10 Drought-Tolerant Plants for the Central Coast

Ever since Governor Jerry Brown announced his plans to mandate water restrictions in California, our phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to replace their lawns with drought-tolerant plants and natives. It’s comforting to know that people are taking the water issue seriously and doing their part to conserve. With everyone doing at least a little bit, we will be able to get through this drought and be able to continue to take showers and wash our dishes. We know that watching your green lawn turn brown is a sad thing and is a sacrifice that should be commended, but just because you don’t have a lawn anymore doesn’t mean that you need to have just a brown plot of land in your front or back yard. This can be an opportunity to beautify and get some gorgeous flowering California natives or other drought-tolerant plants in. Here is a list of some colorful flowering shrubs that, once established, take little to no water.

Matilija Poppy

Romneya coulteri

A large shrub about 8 feet tall and wide that spreads by underground rhizomes. The large paper-mache like flowers can get up to 5 inches in diameter with a large yellow center. Romneya likes well drained soil and full sun. It can be difficult to get this plant to establish after transplanting, due to the sensitivity of its roots, but once established can be a very vigorous grower. As with any plant establishing its roots in new soil, water well after transplanting. Then water about once a week during it’s first summer. By the following Spring no water will be necessary.


Penstemon spp.

This cottage or wildflower garden plant has showy blooms that attract hummingbirds. Penstemon is about as low-maintenance as it gets. This plant loves dry conditions and will actually flower less if fertilized. Keep your Penstemon in full to part sun in well drained soil and she will thank you with gorgeous bright flowers throughout the Spring and Summer. There are many different varieties and colors to choose from.



Ciste de Crête - Cistus creticus - CISTACEAE Jardin botanique Henri Gaussen au Muséum d'histoire naturelle de Toulouse. Printemps, Mai 2010.
These profuse bloomers of pink and white flowers thrive on neglect. They can survive in pretty much any type of soil and require little to no water after the first year. Plant in full sun to part shade in a border planting or hillside for erosion control and they will spread about 3′-5′.

Douglas Iris

Iris douglasiana

This rhizomous spreader to 2′-4′ has white and lavender blooms on branches about 18 inches tall. Native to California, this plant can tolerate heavy soils and low water. Prefers full sun to part shade.


Achillea millefolilum

An herbaceous perennial that comes in a variety of colors such as red, pink, salmon, yellow, and white. Yarrow attracts beneficial insects and actually deters pests. They grow about 2 ft and bloom midsummer through fall.

Society Garlic

Tulbaghia violacea

A bulb with grayish green foliage and small lavender flowers that smells of garlic. It gets its name for tasting like garlic but not making your breath smell. Society Garlic has a long bloom, tolerates summer heat, and is deer resistant. Looks great in rock gardens and borders. Grows to about 2′.

Santa Barbara Daisy

Erigeron karvinskianus

A multi-colored trailing groundcover that gets 1′ to 2′ tall. The blooms turn from white to pink to mauve as they mature. Santa Barbara Daisy likes full sun but can tolerate some shade and is great to use in rock gardens, as a ground cover, in hanging baskets or window boxes trailing down the side.

Coral Bells


coral bells
The genus Heuchera has a wide variety of species with a huge variety of colors to choose from. Grown for their foliage, these plants can brighten up any garden. They prefer rich well drained soil and shade. They can grow in sun but will be smaller and less colorful. Used for accent or specimen plants, mass plantings, in pots, woodland gardens, or rock gardens.

California Fuchsia

Epilobium canum

Gray green foliage with orange red tubular blooms. This is a plant that will surely attract hummingbirds and bring some vibrant color to your garden in late summer through fall. Plant in well drained soil and full sun protected from the wind. Epilobium will grow to 2′ tall and 3′ wide.

Wooly Thyme

Thymus lanuginosus

Gray to silver leaves with tiny pink and purple flowers grow no taller than 12” and spread to about 3′. Can be planted in the hot sun and tolerates dry conditions. Plant as erosion control, along a path, or in between pavers on a walkway. This plant gives off a nice fragrance when walked upon.

These are only a few of the many drought-tolerant plants that are well adapted to SLO county. We love how unique, beautiful, and low-maintenance these plants are. If you have any plants that you would like to add to this list, feel free to share them in the comments below.


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