In recent years, more and more San Diego homeowners have opted to replace their lawns with gorgeous, drought-tolerant gardens. This change does more than just break up the monotony of mowed grass; it provides the opportunity for biodiversity, keeps yards appealing during restrictions on water usage, and creates oases for native birds, insects, and reptiles.
The more homeowners can reduce lawn size, the better it is for the environment. Currently, residential lawns cover 2% of US land and require more irrigation than any agricultural crop grown in the country. In fact, the maintenance of lawns ends up creating more greenhouse gas emissions than the lawns themselves can actually absorb. When property owners get creative with their gardening, not only does this increase the value of their homes, but it also improves the environment.
To get you started replacing your turf grass with biodiverse, no-mow landscaping, we’ve rounded up 14 of the best drought-tolerant options available today!
Purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea)
Full and partial sun | Flowering in spring and summer
Purple three-awn grass is a pleasant bunchgrass that produces vibrant colors early and mid-season. It is green with red, purple, and straw-colored seed clusters which are food for many songbirds. Deer-resistant, it attracts butterflies. This grass prefers loamy soils below 5,000 feet and is good for erosion control as well as providing a root matrix for many wildflower species.
California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)
Full sun | Evergreen | Flowering in summer and fall | Local species
Native to the California foothills and coastal areas, this beautiful species of willowherb is a perennial, enjoyed by many for its bright scarlet flowers in August, September, and October. California Fuchsia is easy to grow, doing best in full sun. You can water it once a month without much danger. This plant will readily self-seed, so once you get this species established, it will usually start springing up around your garden. It also spreads by rhizomes and attracts hummingbirds. This plant is on the County of San Diego’s fire-resistant plant list.
Montara sagebrush (Artemisia californica ‘Montara’)
Full and partial sun | Flowering in summer and fall
Need a lawn replacement that can tolerate the dry summer heat? Montara Sagebrush is an excellent ground cover for those looking for an alternative to grass. It has aromatic gray-green foliage and grows in a dense mat that provides texture and color contrast to traditional gardens. This plant thrives in hot inland conditions with almost no watering required and it also tolerates almost any soil type except wet ones. Beware that it can cause hay fever.
San Diego sunflower (Bahiopsis laciniata)
Full sun | Evergreen | Flowers in winter, spring, and summer | Local species
Blooming most of the year, this San Diego sunflower is a native shrub that grows in coastal southern California and northern Baja. It is a hairy, resinous shrub growing to a maximum height of well over three feet. The flower head has several yellow ray florets resembling other varieties of sunflowers, it tolerates all dry soil from sand to clay, and requires no watering.
Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens)
Full sun | Evergreen | Flowers in spring, summer, and fall
Looking for something tall that looks beautiful year-round? Santa Cruz Island buckwheat grows beyond three feet in coastal areas. The stems have narrow, fuzzy green leaves at the ends, and the bush sprouts clusters of densely clustered, pink, frilly flowers which contrast with red, ribbony bark. Often used as highway landscaping and in residential gardens, Cruz Island buckwheat is easy to grow. Plant on dry, well-drained shallow slopes or flats, and surround it with plenty of mulch or rocks. It's extremely drought tolerant, and after the first two years should need no supplemental summer water.
Chaparral yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei)
Full sun | Evergreen | Flowers in spring | Local species
Chaparral yucca is a flowering evergreen that produces long, rigid leaves which end in a sharp point. The leaf edges are finely saw-toothed and the plant often grows in sandy washes in the desert or inland valleys. The plant takes five to ten years to reach maturity at which point it grows a flower spike that reaches ten to fifteen feet tall in about two weeks of growth. The spikes bear a spectacular display of hundreds of bell-shaped white to purplish flowers. Interestingly, the evergreen is pollinated by the California yucca moth demonstrating a classic example of symbiosis. After the flowers have been pollinated, the chaparral yucca dies, but the stalk will remain upright for several more years. This plant is often used in xeriscaping in Southern California and is extremely drought tolerant and thrives in clay soils.
Desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Full and partial sun | Evergreen | Flowers year-round | Local species
Desert globemallow is a perennial with hairy leaves and an apricot-colored flower that blooms in the spring. The plant can grow to three feet tall and two to four feet wide in alkaline soil, both sandy or clay. It’s widely regarded as one of the drought-tolerant plants with the largest flowers. It self-seeds and attracts honeybees.
California Morning Glory (Calystegia macrostegia)
Full and partial sun | Flowering in winter, summer, and spring
Need the perfect vine to cover a fence or an ugly wall? With large, cream-colored flowers, Southern California Morning Glory is a native perennial vine that grows in Northern, Southern, and Central California. It likes afternoon shade or full sun near the coast and tends to grow in dry and rocky places, at elevations from zero to 3,300 feet. Many enjoy it as a ground cover on really steep north or east-facing slopes.
Lanceleaf liveforever (Dudleya lanceolata)
Full and partial sun | Flowering spring and summer
If you’re looking for a flowering succulent to accent your groundcover, check out the Lanceleaf live forever! It’s native to the mountains of southern California and Baja California, where it is found in rocky areas and slopes. Its leaves grow only three to four inches above the ground, but its flower branches grow up to two feet high. It’s pollinated by hummingbirds and bumble bees.
Large and medium-sized shrubs
Palmer’s Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri)
Full sun | Evergreen | Flowers in the spring | Local species
Palmer's Indian mallow, a perennial herb, grows in rocky or sandy well-draining soil. The cup-shaped flowers are approximately one inch long and produce a small fruit covered with silky fine hair similar to the foliage. Branches and stems are also hairy with a red-brown coloring to the twigs. It’s a hardy, easy-to-grow plant that tolerates occasional light summer watering.
Howard McMinn manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’)
Full sun | Evergreen | Flowers in the winter and spring
If you're looking for a manzanita to brighten up your garden, try Howard McMinn Manzanita. It grows well in clay soil and is fairly drought-tolerant. It's also tolerant of shearing and pruning, making it perfect for a formal hedge or garden focal point. Moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies are just some of the native wildlife that enjoy this plant. It also does fine in beach sand or adobe.
Bladderpod (Peritoma arborea)
Full and partial sun | Evergreen | Flowers year-round | Local species
Bladderpod is a native California plant that grows to two to six feet tall. The flowers are abundant and yellow, produced at the ends of branches. This plant is easy to grow in gardens, tolerating weekly summer water, but also growing well with only natural rainfall. It grows well even on south-facing slopes, alkaline soils, and salty conditions. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
White sage (Salvia apiana)
Full and partial sun | Flowers in winter, spring, and summer
White sage is a silver-white leafed, fragrant flowering plant that grows in the coastal sage scrub habitat of Southern California and Baja California. Its clusters of white flowers with lavender streaks are an important food source for bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Larger bees, carpenter bees, are the predominant pollinators of these plants.
Pozo Blue Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii ‘Pozo Blue’)
Full and partial sun | Evergreen | Flowers in spring and summer | Local species
One of the most pleasantly-smelling plants in Southern California, Cleveland sage is a small, hairy, gray-green shrub native to the chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities of the region. It’s perfect for well-drained flats, bluffs, or gentle slopes and has wrinkly leather-textured leaves with tiny ridged teeth along the edges and it bears plentiful rounded flower clusters of tubular lavender to dark purple flowers with long stamens. Hummingbirds are especially attracted to this plant and it only needs to be watered less than once per month. Too much water will cause it to die after two years. The fragrant flowering pods make great additions to potpourri or dried flower arrangements.
Enjoy the many benefits of no-mow landscaping
In addition to saving water, adding drought-tolerant plants can cool your home if used strategically. Trees, vines, and bushes that shade your home’s exterior—especially the south and west-facing windows—beautify your property and keep your home cool by blocking heat from reaching your dwelling. Just make sure the plants don't grow over your solar panels if you have them. It will reduce their effectiveness!
Thinking of redoing your yard?
We’re always eager to talk to homeowners about what upgrades and features (like landscaping) can add the most value to your home. Whether you’re interested in buying, selling, or just curious about the market, give The Cassity Team a call. We’d love to answer your questions.
Need more advice on how to increase the value of your home? We can help. Give us a call today at (619) 800-6178 to find out more.