Patty Sliney: Oh, that’s tough because there are SO many good choices! I think one of my most favorite drought tolerant plants is a California native, Zauschneria californica, California fuchsia. It has beautiful, bright orange trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom late summer through fall. The hummingbirds adore it; so do our native butterflies. It is both drought and drip-tolerant, can tolerate summer water, and can take a real beating and come back to its beautiful state. It is well behaved, has a nice mounding habit and provides lovely pops of color.
Mollie Allan: Birds of Paradise. I love the winning combination of orange and blue-purple. (92064)
Bruce Hubbard: Parkinsonia aculeata, Palo Verde tree. Love it! Attractive year-round. Small enough for most landscape planting, and will do with no additional irrigation in San Diego after the first year (none at all if planted between November-March).
Marc Capitano: Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) ‘Christmas Berry’. This plant with its serrated holly-like foliage is what gave “Hollywood” its name. Easterners arriving in California thought it was a holly, especially with its red berries around Christmas time. Propagates easily from seed and combines beautifully with Encinos. Five-star drought tolerant. (92028)
Linda Chisari: Rose-scented geraniums (Pelargonium graveolens). A year ago I took six cuttings from a friend’s plants and simply stuck them in the ground in six different micro-climates in my garden, ranging from full sun to full shade, irrigated and non-irrigated. All of them have thrived on total neglect, apparently no water needed!
Ari Tanenbaum: If you have space, Coast Live Oak is a beautiful tree! For smaller shrubs, I love grosso lavender.
Anne Murphy: Salvia chamaedroyoides, Salvia leucantha, Galvezia speciosa. These are highly drought tolerant and are in bloom for much of the year.
Sue Fouquette: Hunnemannia fumariifolia (Mexican tulip poppy). Ours gets watered once a week and that may be the reason they bloom almost every month except January. If they just depended on rain, perhaps they would bloom only at the time Eschscholzia californica, California poppy, blooms in spring. They reseed in both sun and dappled shade. Plants are three feet tall with attractive ferny blue-green leaves. The flowers are such a bright clear yellow, matching the flowers on the nearby Thevetia thevetioides tree. In the front yard, I deadheaded them to keep them blooming, but in the backyard I let them go to seed so I can collect the pods, which I donate every year to the California Native Plant Society sale, in Balboa Park, in October. When you pick the tan, ripe seedpods, you’ll know why they are called poppies! They are a good cut flower too.
Chris Drayer: I have found a rich vein of useful plants in the genus Kalanchoe. There are a number of sturdy, adaptable, drought tolerant species, which have a lush and leafy, rather than a desert-y appearance. I often get feedback from clients that they don’t want a drought tolerant landscape because they don’t like the “desert” look. I interpret that to mean they don’t like the “spiky plant”, sparsely vegetated cactus garden effect. When I show pictures of some Kalanchoes, like K. bracteata ‘Silver Spoons’ K. orgyalis ‘Copper Spoons’, or K. beharensis (Felt plant), that are used in drifts, like any other leafy perennial, they are usually pleasantly surprised. The K. beharensis also has some beautiful cultivars that are bushier and with better leaf colors.
Jeff Moore: The obvious answer is succulents (aloes and agaves); but the broader answer is that the question is flawed. The only plants any of us will use from now on are drought tolerant!
Marilyn Guidroz: Glad that you asked this question. My favorite low water needs plant is by far and away the Leucophyllum langmaniae (Texas Ranger). When all other plants are hunkering down in the hot, humid weeks of the summer months, this one shines! It loves the heat and the humidity and blooms like a showstopper. Not just once but over and over again, all summer long. The ‘Rio Bravo’ seems to work best for our inland gardens. ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ is a close second.
Vivian Black: I’m very fond of society garlic, fuchsias, and statice. They continue to grow with very little encouragement. (92128)
Tammy Schwab: Parkinsonia ‘Palo Blanco’ and ‘Desert Museum’, Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea’ (purple vitex), Desert willow, Texas olive, Leucophyllum candidum (violet), Silverleaf, Hamelia patens (Firebush), Tacoma stans (Yellow trumpet bush), Mascagnia macroptera (Butterfly vine), Agave parryi truncata, Melaleuca encana, and all euphorbia; I have not found one that I don’t like; all Salvia. (92024)
Linda?: Jade plant.
Steve Zolezzi:Without question-Aloes-they live forever without much care and water. They usually don’t hurt to touch, like most Agaves. Most multiply rapidly. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors and best of all the blooms are great. What more should we need?
J.R. Miles:This month it is Sphaeralcea ambigua (Desert mallow). The gophers haven’t found it yet; it blooms prolifically with practically no water and no soil amendment. It went from an ugly little, shriveled stick in a gallon pot, to a really attractive bush, in less than one season. One subspecies or cultivar from Arizona has a range of flower colors from light pink to lavender, including the more common orange colors.
Jenny Hawkins: Lavender, the smell is divine.
Sue Getyina: Succulents, grevilleas, and California natives. (92054)
Bridget Grier: I like Gauras. They grow in a nice full mounded form with lots of small flowers on slender stalks that extend above the foliage and move in the slightest breeze. They don’t seem picky about soil, grow well in full sun and need little water.
Charlotte Getz: Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ is one of my favorites. It blooms nonstop and the hummingbirds love the flowers. It is 4 feet by 4 feet with an arching growth habit.
Paul Strauss: A few come to mind: Echeveria, like so many small jewels; selected Grevillea shrubs like ‘Peaches and Cream’, Coprosma, ‘Marble Queen’ and ‘Tequilla Sunset’ (colorful foliage).
Michael Meacham: 1) Pride of Madeira. 2) Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ or any Ceanothus.
Wayne Julien: My favorite water wise plant is native California sages and hybrid sages. They can go without water once established and provide food for birds and bees. This time of year they are in full bloom and make the garden a joy to behold.
Amelia Lima: Agaves are my #1 favorite drought tolerant plants. (92014)
Susan L.: 1) Melaleuca nesophila. This is a fast growing shrub with an interesting shape that tolerates poor soil and can be used for a quick informal screen. 2) Ceanothus thrysiflorus ‘Skylark’. This remains a manageable size (3-6 feet tall and 5 feet wide), tolerates some summer water in gardens, and blooms vigorously for a long season. 3) Juniper tamariscifolia (tamarix juniper). This is a good filler plant on dry slopes with poor soil. It has a dark green color and is low growing (1-2 feet high and 10 feet wide) so it does not block sprinklers. To avoid pest problems restrict water in the summer. (92130)
Timothy Jara: Besides wonderful succulents, aloe, and agaves there are a few perennials that have done well in our hot, inland backyard of Poway. Teucrium chamaedrys, thrives on neglect. Texas Ranger blooms several times with total neglect, with nice purple flowers on a silver bush. Palo Verde ‘Desert Museum’ (love it). Calliandra ‘Cane’s Hybrid’, trees bloom at least three times a year in a light pink. All Alstromeria; especially the hybrids that grow close to the ground. Pelargonium ionidiflorum bloom all spring and summer with bright pink flowers.
Greg Herbert: Dragon tree (Dracaena draco). We are working at an historic property at 3574 7th Avenue, across the street from the Marston House, near Balboa Park. There is an historic photograph of an 18-inch tall plant, where a 25 feet tall dragon tree is growing now. The owners think it may have been planted by Kate Sessions.
Beth Escott Newcomer: We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, drought tolerant plants at Serra Gardens (cacti.com). Here are just a few favorites: Agave bracteosa (Squid Agave), is a small, slow-growing, bright green, spineless agave that works well in pots, rock gardens, and as a focal in small scale succulent gardens. Calibanus hookeri provides a soft grass-like appearance in the xeriscape, and is also prized by collectors for its wonderful caudex. Use Ruschia linealata as a durable and extremely drought tolerant ground cover and even as a lawn replacement; tough enough for dogs, kids, and foot traffic. Dasilyrion wheeleri is a wonderful focal plant featuring silver-blue leaves and a perfectly symmetrical hemisphere, when mature. Note: all of these plants are also frost-resistant and will work in all San Diego zones.
Mark Riedler: My favorite drought tolerant plant is the Aloe ‘Hercules’, which is a cross between the Aloe bainesii (A. barberae) and Aloe dichotoma. Once established it seems to do fine with whatever rainfall we get in San Diego. I like this plant because of its architectural form, fantastic trunk and hybrid vigor. Mine has grown from and 18 inch plant to about 9 feet in five years, so I would recommend starting with a relatively small and cheaper plant. My zip code is 92024 and there are a number of local nurseries that carry these plants.
Cedros Gardens: Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’, Leucospermum ‘Yellow Bird’, Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, ‘Grape’, ‘Eastern Concord’. (920024)
Diane Bailey: One of my favorite drought tolerant plants is lantana. It comes in a number of color combinations, is easy to grow, generally low growing shrubs, they take moderate to little water once established.
Cheryl Leedom: My Palo Verde tree ‘Desert Museum’ is definitely a favorite in the garden. The hummingbirds and bees love it, too. Right now it’s in full bloom, covered in yellow blossoms and will flower all summer. The lacy branches sway with the afternoon breezes so it creates motion in the garden too. It lives with us in Escondido, near Lake Hodges. (92029)
Mark Cassie: I have about 150 roses. They are pretty drought tolerant. I’m not prepared to give up on my garden until this year is over. El Nino is being forecasted stronger and stronger. I can (in the meantime) install rain barrels off of my gutter system, in anticipation. I have put my heart and soul into this garden.
Greg Hunter: Duranta erecta (tree form). Why: drought tolerant, minimum water, evergreen, long period of profuse flowering of purple flowers and yellow fruit, practically maintenance free, prune it for your own desired shape, fast growing, hardy, and bees, butterflies, and birds love the tree.
Donald Yeckel: Succulents will no doubt be a popular choice (and I have many, many, of those), but bromeliads are often misunderstood and overlooked as versatile and attractive drought tolerant plants. In particular, most people know that tillandsias are epiphytic and even in our dry climate need only occasional spritzing to survive and even flourish, but many do not know that many of the bromeliads sold in plastic nursery containers as terrestrial can adapt quite happily to a life as air plants. Others think of bromeliads as shade plants, but there are many species that prefer or at least tolerate sun. All in all, an especially useful plant in a time of drought.
Sandra Knowles: I love lots of plants, and two of the toughest are agapanthus, which flowers and remains green all year, with or without fertilizers and water, and a variety of chain fern, which forms large, beautiful clumps. The ferns perform all year, even with very dry periods. A little cottonseed meal, a couple times a year is appreciated. Oh, did I mention, they are on the west side of the house in full sun. We live in Encinitas, four miles inland. (92024)
Nancy Groves: I have a yard full of bromeliads, many of which are low water usage. My favorite is Tillandsia tectorum, which is an epiphyte with very narrow leaves lined with fuzzy white hairs (trichomes) that are large and look bright white. The flowers are purple. I will grow in full sun and is better adapted to areas with low humidity and intense sunlight, though it will it will grow in partial shade and needs airflow. It grows naturally in Peru and Ecuador, on rocks and cliffs. Great patio plant; you can put it in a pot with very well drained mix or just hang it up with wire or fishing line.
Gerald D. Stewart: This is a no-brainer. Pelargoniums are my favorite drought tolerant plant. Most are native to, or derived from, species that are native to areas in South Africa with a Mediterranean climate like here in San Diego County. As a consequence, once they are established in the ground, they survive on almost no irrigation. As I learned during the drought of the early 1990s, “pels” in the ground bloomed well when watered once a month during the months there was no or very little rain. (92084)
Cindy Sparks: ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra is the best. I noticed it growing at Hanson Agriculture Center outside of Ventura, a UC test site. We went up there for a field trip on a really hot day (over 100 degrees). They had a 20 by 30 foot planted map of the world, and the oceans were ‘Silver Falls’. I asked how they possibly managed to grow that out there. The reply was it’s really one tough plant, and they hardly ever water it. They just squirt it with a hose if the children are coming for a visit because it makes those areas of the map glisten in the sun, just like the ocean would. I tried it in my front yard. It’s great. Not easy to propagate, but plant it from starts and it creeps around and droops over any ledge or retaining wall. The dog pees on it and it doesn’t seem to mind terribly, plus I only water once every 14 days in my 92107 Point Loma garden.
Marilyn Wilson: My Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ has a taproot, blooms for months, makes a great cut flower, and has given me seedlings that thrive in areas of NO irrigation. Vista. (92084)