Living in San Diego, it’s easy to forget what winter looks like in other regions. An occasional winter storm reminds me of how dreary and cold other places are right now, and that’s when I’m especially appreciative of a colorful plant scene, especially when I know that I will be enjoying it year round.
With so many plants calling ‘Buy me!” at every grocery store, let alone nursery and garden center, it’s easy to become tempted by the latest beautiful perennial or flowering shrub – only to discover that it was bred and grown in a cooler or wetter climate… To find a truly satisfying plant that rewards us with new excitement every time we see it takes a bit of research.
Here are a few successful plant combinations for low water landscaping that have worked very well for me. They excite me year-round with permanent textures, lasting colored foliage or structural form. They give life and interest to my designs without creating a constant demand on water or maintenance which in our climate means mostly pruning or dead-heading.
The new roses - Low-water and low maintenance landscape plants, blooming almost non-stop
A different breed of roses is available to us in Southern California that we can enjoy year round. Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras and other traditional roses need much more water and are a sad sight in winter when they get pruned to sticks. I’m talking about the new “landscape roses” that need much less water and flower almost year round with an array of colors that bring life to our landscapes.
These shrub roses and Floribundas need only the regular pruning like you would prune a Sage or Lavender; in order to keep them from getting sparse or out of control, cut out the woody and dead stuff, down to a new joint. Depending on its appearance, pruning might sometimes only be necessary every other year. (For sources and watering instructions, see my previous article about xeriscape landscaping with roses.)
Exciting succulents and creative combinations
Despite its tropical look, the large terrestrial bromeliad shown in this photo is remarkably un-thirsty: Here in this garden, about 2 miles from the coast, it needs only (overhead) watering about every 10 days and makes therefore an attractive companion to ‘fluffier’ low-water perennials and succulents.
(Seen in this combination: Vriesea imperialis, part shade/sun on coast only (can reach 4-5 ft); Echeveria ‘Perle von Nuernberg’ , partial shade / sun on coast, 1-2 ft x same; Peruvian Lily Alstroemerias species, sun or part shade, to 18 inches high x same.)
The soft-tipped Foxtail Agave Agave attenuata is an attractive partner here of Euphorbia rigida. Both love the dappled dry shade under my Live Oak; they can also tolerate full sun in Ramona; in even hotter gardens the Agave would prefer dappled shade. Both are drought resistant plants that belong into the xeriscape design. (How long these plants can go without any water depends on exposure to the sun and soil type. In my garden I water these every 2-3 weeks in mid summer.)
That the Euphorbia re-seeds itself is welcome in my garden where the gophers like to eat the parents (are gophers in Ramona a different breed?) So I always have a few new ones in waiting and the seedlings never overwhelm me.
(Seen in this combination: Euphorbia rigida: to 2 ft x 2-3 ft ; sun or partial shade; little supplemental water. Zones 4-24. Foxtail Agave Agave attenuata: 2-3 ft x 4-5 ft; sun or partial shade; little supplemental water. Protect from frost.)
Many water-wise perennials are perfect compliments to succulents, cacti and other desert species. Here are the shrubby perennial Mexican Marigold Tagetes lemmonii, right, next to Aeonium “Purple Moon” and Aeonium Sunburst, that create a great scene. The Marigold is one of many worthy desert plant species.
(Seen in this combination: Mexican Marigold Tagetes lemmonii (also called Copper Canyon Daisy), 3-6 ft tall and wide; damaged by frost in open situations; cut back to correct shape. Full sun. Moderate to regular water. Aeonium ‘Purple Moon’ partial shade to full sun; 1-2 ft tall/wide; Aeonium Sunburst; to 18 inch high x 2 ft wide. Both Aeoniums are drought resistant plants tolerating low to moderate water. Partial shade in hottest areas; otherwise full sun. )
Mexican Marigold: easily available in many nurseries (f.e. Green Meadow Growers in Bonsall, CA;
Aeoniums, Echeverias, Agaves, Vrieseas and other bromeliads: : Rancho Soledad Nursery in Rancho Santa Fe, CA;
Roses : Waterwise Botanicals, Escondido, CA. (also many drought resistant perennials, shrubs, succulents, cacti, trees).