part of a meadow, or even as a lawn substitute. B. g. ‘Blonde Ambition’ is a popular and robust cultivar.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Yellow
  • Blooming Season (s): Summer
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Size: Small
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseLandscape TemplatesMMWDWater Smart Plants Cards

Callistemon spp & cvs

Bottlebrush
Shrub
Organization

Popular Australian evergreen shrub or small tree attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees typically for bright red flowers that resemble a bottle brush. Flowering begins in spring and continues into fall. Bottlebrush will tolerate many garden conditions and exposures and is tolerant of dry conditions once established. Shrub varieties can be pruned to an informal hedge or be left to show their natural shape.

Examples: Lemon bottlebrush (C. citrinus, 6-12’ x 8-12’) is the most commonly grown species in California. Weeping bottlebrush (C. viminalis, 20’ x 15’) has pendulous branches. C. viminalis ‘Little John’ (3-5’ x 4-6’) is a low-growing, mounding form with deep red flowers that is popular as a foundation or accent plant.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Red
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFallWinter
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseSRJC ID

Carex spp

Sedge
Grass
Organization

Large group of grass-like, clumping plants with low or moderate water needs that are native to many parts of the world and offer a variety of shapes, sizes, and foliage characteristics. Some sedges are ideal for use in rain gardens and swales, for stabilizing slopes, as a mass groundcover, or as part of a meadow planting. Two low-water examples that prefer some shade are Catlin sedge (C. texensis, 4-6” x 6-8”), a small, mat-like sedge native to central and southwestern North America, and Berkeley sedge (C. tumulicola, 1-2’ x 1-2’), a larger species native to western North America that tends to self-sow. Other species require more water and may be less suited to dry inland conditions. Some species can be invasive and difficult to control.

  • Water: LowModerate
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soil
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Yellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Size: SmallMedium
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseLandscape TemplatesMMWDSonoma Super StarWater Smart Plants Cards

Ceanothus spp & cvs

Ceanothus, California Lilac
Ground Cover, Shrub
Organization

Ceanothus is a group of fast-growing, evergreen shrubs that vary from groundcovers to small trees, many of which are native to California. They provide a spectacular display of flowers in spring that will attract a multitude of pollinators. Flowers are followed by seeds that provide food for birds. The clusters of tiny flowers range from white to deep violet. Plants perform best with good drainage and minimal irrigation once established. Some do best in cooler coastal climates, but many thrive in hotter inland climates. Pay close attention to the mature size when selecting ceanothus to ensure that it has sufficient space for its natural form.

Groundcovers: C. ‘Centennial’ (2’ x 8’), C. gloriosus var. gloriosus ‘Anchor Bay’ (2’ x 8’), C. griseus var. horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’ (variegated, 1’ x 4’), C. griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’ (3’ x 12’), C. maritimus (2’ x 6’).

Shrubs: C. ‘Blue Jeans’ (6’ x 6’), C. Concha (8’ x 8’), C. ‘Dark Star’ (6’ x 8’), C. ‘Joyce Coulter’ (4’ x 12’), C. ‘Julia Phelps’ (8’ x 10’), C. cuneatus (8’ x 8’), C. thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’ (4’ x 6’).

Large shrubs: C. ‘Frosty Blue’ (10’ x 12’), C. ‘Ray Hartman’ (15’ x 15’), C. thyrsiflorus (20’ x 20’), C. t. ‘Snow Flurry’ (white flower, 20’ x 20’).

  • Water: Very LowLowModerate
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: GreenGreen - Dark
  • Flower Color: BlueWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer
  • Size: MediumLarge
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseLandscape TemplatesMMWDSCLLLSonoma Super StarWater Smart Plants Cards

Ceratostigma spp

Plumbago
Ground Cover, Shrub
Organization

This small group of herbaceous, flowering perennials is valued for clusters of intense blue flowers in summer and fall. Two widely available low-water species are shrubby Burmese plumbago (C. griffithii, 2-4’ x 2-6’) and the popular groundcover, dwarf plumbago (C. plumbaginoides, 6-12”, spreading to 3-4’).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: BronzeGreen
  • Flower Color: Blue
  • Blooming Season (s): SummerFall
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseLandscape Templates

Cercis occidentalis

Western Redbud
Tree
Organization

Western redbud is an ornamental, multi-trunked and deciduous, large shrub or small tree with year-round interest that provides a California native and very low-water alternative to the moderate-water Cercis canadensis. Magenta to rosy pink blossoms that resemble pea flowers cover bare branches in late winter to early spring. Apple green, heart-shaped leaves emerge to accompany the flowers. Over the summer, the leaves become more leathery and bluish green, and seed pods mature and remain into the winter months.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soil
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Violet
  • Blooming Season (s): Spring
  • Size: Small
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseLandscape TemplatesMMWDSCLLLSonoma Super StarWater Smart Plants Cards

Chaenomeles spp

Flowering Quince
Shrub
Organization

Early-flowering, deciduous shrubs that grow wider than they do tall. Stiff, spiny branches produce clusters of flowers that are often pale pink, red, or white. Fruit can be made into preserves. Check with local nurseries for cultivars with different forms and flowers, some of which are nearly thornless.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Sandy
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: OrangeRed
  • Blooming Season (s): Spring
  • Fruit Color: GreenYellow
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden Sense

Chamaemelum nobile

Chamomile
Ground Cover
Organization

Spreading perennial with soft-textured leaves that can be used as a groundcover, along pathways, or between flagstones. Flowers vary by variety from daisy-like to small, yellow buttons. C. n. ‘Flore Pleno’ has white double flowers and C. n. ‘Treneague’ is a non-flowering variety.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Yellow
  • Blooming Season (s): Spring
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden Sense

Chitalpa tashkentensis

Chitalpa
Tree
Organization

Fast-growing, medium-sized, deciduous tree with clusters of showy trumpet-shaped flowers from late spring to fall. Chitalpa is a sterile hybrid between Catalpa bignonioides, common catalpa, and Chilopsis linearis, desert willow. It combines the larger flowers of the former and the drought-tolerance of the latter. Since the flowers are sterile, they do not form seed pods or fruit. There are two popular cultivars, ‘Pink Dawn’ with lavender-pink flowers and ‘Morning Cloud’ with white flowers.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Leaf Color: GreenWhite
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseMMWDSRJC ID

Chondropetalum tectorum

Cape Reed, Cape Rush
Organization

Clumping perennial with stiff, upright, jointed stems that contrast well with other plants. Tan-colored bracts form at the stem joints in summer and fall, providing a striking display. Two species from South Africa grow well in California gardens, especially in rain gardens and swales since they will tolerate both standing water and dry conditions, once established. C. elephantinum (4-5’ x 4-10’) is the larger of the two, C. tectorum (3-4’ x 3-5’) is more suitable for smaller spaces.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Yellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFallWinter
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden Sense

Cistus spp

Rockrose
Shrub
Organization

Mediterranean evergreen flowering shrubs that perform well in California gardens with plenty of sun and good drainage. Good choice for stabilizing slopes and banks. Flowers appear mid-spring into early summer. Many varieties are low, mounding groundcovers while others are more upright.

Examples: C. ladanifer (crimson spot rockrose, 3-5’ x 3-5’) has white flowers with dark crimson spots. C. x hybridus ‘Mickie’ (white rockrose, 1.5-2’ x 2’) has unique variegated foliage with cherry red stems and white flowers. C. x purpureus (orchid rockrose, 4’ x 4’) flowers are reddish purple with maroon blotches. C. salvifolius (sageleaf rockrose, 2’ x 6’) has white flowers and sage-like leaves. C. x skanbergii (2-4’ x 3-4’) bears pale pink flowers. C. ‘Sunset’ (2’ x 3-5’) flowers in magenta pink and has fuzzy gray-green leaves.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Most Soil
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green - Dark
  • Flower Color: MultiRedWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden SenseLandscape TemplatesMMWDWater Smart Plants Cards

Clematis lasiantha

Pipestem Clematis
Vine
Organization

The deciduous pipestem clematis is native to dry foothills of California and Baja California and is one of the few flowering vines that requires little-to-no supplemental water. Pipestem clematis produces an abundance of 1-inch, creamy white flowers in spring that develop into attractive, fluffy seed heads. Allow to grow through shrubs or trees or train on a pergola, archway, or fence.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soil
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green - Dark
  • Flower Color: BlueLavenderPinkRed
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer
  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Featured On A Local List? : Garden Sense