Some of the extremely drought-tolerant plants in the California chaparral can be as showy as the fanciest imported garden plants when in flower. Here are some pictures of some of the lovely flowering displays the chaparral has to offer. Look for these plants to start blooming in early February with most of the stragglers to finish before June. There are some late-bloomers, but since the rainy season is in the winter and heat can start scalding within inland chaparral areas as early as May, most of these plants will want to flower and set seed so they are ready for their dry, summer dormancy well before the end of June. This schedule will vary depending on the micro-climate of the chaparral area since elevation, coastal humidity, soil type and other factors range widely throughout most of the California chaparral areas. All chaparral plants tolerate an extreme daily temperature range and are highly drought-tolerant. Still, it’s curious to think that when much of the country is still battling snow and ice, some of these beauties are unfurling their petals in the different, but still demanding, climate of the California chaparral.
These are just a small sample of the highly decorative Southern California chaparral drought-tolerant plants that are budding up in the winter months to paint the landscape with color in early
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Why do some people think that drought-tolerant landscaping means you have to have a garden that looks like a lunar landscape or a cactus garden? First of all, there are so many choices in drought-resistant plants that you can have a wide range of colors, foliage types and looks. Design in features and décor that will create the backdrop for a theme and you can have a splendid tropical, Southwestern, cottage, Oriental or any other style garden all using water-wise plants.
If you do like the look of a cactus or succulent garden, this can be a very attractive way to design drought-resistant landscaping. Some of these water-retaining plants come in fascinating sculptural forms and some bloom with showy flowers. Yet others sport leaves that glow in hues of blue, red, orange, yellow, purple or almost back. There are succulents splashed, striped and spotted with designs of their own.
In addition to decorating a drought tolerant landscape with these low-water plants, you can find decorative water-wise plants in natives from all over the West Coast, Texas, the four corner states or into other countries like the Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia and more.
You can not only create color and form with a whole selection of drought tolerant plants, but you can also design in areas of natural stone, rock and gravel that can be made into permeable paving for paths and patios that are as decorative as the plants themselves. In fact, you could even design a whole garden with no plants at all — a no-water landscape!
Think about all the ways you can create a no-water garden by using different colored stone pavers, blocks or gravel and draw designs, like mosaics on the ground. Divide parts of the garden with pathways built with decomposed gravel, stepping stones or go magical with tumbled glass to glitter in the sun. Then design seating into these areas and you can enjoy entertaining or having a delightful lunch al fresco while admiring your handsome garden.
There are many ways you create drought-tolerant landscaping and have an astonishingly handsome garden. Below are some pictures of some of the water-wise designs I’ve worked on to give you some ideas. Once you’ve started researching all the possibilities in design, you’ll realize there are already too many wonderful plants to choose from and you won’t miss any of the water-guzzlers at all!
As sustainability in garden design grows in popularity, gardeners and designers alike search to expand the palette of plants and visual effects. Despite the rainy beginning of this year’s rainfall season we are now falling behind with no serious rain for over a month in most areas of Southern California. This will not bode well with the already existing shortage of rain and natural groundwater. Maybe we will still get in some heavy rain, but the long range forecast over coming years is for dryer times. We really need to make sure we design our landscapes for our dry climate.
Drought-tolerant plantings offer an opportunity to grow eco-friendly, drought-resistant and visually beautiful gardens. There are many drought tolerant plants from tropical areas that can’t handle our winter cold or our desiccating Santa Ana winds. But we can expand our choice by looking at some of the beauties available from other chaparral-like areas of the world. Some highly decorative plants have evolved in Australia that will grow nicely in different garden areas from inland to the coast. Many of these plants have unusual, ornamental flowers.
Although conditions in different parts of the world will vary, many Australian plants will thrive well alongside other drought-tolerant and chaparral plants from the Mediterranean, California, South Africa, Texas, Arizona and other low rainfall climates. With some very showy flowers, leaves and growth forms, Australian plants can offer exciting new selections to make the successful water-wise garden as glamorous as water-hungry traditional ones. Take a look as some of the decorative plants that grow naturally in Australia, plants like the Bottlebrush (Calistemmon), the dramatic Proteas, the handsome Hakeas and the floriferous Emu Bushes (Erimophyla) to name just a few. You’re likely to be impressed!
Just because you may live in an area with a lot of dry heat does not mean you can only grow cactus gardens. (Not that cactus gardens aren’t fun and beautiful, but they may not be everyone’s taste.) The Caesalpinia is a family of extremely showy plants that everyone who lives in a warm, dry climate should know about. They are easy and stunningly beautiful. Some even tolerate extreme desert-like conditions and still offer up flowers worthy of the most colorful tropical plants.
One showy plant, The Desert Bird of Paradise, is the Caesalpinia gilliesii (not to be confused with the Strelizia – ‘Bird of Paradise’). This Caesalpinea can take a lot of heat and drought once established. Design it into your landscape as a large bush or small tree where you can enjoy its magnificent flowers. If you keep the (poisonous) seed pods removed (dead-heading), it will bloom repeatedly during spring and summer. This plant can take frosts down to 20′F. Some individual plants can withstand colder nights, but there is likely to be a lot of above ground die-back. Flowers are bright yellow with long brilliant red stamen – like colorful whiskers. Give it well-drained, poor soil and it will be happy.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima, sometimes called the ‘Peacock Flower,’ tends to do a little better with some more humidity than the C. gilliesii needs. It can grow large and rambling in the warm and moist parts of the country. It will stand a fair amount of drought, too. Also extremely showy of flower, this plant may balk at temperatures below 20′F. Flowers are in big panicles of red-orange petals edged in yellow. They are very showy. Plants can be fussy about soils, but when happy, they grow lush and large.
The Caesalpinia mexicana, or Mexican Bird of Paradise is an all yellow-flowering variety. It will grow 10′ – 15′ high and functions as a small tree or large shrub. This one grows with a slightly fuller habit than the two already mentioned. It is well behaved and showy. But it doesn’t like frost. It can take some drought or ordinary garden water and loves to bask in full sunshine.
The Caesalpinia cacalaco or ‘Cascalote’ is a very drought-resistant small tree to 18′ tall so make sure it has adequate space to grow. It can handle frost temperatures down to 20′F and has more thorns than the other varieties I’ve mentioned. This tree becomes laden with huge panicles of yellow blooms in the late winter. It’s another marvelously showy member of the family.
There are more varieties of the Caesalpinia family, but these are some of the most common. If you live in a warm or hot climate, try them out. They are some of the most spectacular bloomers you will find to decorate your landscape.
There seems to be some flexibility in the application of the term ‘chaparral’ when it comes to gardening. Some definitions refer only to the small-leaved, drought-tolerant plants typical of certain climates whereas others define it as specific parts of California. Still others refer to the chaparral as a particular shared ecology and plant environment.
A biome is the term that refers to shared environmental elements. A chaparral biome would cover all the areas that have similar climates and conditions. These areas would likely support similar plants and many of those plants are likely to grow reasonably well in interchangeable geographical biomes.
The chaparral is an area with little ocean influence where there are hot, dry summers with little to no rainfall. Winters are relatively mild with few or no hard frosts and most of the rainfall. Different areas of the chaparral have varying soil compositions, but all are fast draining. Dry air, low rainfall and the daily wide temperature ranges of many of these areas make them wildfire prone. In addition to California, much of the Mediterranean, some of Australia, South America and South Africa are all part of the chaparral biome, whether they are considered ‘pure’ chaparral or not. Most often people think of the chaparral as the home of the western cowboy movie. Certainly much of the colorful history in the settlement of California did range across the chaparral areas.
We are located right in the prime area defined even in the most stringent terms as the chaparral. Whether you are a resident of Sylmar, Agua Dulce, Santa Clarita or Acton, you are right in the middle of the chaparral – as defined by even the most exacting geologists. In fact, the chaparral extends into Santa Barbara, through inland California up through Bakersville, Riverside, and Escondido, and right down through Los Angeles and throughout San DIego. There are different parts of the chaparral like the coastal chaparral, desert chaparral or the mountain chaparral. All are home to tough native plants that live with long periods of drought, wide daily temperature ranges and soil with little fertility.
Not only does the term chaparral carry the romantic, historic image of the old cowboy shows but chaparral plants are some of the toughest and durable plants for demanding environments. With the changing climates around the world, resilient, drought-tolerant plants are becoming more and more in demand in many gardens. The growing demand has encouraged plant breeders to expand the most decorative chaparral plants into extremely showy garden varieties. As a result there are more ornamental chaparral plants available for planting in demanding landscape environments.
These plants are beginning to find homes in gardens all over the world where drought and climate change are encouraging gardeners to seek resilient plants that can also be decorative in the landscape. The chaparral biome, once seen as nothing but ‘scrub’ land, is beginning to bloom into a fine source for drought-resistant garden material.
If you want to make your garden water efficient there are lots of ways you can turn water-wise gardening into landscape beauty. You can channel water into useful yet decorative recycled ponds, dry riverbeds for drainage and water storage areas. You can plant drought-tolerant gardens or design in artistic permeable paving. Removing lawns is the most Eco-friendly way to garden, but if you really want to have grass, you can keep your lawn confined to areas where it is most useful and plant it with drought-resistant types of grass.
Here is a list of some of the better grasses you can use for drought-resistant gardens:
- Fescues: creeping red fescue, hard fescue and chewings fescue – best in northern gardens or as cool season grasses (can be mixed with Kentucky Bluegrass or Perennial Ryegrass)
- Bermuda grass
- Zoysia grass
- Buffalo Grass
- St. Augustine – best for dry winter areas
- Bahia grass
- Centipede grass – best for shade
- Also look for special mixtures of drought-resistant blends specifically made for your area like EcoGrass™
Give your grasses regular lawn care and make them useful rather than just filling in spaces.
For areas with a lot of traffic or difficult upkeep like pathways, dog yards or golf putting greens, you might want to check out some of the interesting artificial lawns being produced. Fake grass now comes in a selection of interesting and realistic textures and hues. When properly laid, these synthetic lawns will only need an occasional hosing down to keep them clean and handsome.
Drought-tolerant gardening is not a new concept. But it after many years, it is finally getting to be popular. Oceans of homes have been built in every direction for the past decade with no concern for the future water supply — even in areas that have historically suffered from drought. If nothing else, I can’t imagine water bills going down in any part of the country! Now that many areas are looking at astronomical water rates or water rationing, I can’t imagine all these green lawns doing well. Whenever a year brings low rainfall, local consciousness can allow drought-tolerant gardening became oh-so-cool. Yet when it rains again, water abuse has slipped back to acceptable levels. Finally, the ecological movement has become popular and now is the time to consider getting a drought tolerant garden established. Unfortunately, in many areas like California, drought conditions have already been established. The good news, however, is that it’s better to plant wisely late than not to plant a water-wise garden at all!
Many folks are under the impression that having a drought resistant garden means they must have a sparse, hungry looking garden in varied shades of olive and brown. Absolutely untrue. Drought-tolerant or drought-resistant means exactly what it says. There are plants that bloom luxuriantly and offer rich green in the landscape yet still require minimal water. These plants may not look tough, but indeed they are.
Cactus and succulent gardens, when thoughtfully designed with paths, boulders, rocks, even sculptures, can become a maze of fascinating texture and color, created in diverse scenes. Chaparral and desert-type natives can be selected to be as ornamental as any other flowering plant. Seeding native annuals in fall and winter can blanket the ground with startling color by early and mid spring. Perennials can be grouped to give color most of the year. There is also a growing selection of wonderful new plants from South Africa and Australia where the climate is dry and hot. Mid summer is the resting period for most dry-summer natives. The hot dry air gives them the same signal for dormancy as the cold winter does to most plants in the cooler parts of the country. If you want color in your garden during this resting period, try planting an area or two with colorful plants that do require some summer water. Give them a selected sprinkler valve, or, better, snake in a drip irrigation line (putting it on a timer so you don’t have to think about it), and these specific areas will brighten up your garden for the short few months the natives are sleeping. You will still keep your water bills low and your maintenance minimal.
Take a wander through some of your local nurseries. You’ll find awesome bloomers in Ceanothus, the Matilija Poppy, Banksia rose, Salvias, or native Penstemmons. Non-native drought tolerants that put on a flamboyant show include the Butterfly bush, Rockroses, Daylilies, Society Garlic, and Verbena. The list of succulents and cacti that have sculptured, colored or amazingly textured foliage or showy flowers is far too long to cover here. And these are only a few of the many drought tolerant plants available. The best time to plant California natives is in the autumn or winter so they can establish their root systems for solid growth before summer dormancy. But they also do well planted in the spring. If you are willing to do some shading and extra watering, many of these plants will survive just fine even planted during the heat of the summer. Cacti and many succulents are not good to plant in wet winters as they don’t like their feet wet when it is cool and they can rot.
So, now’s the time to do a little research into drought-tolerant gardening. Don’t be limited by preconceived ideas. What these plants offer is less maintenance and lower water bills, with all the beauty of their more demanding counterparts. Yet they’re more than just good, practical sense. They’re fun!
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