Three Drought-Tolerant Native California Plants

At the UCCE Master Gardener Program of Tulare/Kings Counties’ demo garden at Hurley School, small-scale waterwise front and back yards display “Gardening Central Valley” style, three of which are California native plants: Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii), apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) and sulfur flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum).

Cleveland sage, the fragrant sage, is a perennial plant that is native to Southern California and northern Baja California, growing below 2,500 feet in elevation in chaparral habitat. The plant was named in 1874 by Asa Gray, honoring plant collector Daniel Cleveland.

Cleveland sage grows 4 feet tall and wide, but can easily expand to 8 feet.

The shrubs provide good hiding places for birds. It has fragrant gray foliage and blue flowers between May and August. Cleveland sage grows so abundantly that you might be tempted to grow it so you can bring in armloads of flowers. But, beware, this plant has such significant fragrance that some find that just one flower stem can be overwhelming. This fragrance does help in keeping away many garden pests.

This drought-tolerant shrub needs full sun and prefers well-drained soil. Pruning is optional as spent brown flower pods will be covered by new growth and blend in with a natural setting. It is found in abundance along many of Visalia’s trails and bike paths.

Apricot mallow is a perennial shrub native to parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. This fuzzy, grayish, often-sprawling plant bears large bright orange-red to apricot flowers, resembling a poppy, in clusters on many erect, slender branches. These flowers are great for bouquets. It blooms from February to November. It grows to 2 feet, needs sun, good air flow and can tolerate many soil types. Like the Cleveland sage, it is drought-tolerant and is being used more and more by homeowners in their gardens.

Sulfur flower buckwheat is a species of wild buckwheat, also called sulfur flower. It is native to western North America from California to Colorado to central Canada, where it grows abundantly and is found in many habitats. Native American groups utilized parts of this plant for a number of medicinal uses.

Sulfur flower buckwheat is one of the lowest growing of the perennial buck-wheats at 3 1/2 inches tall and 3 feet wide. Its showy, yellow, tubular flowers fade to orange or red. These plants make loose mats of leaves, often green above and gray-wooly beneath, creating an excellent ground cover. It grows best in well-drained soil, in part shade to sun, with little or no water after established. It is drought- and cold weather-tolerant.

Finding California native plants locally can be difficult, although they are becoming more abundant. Local nurseries might order them upon request. Ordering through a native plant website is also an option. Planting native plants, or any plant, should be delayed until cooler weather, October or November, in our area. You can also plant in early spring, but will have to be more vigilant during the hot summer months to assure that these low-water-needs plants get enough — but not too much — water to become established and grow their roots deep.

In the meantime, visit the Master Gardener Demo Garden at Hurley School or some of our local city parks and trails to see what has been planted and how these plants are surviving our hot, dry summer. You might find something that will work in your yard.

The UCCE Master Gardener Program of Tulare/Kings Counties is a research-based program designed to provide information to the home gardening public. The program provides information on sustainable landscape practices, focusing on “Gardening Central Valley Style,” environmental quality and resource conservation (water, soil, air and waste), and integrated pest management and invasive species awareness.

The UCCE Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions at the following venues in March and April:

Visalia Farmers’ Market: Every Saturday morning (8-11 a.m.), Sears parking lot, Mooney Boulevard at Caldwell Avenue March 28, Sequoia Garden Club Tour. April 4, 10 a.m.

-1 p.m., Tulare Garden Festival, Tulare Public Library, 475 North M St., Tulare.

For answers to your home gardening questions, call the Master Gardeners in Tulare County at (559) 684-3325, Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., or Kings County at (559) 852-2736, Thursday only, 9:30-11:30 a.m; or visit our website to search past articles, find links to UC gardening information, or to email us with your questions:

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