Las Pilitas Nursery

California Native Plants are all we grow!

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Santa Margarita, CA 93453

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Drought resistant plant or drought tolerant plant?

Most of the supposed drought tolerant plants cannot tolerate true drought. Many grow along creeks in areas of higher rainfall and are nothing more than adapted to drip irrigation, not drought tolerant. Most truly drought tolerant plants hate drip irrigation.

Drought resistant plant, drought tolerant plant, drought adapted plant, low -water- use plant, are all terms garden, landscape and nursery persons use to describe whatever plant they think is the drought tolerant of the month (in flower of course!).

In the 1500's the first Europeans arrived in Monterey Bay at the end of an 80 year drought. The Salinas River was frozen over as it entered Monterey Bay. California can be very dry, cold or hot in bad decades. The plants will still be here...
California buckwheat mixed with Rose Sage. This drought resistant garden has has looked good for decades, with wildlife visiting it every year. Native plants are very tolerant of California's climate and it's yearly drought. - grid24_6
There's no irrigation system here, but the plants look ok.

In reality, the most drought tolerant plants are usually the native plants of your area. If you live in New York use the pretty plants that live on a dry, south -facing slopes of New York; those will be the best adapted for your site. If you live in California pick the plants from your south -facing slopes or a slightly drier climate a little further inland in California . It's really easy to plant a garden with native plants that are very drought tolerant (they lived there long before you showed up with a garden hose) and look very good, especially with a few sprinkles with the hose.

A young Anna Hummingbird on Salvia Alpine, Cleveland Sage. Cleveland Sage is drought resistant and can look good with 7-8 inches of rainfall. Your native garden needs very little water in a drought  to  look and smell good. Tolerant of much abuse. - grid24_6
Why not have hummingbirds and a low water bill?

Not all drought tolerant plants are equal.


We've had desert plants die of drought here because they were not adapted to our long DRY summers. It doesn't rain in most of California from the end of April into the first of November. Nada, not a little as folks back east say, no measurable rain on bad years from March until December.  But it does rain a lot in winter, so many desert species drown in our winter. Moreover, our California plants drown in most other states that get summer rain. So again, the best and most drought plants for your area are going to be the ones that have adapted to your climate, native in your area. If you are in a coastal area these plants may pick up as much as half of their moisture from the morning fogs. If you're on a mountain top the plants may have adapted to blowing clouds. If you're in a desert they have adapted to the five minute downpour and will spring into life that day or the next because their large and shallow root system picks up every drop that hits the ground. Chaparral, forest, many inland coastal plants and even some of the desert species belong to a cooperative where they share their resources and cycle the moisture among themselves for the greater good of all. (That's one of the reasons weed control is so important; weeds do not share.) These drought tolerant plants need to be planted together for that to work; they can't share if they do not recognize each other. Nor can the garden be truly drought tolerant if you plant a bunch of non-native plants in with the native plants. If you wish to mix non-native with native, plant clusters of each with a walk way in between.

Many Southern California landscapes have had the beautiful manzanitas, Ceanothus, sages, and other native plants removed and planted with chaparral plants from Europe that are not as drought resistant but are presented as such. Why?

Many of these so-called 'drought tolerant'  plants from the South African fynbos and the European  Mediterranean mattoral, are also fire-adapted just as our California chaparral plants are, but  live in areas that are closest to Medford, Oregon in climate, and have a much shorter dry season (two months compared to six months),  hardly the same as Beverly Hills, never mind Hemet. Because of that, they are generally more of a fire problem than our native plants in drought years. From the frying pan, into the fire.

This is Salvia Pozo Blue. It has been fine for 20 years with no irrigation.. You'll need to water your natives plants once a week or so for the first dry season. Then they like to be washed off occasionally, but not watered. This one was planted in 1992 and never watered.

If you are in one of the frying pan areas plant a low density native planting with wide spaces (you can walk comfortably between them without touching the plants) between the plants. The wildlife likes this and the planting is fairly fire safe. (As safe you can probably get without paving the whole place.)
California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum  flower clusters. Buckwheat is a very drought tolerant plant. Native plants give food for the wildlife and life to a garden.
Buckwheats work well in a drought tolerant California Garden.
California can be very dry. Drought tolerant or resistant native plants are part of California's history. We been down some interesting roads. The point of this photo is your yard can be tolerant of extreme drought and still look decent. - grid24_12
Unless you live in somewhere like Bakersfield or maybe Imperial Valley you're not that dry, you can plant native plants with little water.
Ceanothus oliganthus makes many of the hillsides blue in spring from Banning to Poway. Drought tolerant to about 6 inches of rainfall, this photo was taken after two 8 inch rainfall years, with our summer heat.
Ceanothus, Mountain Lilacs are more drought tolerant than most of the 'drought tolerant' species in the trade. California had an eighty year drought in the 1500's and the plants are still here.

Ok, here are some lists of native plants that can live with no extra water after the first summer.

REALLY  drought resistant plants for a California garden. A landscape can look good and use little or no water in most of California.
Encelia farinosa acting as wildflowers just est of Barstow. This looks pretty good when you realize it only gets about 4 inches of rainfall. Native plants can be very drought tolerant.
4 inches of rainfall and the desert is alive. California has drought adapted plants.
Coastal Sage scrub with Cliff buckwheat, Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Blackberry, Bracken Fern, Coyote Bush, Poison Oak, Coastal Live oak, etc.   - grid24_12
Much of the populated areas of Southern California have a rainfall of 10 inches or less and looked like this before we brought our weeds.
Penstemon spectabilis, Showy Penstemon, with an Anna Hummingbird. Showy Penstemon will tolerate  drought for years.  In the Bay area resist watering much after first summer.
Many Penstemons are showy plants that flower in most of California in spite of drought.
Mexican Manzanita with an Anna's hummingbird visiting the flowers. Mexican manzanita is drought tolerant in most of the populated areas of California. I'd not plant it in the desert without some extra winter water, but most of California it will survive with no water after first summer. - grid24_12
Many of the manzanitas are very drought tolerant and are fine through a drought in most the coastal areas of California.
Hyptis emoryi, Desert Lavender flowers are fragrant and the foliage is fragrant. Drought resistant, but not frost tolerant Desert Lavender grows in washes east of Barstow. - grid24_12
Use our site search with no water added and see if there is something in the nursery that can grow where you are with no water. Desert lavender is the photo
Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) on a dry year. In a California garden  Creosote loves drought and hates regular rainfall or irrigation after the first year. Very drought tolerant, heat tolerant and evergreen. - grid24_12
California is a very diverse state, the photo is Creosote bush.

Here is the first of many videos showing California native plants under extreme drought.This one is of California Buckwheat, Ceanothus Remote Blue, Eriogonum wrightii, Ceanothus Remote Blue, Deerweed, Bakersfield Cactus.
Short version, the Buckwheats and Manzanita look about as good as the Cactus.

Rhus integrifolia, Arctostaphylos glandulosa, Sambucus mexicana, Salvia leucophylla, Arctostaphylos adamsii, Arctostaphylos glauca Ramona, Salvia Pozo Blue, Heteromeles arbutifolia, Opuntia littoralis under drought with no irrigation.

Acer negundo, Sambucus mexicana, Creosote, Golden Currant, Rhus trilobata, Dendromecon rigida, Western Redbud, Eriogonum arborecens under drought stress.

Here are some California native plants under full drought stress during the 2013 drought. Rhamnus californica, Keckiella antirrhinoides, Ribes quercetorum, Diplacus longiflorus Conejo, Salvia spathacea Topanga. Arctostaphylos rainbowensis, Scrub Oak, Mama Bear Manzanita, Paradise manzanita, Harmony Manzanita, Dr. Hurd Manzanita,