Planting landscapes with drought tolerant plant species is not a new idea. It is, however, a hot topic given the current rainfall totals in California. It’s also been a hot topic recently in our office, not only because of the current rainfall totals, but we’ve also been submitting plans for permits to a couple different cities and their planning guidelines now require that proposed plants in the landscape be comprised of at least 75% California native plants. This, I assume, is to promote the use of drought tolerant plants and to continue to implement the natural landscapes within the cities.
In our office we live by the Sunset Western Garden Book (a must have for any gardener) but also by the EBMUD resource Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region. This book is a wonderful resource when planning a beautiful, drought tolerant or water conserving garden. You see it’s a common misconception that all California Native plants are drought tolerant. California has a very diverse climate with many different types of ecosystems. We are home to the Redwood forests and the desert – two very different systems. Many native plants can be found along streams and require a lot of water because that is where they naturally thrive. When planted away from a water source they would not tolerate a drought.
Planting California native plants is a good idea, but another similar misconception is that all drought tolerant plants are California natives. Many plants listed in the EBMUD book come from other Mediterranean climates similar to California (summer-dry) and are drought tolerant. They add beauty, variety and interest to the landscape while acknowledging that in California drought is always a possibility. A drought tolerant landscape does not have to be boring and dry. It can be lush and colorful. We love using drought tolerant, Mediterranean plants in our planting plans and although they aren’t classified as California natives, they have naturalized (they reproduce and flourish without assistance from people) and create beautiful gardens.
Rules are rules though and with a mix of California native plants and other drought tolerant plants we will continue to make beautiful gardens that conserve water in these cities. Just remember although they are called drought tolerant plants, they aren’t actually drought tolerant until they establish a good root system. Once they are established, (after an average of one to two years) they will continue to thrive with rainfall and supplemental water from irrigation during the dry months.