Plants for a Thirsty State

Public interest in plants with relatively low water requirements has come and gone several times over the past few decades. Each new dry cycle seems to bring a new awakening, a new missionary movement, and the “learning” of new approaches to gardening. All of these seem to be quickly forgotten soon after the wet years return. In the long run, however, it is clear that with a growing population and (at least in our lifetimes) declining rainfall averages over much of the state, Californians will be gardening with less water, like it or not, even in the best of years. Fortunately, there is already a large body of information on which to draw, some of it–like new developments in drip and spitter irrigation–being compiled continuously in the interest of more economical garden maintenance. Some of the best information on particular plants comes simply from observing neglected or abandoned gardens, regardless of current weather patterns.

Partly by design, partly by pursuing other fancies with plant groups from California, the Southwest, Mexico, temperate South America, Australia and South Africa, we at Suncrest have gradually accumulated a collection of several hundred plants with a record of at least moderate tolerance of summer drought. This means simply that they can be maintained in good condition with substantially less summer irrigation than the average popular garden plant (and vastly less than the lawns that still fill major portions of many California landscapes). The fact that many of these plants are also beautiful, fill nearly every possible garden niche, and collectively provide year-round seasonal interest, would make them desirable garden candidates even if water were not an issue.

You can use the alphabetical listings below (with page divisions for the larger groups) to easily access informational displays on these plants. More detailed descriptions and information on how to use them are now available in our new publication, Plants for a Thirsty State, in PDF format. Click here to download the complete publication, with color covers, in PDF format. A separate, smaller file with just the main body text is available here.

Select A Letter Below
Plant Name Capsule Description
Apodasmia similis 2-3 feet high. Upright thin blue-grey culms, creeping. Takes wet/dry.
Arbutus arizonica Glossy dark green leaves, white to pale pink flowers. Smooth dark red bark.
Arbutus 'Marina' 50 feet+. Glossy dark green leaves. Pink and white flower, orange fruits.
Arbutus menziesii Beautiful native tree; white flowers, red fruit, cinnamon bark.
Arctostaphylos 'Austin Griffiths' To 8 feet high and wide. Dense. Greyish green leaves, light pink flowers.
Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds' To 6 feet; broad grey-green leaves, deep pink flowers.
Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn' 4-6 feet, bushy; shiny leaves, white & pink flowers.
Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Sentinel' 5-6 feet, bushy; grey-green leaves, pale pink flowers.
Arctostaphylos edmundsii 'Bert Johnson' To 1 foot high by 6 feet wide. Bronze new leaves.
Arctostaphylos edmundsii 'Big Sur' 3-5 feet. Mounding habit. Masses of white flowers with pink base.
Arctostaphylos edmundsii 'Carmel Sur' Fast, dense. 10 inches high x 6 feet wide, bronze new foliage, white flowers.
Arctostaphylos edmundsii 'Rosy Dawn' 12 inches high x 6 feet wide, Ken Taylor introduction. Red leaf edges.
Arctostaphylos 'Emerald Carpet' Compact, prostrate; shiny leaves, white flowers.
Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Bright Beauty' Dense mounding shrub with bright green leaves. White flowers in spring.
Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Buxifolia' Low, compact, small-leaved selection with white flowers.
Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Ken Taylor' Prostrate selection 15 inches high by 6 feet wide. Dense habit.
Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Monterey Carpet' Monterey manzanita; prostrate. 12 inches high by 6 feet wide.
Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Wayside' 4 feet high, 8 feet wide. White flowers, grey-green leaves.
Arctostaphylos 'John Dourley' Hybrid manzanita; 2-3 feet high by 8 feet wide. Bronze tint-leaves, pink flowers.
Arctostaphylos 'Lester Rowntree' Shrub/small tree. Purplish trunks, pink flowers.

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