Oh how we love California and all its gorgeous drought tolerant plants, though to single out a group of native plants as drought tolerant is a bit of a misnomer since most of California, while not entirely a desert, is a dry, arid climate and the plants that thrive here are naturally drought tolerant.
There are some varieties of flowering plants that stand out to us as especially hearty and lovely at the same time, and our list of those follows. It’s safe to say that many of these flowering plants are also pollinator friendly, which is a bonus, since our winged friends need our help more than ever.
Our List of the Top 12 Drought Tolerant Flowers for the Northern California Garden
1. California Poppy
California poppies have these gorgeous, long slender seed pods that turn dark chocolate brown in the summer before they dry up and get hot enough to burst, reseeding themselves each year with nearly 100 seeds per pod. As Californians, we grew up hearing that to pick a California poppy was illegal, which is true, unless it is on your property. Then, you’re welcome to pick at will, however, like most wildflowers, once picked, the poppy wilts quickly.
2. California Yarrow
All along coastal Northern California and the Peninsula, you’ll find California Yarrow, that flat topped, wispy plant that makes its way into untold art and photographs. Yarrow flowers just for a couple of months each year in May and June, and is a perennial rhizome, so it spreads by underground feeders as well as seeds.
3. California Wild Rose
You can find this drought tolerant beauty on the coast, the foothills and the mountains of California – up to 6,000 feet. It blooms from November through May, nesting birds love it and the rose hips left over after the bloom are a favorite food for birds and mammals.
4. Desert (Apricot) mallow
This hearty desert plant gets about 3 feet by 3 feet tall and wide and has little furry hairs on its leaves that are irritating to the human eye – hence its nickname pink-eye poppy.
5. Catalina Mariposa Lily
Named after the Spanish word for butterfly, this flower loves rocky, unwelcoming soil – you’ll often find it tucked in between rocks in the garden or out in the wild. This lily grows from a bulb, like tulips and daffodils, but unlike those flowers each mariposa lily bulb sprouts several flowers. It blooms in May and June.
6. Sage (Hummingbird, Point Sal Purple and White)
Oh the sages are a favorite of so many gardeners, insects and birds. We love it for its gorgeous leaves, pretty flowers and pollinator friendliness. This plant loves a good sunbath and thrives with little water, and will spread itself, though you can propagate it with cuttings started in water or sand heavy with water.
7. Bush Monkeyflower
This pretty shrub plant grows from southern Oregon to the tip of Baja Sur and is host to the caterpillars of both the Buckeye and Baltimore butterflies.
Lupine can be found all over the west and southwest, up into the sierras and down to Southern California. Springing up all over meadows, on the coast and in gardens, this sweet little flower has a delicate and lovely scent.
10. Globe Gilia
Globe Gilia is a fast grower and beloved by gardeners for its easy care once established. It doesn’t like to compete with weeds, but other than that, soil, sun and a little water and this plant is happy.
11. Canyon Grey California Sagebrush
This gorgeous pale grey-green groundcover is a luscious addition to your native, drought tolerant garden. It forms a spreading carpet with tendrils that hang down an embankment wall or cover around other taller plants in the garden. We especially love this one because deer especially don’t love it.
12. Hoary California Fuchsia
This plant may be the most drought tolerant California plant, doing fine all summer long without a drop. It’s also not picky about its soil. It grows fairly low and spreads well and the hummingbirds love it!
Come visit the experts in our Half Moon Bay and Redwood City garden centers for help choosing your drought tolerant plants.