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Getting Started with a California Native Plant Garden

California poppies grow at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Gardens in Fair Oaks, California, within Sacramento County.

Published: 6 April 2022

Californians are known for many things — Hollywood, Silicon Valley, farm-to-table cuisine, and surfing are all uniquely Californian. Now, let’s add saving water to that impressive list.

One of the easiest ways  to become a water-wise champion is gardening with California native plants! With vibrant flowers and a variety of textures, shapes, and sizes, adding California native plants to your landscape is easy, makes your landscape beautiful, and saves you money!

Here are 11 California native plants to consider for your garden:

1. Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Contrary to the name, blue-eyed grass is not actually a grass, but an iris. Blue-eyed grass is virtually maintenance and problem-free — and a popular one to add to your California native garden. In the spring, it blooms cheerfully in the sun or shade and pretty much any soil.

2. Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)

Hummingbird sage is a favorite of hummingbirds. This perennial is native to the foothill regions ranging from Orange County to the Bay Area. It’s also a low-growing, herbaceous ground cover and grows best in sunny to semi-shaded locations and needs low amounts of water.

3. Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)

Foothill penstemon is a great plant to add to your garden where it can be placed on banks and mixed with a variety of other shrubs and perennials. It grows best in full sun and is one of California’s most water-wise native plants.

4. Coral Bells (Heuchera)

Coral bells are known for their beautiful, robust foliage. The leaves are often heart-shaped or ruffled. Because Coral bells are a year-round plant, they’re a great low-maintenance option for your landscape or garden beds.

5. Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)   

drought resistant plant

Known for its low-maintenance and drought-tolerant tendencies, common yarrow can be found alongside roadsides -- doubling as a beautiful butterfly plant. Common yarrow boasts a host of desirable qualities, including strong winter hardiness and soil adaptability.

6. California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California poppies grow at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Gardens in Fair Oaks, California, within Sacramento County.

Vibrant orange and easy to grow, California’s state flower is about as drought tolerant as they come. Poppies are easy to maintain.  For this plant, it’s more about what you don’t give them than what you do. Less is more when it comes to water, and you’ll have the pleasure of watching them pop up in your garden year after year!

7. Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)

Sulphur Buckwheat blooms with a profusion of bright yellow flowers in early summer. This California native shrub is a great pollinator for butterflies and bees. This shrub is known to grow in a variety of habitats but is common in dry and rocky areas. Plus, this plant only needs to be watered three to four times a month!

8. Agave

California native agave is a great addition to any California landscape. They range from small to enormous sizes and take many different shapes and forms. The wide variety of growth habits encourages several  uses.

9. California Brittlebush (AKA CA Bush Sunflower)


The California brittlebush is one of the most popular daisy species in our coastal vegetation. This plant is great for home gardens and readily reseeds, all while being an effortlessly gorgeous water-wise plant.

10. Island Bush Snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa)

Known for its vibrant red tubular flowers, the Island bush snapdragon is popular among California residents and pollinators. This plant prefers a good drainage system and as little water as possible due to common rotting characteristics.

11. CA lilac (AKA Ceanothus, buckbrush or blue blossom)

California lilacs come in many species and varieties, sizes, and shapes and there’s at least one for every location and climate. Ceanothus is noted for its abundant clusters of blue flowers. They are also some of the most fragrant, evergreen, and drought-tolerant shrubs in California.

There’s no better time to reshape your landscaping or garden with drought-tolerant plants. For a complete list of California native plants, check out our resources or speak with your local gardening center or your county’s garden experts.

You can also visit the UC Davis Plant Guide to view more California native and low-water use plants.