Q. I’m planning to develop a new garden that gets almost full sun. How can I keep it low maintenance and especially drought tolerant?— Karin Leonard, Pismo Beach
A. You can choose from many plants that prefer the unique conditions of a Mediterranean climate on the coast, which is distinguished by a summer drought with fog and wet, mild winters. California natives are always a good choice. Many shrubs range from small to tall, such as Ceanothus with white to dark blue flowers, Manzanita, California Coffee Berry, Fremontia with beautiful waxy yellow flowers and Matilija Poppies with giant “Fried-Egg” flowers. Perennial flowering plants include Yarrow, Coral Bells, Monkey Flower, Hummingbird Sage and Penstemons.
If you have the space, you might try a swath of wild flower seeds or six-packs, such as California Poppies and Lupines. There are native grasses that can make a splash as well. Look for perennial grasses such as California Fescue, Deergrass, and members of the Carex family.
Plants from other Mediterranean climates work well in drought-resistant gardens. Succulents offer a wide variety of colors and shapes such as: Sedums, Haworthias, Sempervivums, and Echeverias. For additional color try some new and exciting cultivars of: Arctotis, Echinacea, Osteospermum, Lavender, Leucodendron and Buddleia. If you want to spice up your garden, try Oregano, Marjoram and the Sages. Cal Poly’s Leaning Pine Arboretum is a beautiful example of an established Mediterranean landscape.
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There are other things you can do to maintain your low-water use areas. Develop a very efficient drip-irrigation system that is fine-tuned for delivering just the right amount of water. Mulch helps retain soil moisture around your plants. Go easy on the fertilizer. Most native plants do not need any, and over-fertilization can burn plant roots and pollute ground water.
With these simple rules you can enjoy your drought-tolerant garden as it attracts happy bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. For more ideas on low water use plants for other regions of our county, contact the Master Gardener Helpline or visit the UC Davis Arboretum All-Star at http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu.