Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Unthirsty, Sun Thirsty Plants for Waterwise Gardens

We all want to do the “right” thing and that means switching to plants that are less thirsty.

Nan Sterman is one of California's leading voices on how to:

  • Create beautiful, low water gardens
  • Create sustainable gardens
  • Grow organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs
  • Remove and replace lawn with beautiful, low water plants

Discover the many ways that Nan helps people create the gardens of their dreams at

Nan is also the host of A Growing Passion, a show about ordinary people who happen to be extraordinary (and passionate) gardeners. A Growing Passion takes viewers into their own backyards to explore ways to create beautiful and welcoming outdoor living spaces using plants and products that are achievable, affordable, attractive, and in tune with the natural environment.  Check out this episode about how plants get to market -


Contributors: Nan Sterman

THE RAVERS® Pink Sugar

California’s drought is on everyone’s minds and for gardeners, that means rethinking our gardens.  We all want to do the “right” thing and that means switching to plants that are less thirsty. But, it’s not always easy to know which are the best plants to choose.  So, here’s selection of easy to grow, low water plants that offer texture, color, and year-round bloom. Many attract birds or butterflies as well.

THE RAVERS®  Arctotis hybrid series South African daisies make soft, fuzzy gray leaves that form broad mats about eight inches tall and several feet across.  In the shorter days of spring and fall, these plants are covered in big, daisy-shaped flowers in shades of red, pink, orange, or yellow. My favorite is ‘Pink Sugar’, an unusual bi-color whose petals are pink towards the edges and orange towards the center. If you find your Arctotis getting a bit leggy, wait until the plants are done blooming, then cut stems back to just six or eight inches long.  Plant Arctotis in full sun. Shown above.

Calylophus drumondii  ‘Southern Belle’ is a mounding perennial, just a foot tall by two feet wide.  These are dainty looking but tough growing plants whose horizontal stems are covered with narrow green leaves, and lemon yellow flowers the size of a quarter.  While each flower opens for just a day, they smother the plant in blooms nearly year round.  Plant this bulletproof plant in full sun, at the front of the border where it will catch your eye.  
Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle’ is like no plant you’ve ever seen.  Its pointed green leaves are covered in dense white fuzz that demands to be touched.  Its flowers are round globes of deep magenta pink that bloom at branch tips, from early fall through summer.  This plant grows to 16 inches tall by 16 inches wide, with a trailing habit that makes it a good choice for underplanting foxtail agave (Agave attenuata) and other large sculptural succulents.  Alternatively, plant these beauties to cascade over the side of a cobalt blue container. Grow in full sun.
Tall verbena, Verbena bonariensis,  came onto the gardening scene more than a decade ago.  Its three-foot tall wands topped in tufty clusters of tiny purple flowers are a great garden accent.  New introductions offer gardeners more size options. Two foot tall by three foot wide ‘Pompous Purple’ is shrubby.   Meteor Shower grows as tall but only 30 inches wide, making it perfect for container plantings. Both are bloom on and off, from spring through fall, just in time to attract butterflies to the garden.   Plant in full sun.

Kniphofia ‘ROCKETTE hybrids look like flowering grasses but “red hot pokers” are actually perennials related to asparagus.  These beauties form clumps of narrow, two-foot-tall blades topped with poker-shaped flowers.  Their bloom peaks from spring through fall, with a break in the heat of summer.  Look for ROCKETTE Yellow and its cousin varieties that bloom peach, orange, or ivory bicolor.  Hummers love these flowers.  Grow in full sun.

Scaevola crassifolia ‘Sea Serpent’ is an import from the coastal dunes of western and southern Australia.  despite its fragile appearance, this perennial is tough enough to handle drought, sand, and salt spray.  ‘Sea Serpent’ is a fast growing cultivar that reaches just a foot tall by three to five feet wide.  Spring and summer flowers are big, sky blue, and fan-shaped, but it’s really this plant’s vigorous nature that earns it stripes.  Try it as groundcover around Australian shrubs planted on a hillside.   Full sun.

Tagetes ‘Gold Medal’ and other perennial marigolds are little-known garden gems.  Most are tall – four to six feet or more – and a bit rangy.  ‘Gold Medal’ is bred to be more compact, at two feet by two feet, with dense branches covered in bright green leaves that have a spicy citrus fragrance.   Clusters of golden yellow start to bloom in spring and continue until late fall. Full sun.

Tips for creating a water wise garden:

Start with soil.  Whether your garden has heavy soil or sandy soil, add compost to encourage beneficial microbes.  They help keep roots healthy and plants thriving.

Easy Care.  These plants require no fertilizer and only a bit of clean up or deadheading from time to time.

Drop by drop.   Use drip irrigation to water plant at their roots, not their leaves.  Overhead sprays waste half the water they spray; super-efficient drip puts water right onto the soil that surrounds roots.  The best kind of drip irrigation is in-line drip.

Establish plants first.  No plants are waterwise the moment they are planted.  All plants need deep, regular irrigation for a period of time – a few months for most of these plants.

Water for waterwise – Once plants are established, let the soil dry between waterings.  Encourage deep, drought resistant roots by irrigating deeply but infrequently.

Mulch.  A three–inch thick layer of mulch forms an insulating blanket that keeps moisture in the soil around plant roots.  Make sure to keep mulch from touching plants.  Renew at least yearly.

63 Readers Rated This: 12345 (3.1)
Back to Top