Which Natives Should You Plant in Your Garden?

It’s planting season! Is your green thumb itching? If your landscaping could use a drought-smart update, now’s a great time to put new roots in the ground. Here’s our list of native plants that will transform your yard into a climate-appropriate wonderland! 

Saint Catherine‘s Lace

Eriogonum giganteum

The big pinkish-white, flat-topped flowers of this native California buckwheat appear in late spring and through summer before fading to red-brown. Saint Catherine’s lace grows in clay and other soils near the coast or inland. Not only is this plant drought-tolerant, it requires very little water to survive. In fact, you should plant it away from other plants that will need more watering this summer. Like other buckwheats, St. Catherine’s Lace will be great for attracting insects, butterflies and birds that are essential to your home ecosystem.

St. Catherine's Lace

© Dave Spindle

Apricot Mallow

Sphaeralcea ambigua

Apricot mallow is another California native, an evergreen perennial that blooms in spring. Although extremely drought-tolerant if left on its own, with a little extra watering it will flower all the way through summer. Plus, the pretty orangey-pink flowers are a great contrast to the grey-green leaves!

Marvellous Mallow

© Anne Reeves



There are a variety of native Manzanita species, from “Point Reyes” ground covers (A. uva-ursi) to tall Bigberry shrubs (A. glauca) making it easy to find one to suit your landscape. These evergreens like it on the dry side, and they need a well-drained soil (although some flourish in clay soils, with a little extra water). In winter, you’ll know Manzanita by its white to pink bell-shaped flowers and red, smooth, sometimes peeling bark.

Catalina Island Manzanita

© brewbooks / Flickr

manzanita tree

© ((brian))

California Buckeye

Aesculus californica

This deciduous, small native tree likes well-drained soil and a lot of sun, making it well equipped for drought survival. With a little extra water it will keep its leaves until fall, but will shed its leaves in summer if the soil is too dry. In spring, the flowers give off a beautiful scent, and large seed pods containing a single shiny brown seed will follow. But don’t be tempted to pick this tree’s fruit – all of its parts are poisonous to eat!

Ladybug on the California buckeye 2409

© mary / Flickr

California buckeye

© Martin Jambon

Flannel Bush / Fremontia

Fremontodendron californicum

This California native evergreen shrub requires very little water. In fact, it doesn’t tolerate summer watering at all. Bright yellow flowers cover this plant in spring and summer, making a dazzling sight. If a smaller hybrid is more your style, look for varieties called El Dorado Gold and Ken Taylor.

Flannel Bush

© Niall McAuley

Deer Grass

Muhlenbergia rigens

Deer grass is a striking and easy to maintain native grass. Its long, slender grey-green leaves turn a tawny brown in fall, and it can grow as big as 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, the branches growing up and out like a spraying fountain. Let it be or cut it back in May every few years for a flush of fresh growth. If it out-grows its space, divide it in late fall through winter. You can plant the new sections elsewhere in your landscape, or pot them up for friends.


© EBlandranch / Flickr

Catalina Perfume

Ribes viburnifolium

Catalina perfume is a groundcover plant suited to dry shade, which makes it perfect for planting underneath oaks. Lovely maroon flowers bloom on its wide arching branches in mid-winter and into spring, and the leaves and stems have a spicy fragrance. Catalina perfume is good for erosion control on dry slopes with filtered shade. Very drought-friendly, it requires a deep watering just once a month in summer (but not if planted under oaks).

H20150205-4018—Ribes viburnifolium—RPBG

© John Rusk

Summer Holly

Comarostaphylis diversifolia

Although named for the summer, this native, evergreen shrub looks good all year! Bell-shaped, white flowers bloom from late winter to spring, and red-brown peeling bark, and bright, shiny leaves give it year round flair. Summer holly hedges are also great for attracting wildlife. Birds love the red berries that bloom from June to September. Summer holly does flower more in the sun, but it will grow in shade, and only requires water once or twice a month in summer.

H20150312-0035—Comarostaphylis diversifolia ssp planifolia—RPBG

© John Rusk


Heteromeles arbutifolia

A real LA native, Toyon grows right here in the Santa Monica Mountains. With full sun and only an occasional watering, this plant is very easy to cultivate, and can grow as big as 18 feet tall. The young leaves can be susceptible to powdery mildew, but they often grow out of it, making for a fairly disease and pest resistant mature plant. White flowers bloom in summer, red berries grow in fall and winter, and clipped Toyon branches are great to include in a holiday centerpiece.


© NatureShutterbug / Flickr

Toyon Berries, Heteromeles arbutifolia

© Debbie Ballantine

Western Redbud

Cercis occidentalis

This drought-tolerant California native is interesting all year. In late winter to early spring, the branches are covered with magenta-pink flowers, then rounded, heart-shaped leaves. Tiny magenta seed pods then replace the flowers. October and November bring colorful autumn leaves. And once the leaves drop, you’ll have a beautiful silhouette of dark, silvery branches. Western Redbuds can be either single or multi-trunked, growing to heights between 8 and 20 feet tall!

H20130321-7147—Cercis occidentalis—RPBG-1

© John Rusk

Learn even more about native and drought-tolerant plants on a guided tour of our own Coldwater Canyon Park