Ground Cover and Trees for California Yards

SAN DIEGO — Drought conditions are nothing new for Californians, who are off to an exceptionally dry start to 2022 after some brief signs of improvement last winter.

Across the Golden State, residents are trying to get more water. People with large lawns (and even larger water bills) may consider alternative ground covers or even artificial turf for the first time. Gardeners who find their beloved greenery struggling during the summer might seek something heartier.

Whether you’re rethinking your entire approach to landscaping or just looking to add a new “thirsty-free” friend, there are plenty of options to consider.

Water-saving plants for California job sites

If you are replacing old landscaping or adding new plants, these options are generally recommended by the California Department of Water Resources.

Drought resistant shrubs

Euryops (Getty Images)
  • Blue hibiscus, Alyogyne huegelii
  • Coyote paintbrush, Baccharis pilularis
  • Barberry, Berberis x stenophylla
  • Bush Anemone, Carpenteria californica
  • Morning Glory Bush, Convolvulus cneorum
  • Smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria
  • Euryops, Euryops pectinatus
  • Pineapple guava, Feijoa sellowiana
  • Texas Ranger, Leucophyllum sp.
  • Pomegranate, Punica granatum

Drought resistant trees

Honey Locust (Getty Images)
  • Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
  • Bottle tree, Brachychiton populneus
  • Pindo palm, Butia capitata
  • Australian beefwood, Casuarina stricta
  • Desert Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Sweetberry, Laurus nobilis
  • Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizenii
  • Locust, Robinia x ambigua
  • Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora
  • Chasteberry, Vitex agnus-castus

Drought resistant ground cover

Woolly silver thyme, golden sedum and drought-tolerant blue bellflowers (Getty Images)
  • Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
  • Carmel Creeper, Ceanthous griseus horizontalis
  • Red Spike Ice Plant, Cephalophyllum sp.
  • Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile
  • Creeping Coprosma, Coprosma x kirkii
  • Rear lantana, Lantana montedivensis
  • Creeping Mahonia, Mahonia repens
  • Pork and beans, Sedum rubrotinctum
  • Climbing plant of Australian bluebells, Sollya heterophylla
  • Woolly thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus

Drought tolerant perennials

Gaillardia grandiflora (Blanket flower) (Getty Images)
  • Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  • Columbine, Aquilegia hybrids
  • Absinthe, Artemisia “Powis Castle”
  • Italian arum, Arum italicum
  • Cast iron factory, Aspidistra elatior
  • Fortnight lily, Dietes iridioides
  • Siberian wallflower, Erysimum x allionii
  • Blanket flower, Gaillardia grandiflora
  • Sun rose, Helianthemum nummularium
  • Pink Crown, Lychnis coronaria

Use these lists as a starting point – depending on your needs, you can go to a local nursery or the gardening section of a home goods store, where the staff will likely have further recommendations.

Even if they don’t carry the specific species you’re looking for, they can point you towards something similar. It’s also worth confirming that there’s nothing about the microclimate in your immediate area that makes one plant less suitable than another.

Take advantage of drought landscaping discounts

Local water districts and government agencies want to saves you water — and they’ll also help you finance your landscaping project. Be sure to check for rebates and other incentives if you plan to make your garden more drought tolerant.

For example, San Diego County offers discounts for a wide range of initiatives:

  • Lawn replacement
  • Watersmart edgecaping (replacing plants that line the roadway)
  • Rain barrels and other rain-proof mechanisms
  • Rain pavement (permeable surfaces that allow water to drain into the ground)
  • Smart Irrigation Controllers for Sprinklers

The Los Angeles County Waterworks District offers a “Cash for Grass” program, which pays residents per square foot to replace inefficient turf with drought-tolerant alternatives.

These are just a few examples – Google your local agencies with your project name and “discount” or “incentives” to learn more. You might be surprised how much you can save.

Ready to dive deeper?

It’s best to tackle a large, water-efficient landscaping project with a cohesive plan and a little research beforehand. Check out these trusted sources when you’re ready to learn more:

Terri S. Tomasini