“Low Water” Doesn’t Mean “Low Color”: 15 Drought-Tolerant Plants That Will Brighten Your Landscape

JULY 2016 – When we think of low-water, or drought-tolerant plants, we often think of dry, barren landscapes. But, do we really have to sacrifice color to save water in San Diego County? The answer is NO!

Here are 15 examples of water-saving plants and shrubs you can use to add pops of color to your low-water landscape.


1 Japanese Flowering Plum Tree1. Prunus Mume ‘Japanese Flowering Plum Tree’

Full sun.

The Japanese Plum is deciduous, dropping leaves annually, and it grows as tall as 20 feet high. A red-leafed beauty, it blooms annually as well, featuring small white flowers from January to March. Though some specimens may produce fruit, it is not edible.


2 Crepe Myrtle2. Lagerstroemia Indica ‘Crepe Myrtle’

Full sun.

This deciduous tree or shrub can grow as tall as it is wide, as large as 30 feet, depending on the selection and training. Flowers form into clusters, and are available in various colors, including shades of red, purple, or white. It has a long flowering season, lasting from July to September. If trimmed during the dormant season, flowers will bloom even more the following summer.


3 Bougainvillea3. Bougainvillea

Full sun. Light shade in hotter areas.

The official flower of the city of La Mesa in East County, California, this evergreen vine thrives in all areas of San Diego. A spring bloomer, the Bougainvillea comes in many colors and can be trained to form as a shrub or climb up a trellis. Color comes from the three large papery bracts that surround small white flowers. This plant does have thorns along its stems, so be careful during pruning season (late winter to early spring).


4 Rockrose4. Cistus ‘Rockrose’

Full sun.

An evergreen shrub, the Cistus produces flowers during the spring. This plant thrives in Mediterranean climates, and can grow in poor, dry soil or cold, ocean spray winds. A fast grower, Rockrose can help where erosion needs to be controlled. It requires little to no water and comes in a variety of colors, ranging from white to purple.


5 Trailing African Daisy5. Osteospermum Fruticosum ‘Trailing African Daisy’

Full Sun.

This plant can cover an area quickly with its trailing, rooting branches (hence the name “Trailing”). Rapid growth makes it a perfect choice for ground cover or for use on slopes and embankments. This happy flower blooms year-round, with the biggest show occurring from November to March. One rooted branch can cover a circumference of 2 to 4 feet and grow up to 12 inches in height. The Trailing African Daisy comes in a variety of colors.


6 White Shrub Rose6. Rosa Iceberg ‘White Shrub Rose’

Full sun.

Displaying its blooms during spring and fall, this beautiful shrub is enjoyable throughout the year. Flowers form along its long, slender stems in abundant clusters of fragrant white flowers. A hearty grower, the Rosa Iceberg is disease-resistant, and can grow up to 6 feet in height and 5 feet across. Flowers provide a perfect rose aroma to any landscape, are stunning when cut and used in flower arrangements.


7 Butterfly Bush7. Buddleia Davidii ‘Butterfly Bush’ or ‘Summer Lilac’

Sun. Light shade.

Considered a deciduous or evergreen shrub, this plant can grow up to 10 feet in height during the spring and summer months. Displaying cone-shaped clusters of small fragrant flowers at the end of its branches every summer, this beauty encourages butterflies to come and visit your garden. It only needs enough water to maintain growth. Flowers come in a variety of colors: including white, pinks, and purples.


8 Lavender8. Lavendula ‘Lavender’

Full Sun.

Native to Mediterranean climates, this plant thrives in the San Diego area and requires little water. It needs little to no fertilizer, and prefers fast draining soil. It can be planted as a hedge, as edging, or simply in an herb garden. Lavender’s aromatic flowers have relaxing properties, and can be clipped and brought into your home to enjoy in fresh bouquets or dried potpourris. This plant pairs perfectly with other Mediterranean species, such as Cistus, Rosemary, Helianthemum, Verbena, and Santolina.


9 Lantana9. Lantana

Full sun.

Lantana is fast growing, and shows its beautiful color for an extensive time during summer months. It can be used as a shrub, low hedge, or as an embankment cover. Prune in the spring, removing dead wood and thicker, woody stems to encourage the development of fuller blossoms. Lantana is a great candidate for erosion control on sloped areas.


10 Mexican Bush Sage10. Salvia leucantha ‘Mexican Bush Sage’

Full sun.

Grown as a shrub, Salvia can grow 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. It blooms during the summer and fall months, with long purple spikes of flowers, sometimes with small white flowers mixed in. Once blooms have faded, cut old stems to the ground to encourage new growth.


11 Honeysuckle11. Lonicera ‘Honeysuckle’

Sun. Light shade.

Featuring a fragrant tube-shaped flower, select Lonicera can grow in shrub form or as a climbing vine. If grown as a vine, it will need support during the early stages of growth, but can reach a height of 8 feet. The honeysuckle plant is known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.


12 Jasmine12. Jasminum ‘Jasmine’

Full sun. Partial shade.

Known for its fragrant flower, Jasmine is ideally suited to grow in San Diego’s mild, sunny climate and blooms year-round. It is often planted at the entrance of gardens to welcome visitors. All Jasminum need frequent shaping to control growth. Depending on the variety, it can be grown as a vine or shrub, with some specimens growing as tall as 10 to 15 feet. Fun Fact: Star Jasmine, the most commonly known and most fragrant variety, is actually not a jasmine at all. It belongs to the genus Trachelospermum.


13 Lions Tail13. Leonotis leonurus ‘Lion’s Tail’

Full Sun.

Growing to a height of 3 to 6 feet, this plant thrives with little to no water. It has a hairy stem, and dense circles of tubular 2-inch long flowers. The flowers are covered with a furlike coat of tiny hairs, hence the name ‘Lion’s Tail’. It blooms during summer into fall, attracting hummingbirds.


14 Red Hot Poker14. Kniphofia Uvaria ‘Red Hot Poker’

Full sun. Little shade.

Also known as Torch Lily, this perennial comes from South Africa, and requires little water. It has long, grass-like leaves, with stalks that grow 2 feet above the grassy mounds. On top of that, clumps of flame-like flowers can grow as tall as an additional 12 inches, bringing total plant height to 5 feet. Flowers are used in arrangements, and attract hummingbirds. Red Hot Poker blooms from spring through summer, and is available in a variety of colors – usually yellows, oranges, and reds.


15 Kangaroo Paws15. Anigozanthos ‘Kangaroo Paws’

Full Sun.

The rootstock of this plant can grow up to 3 feet or taller, with tubular blossoms that are shaped like a a Kangaroo’s paw. Flowers come in shades of red, yellow, or purple, and are covered by hairy fibers that give them a wool-like texture. It blooms from late spring to early fall. During flowering season, water regularly. Once flowers have faded, cut the plant to the ground to encourage new growth.



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