Top Six California Native Plant Performers

whitesageBetween Kelly’s aortic episode and my mom’s passing, gardening took a back seat during the past six months. As a result, our yard doesn’t exactly look like Versailles. I’m thankful Kelly had the foresight, before our family emergencies, to reduce the amount of fussy annuals and increase the number of California native plants. While no garden is ever “zero maintenance,” some plants, such as these six California natives can survive with less care. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list but just a few of the plants that have been successful in our garden. Your results may vary.

1. White sage (Salvia apiana)
Kelly and I both love this plant. It’s aromatic, useful as a spice and incense and both honeybees and native bees love it. There’s a lot of unethical foraging going on in our local wilderness areas to supply the Silver Lake shamans with their white sage smudge sticks. Grow white sage in your yard and you can roll your own smudge sticks. You can also put a leaf in your water bottle for a refreshing drink. Each fall it should be pruned back to avoid legginess.

IMG_79742. Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
This one is becoming as popular with house flippers as Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) was back in the aughts. It’s easy to see why. Salvia clevelandii is pretty and grows like a weed.

blacksage3. Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
Our black sage is doing so well that it might just swallow the entire backyard. This is good as we haven’t a clue what to do with the part of the yard it occupies. Sprawl on Salvia mellifera!

gigantium4. St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
Note the “giganteum” in the scientific name for this member of the buckwheat family. Give this baby some room. Ours is doing well in partial shade.

toyonsmall5. Toyon (Heteromeles arbutitolia)
This treeish native stared the drought in the face and laughed. We planted it in the neighbor’s yard where it got cut down accidentally. A year later it had grown back to its former glory. Birds love the little red berries, which can be dried for a not very exciting human snack.

coyotebush6. Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis)
A hellstrip favorite, this bright green ground cover can keep native plant phobic neighbors happy and withstand some late night trampling from Silver Lake shamans on their way back from Coachella.

A warning here: all of these plants are large. Watch your spacing when you plant them and don’t put them too close together.

While we’re talking about native plants, our friend David Newsom has launched an important new initiative called the Wild Yards Project to encourage people to “restore native plant and animal habitat, one yard at a time, using native plants and trees wherever you live.” Note that this project is for people all over the US, not just in California. We’re going to have him on the podcast to discuss the project in depth, but before we do that I’d like all of you to join the Wild Yards Facebook and Instagram. David would especially like people to post before and after photos of their gardens.

Do you have some favorite California natives that should be included on our “top performers” list?


Leave a comment


  1. Love it!!! I love all the salvias, they all do great in our yard, require little care, and make the bees sooooooo happy! I also like California fuschia and ceanothus of all kinds, although they’re on the slow-growing side.

  2. Here’s more praise for ceanothus!
    Ive been particularly enamores by the Ray Hartman cultivar

  3. ceanothus! we planted a California native plant garden at a rental property that our family owns that is a block from the ocean with crazy wind about 80 % of the time. then it rained like crazy all winter and everything is just thriving! Lots of salvias, native coastal lupine, manzanitas, matilija poppy, some grasses and a few drought tolerant Mediterranean things as well. But ceanothus is the star, we planted several kinds, and all of them are just doing great. Sandy soil and intense wind, those guys can take it all. Lots of beautiful varieties in lovely shades of blue, purple, and white.

  4. Although not a true California native, my absolute favorite plant in in my SoCal xeriscape garden is the Mexican Marigold, Tagetes lemmonii. Native to Northern Mexico and southern Arizona, the plant has an incredibly long bloom time with an explosion of eye popping yellow flowers; gets huge (4′ x 6′); requires very little care; and, most importantly, is incredibly aromatic. Just a hint of a breeze and the whole garden is permeated with an intoxicating scent. It does get leggy though. I cut it back hard in the Fall.

  5. Pingback: Reader Favorite California Native: Ceonothus | Root Simple

  6. This year I planted yellow coastal bush lupine and what a beautiful, effortless plant! The growth of the leaves is so pretty and a nice contrast to the salvias. I feel like I’ve tried lupine in the past and failed, though, so I don’t know if this was just luck or if it’s actually bombproof. It’s doing great right now, though!

  7. These sound like the sort of plants I am looking for. Do you think they would do well in the hot and humid summers of central Illinois?

Comments are closed.