Drought Tolerant Plants For California And Nevada Gardens

A bright orange aloe flower
(Image credit: DogoraSun)

The answer to many questions one may ask about plants is “native plants.” For example, what to look for if you want drought tolerant plants? Native plants. What types of plants require little maintenance? Native plants.

If you live in the West and are looking for easy to grow plants that require very little irrigation, you cannot do better than native California and Nevada plants.

Bulletproof Plants in California

Are you looking to plant low maintenance, drought tolerant plants in California? Native California plants are your best bet. But be sure you pick low maintenance, drought tolerant plants that thrive in your particular ecosystem. For even more guarantees, select native plants termed "bulletproof." This means that the plants are infinitely tolerant. They do just fine with heat, cold and wind, need little water, are low-maintenance, non-invasive, and pest and disease resistant.

If you live in a hot, desert region in California, select bulletproof native desert plants from the area.

Here are a few trees you may want to try:

  • Cat's Claw acacia (Acacia greggii)
  • Blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida)
  • Escarpment oak (Quercus fusiformis)
  • Chilean mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)
  • Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis + hybrids)
  • Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

For shrubs, consider these bulletproof bushes:

  • Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica)
  • Quail bush (Atriplex lentiformis)
  • Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
  • Fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium)

Plants for Nevada Bird Gardens

Every gardener has their own priorities. Some put drought tolerance first on the list. Others want plants that remove CO2 from the air. Still others select plants in order to attract more birds to their landscape.

If your top backyard priority is attracting wildlife, native plants still offer the most bang for the buck to help birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. Native plants, of course, have other attractions, like requiring less water, less maintenance, and less fertilizer. They are also cold hardy and well accustomed to the Nevada climate.

Here are three plants that fit the bill:

  • Virginia Creeper ​(Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a woody vine that grows fast. Its green leaves turn a brilliant red in fall. In early summer, the vine is filled with dark berries that birds, squirrels and deer adore.
  • Wild geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) is a native flowering perennial that has blossoms in pink, lavender or magenta that attract native pollinators like butterflies, bees, and flies. Both the wild geranium seed capsules and the leaves of this plant are popular among birds, small mammals, deer, and others.
  • Desert Marigold (​Baileya multiradiata) is a short-lived perennial with bright yellow, daisy-like flowers that rise from a leafless stalk to bloom throughout the summer and fall. Their long-lasting blooms can reach one foot in height, turning papery with age. Birds feast on their ripe seeds and help disperse them to other parts of your garden.

Plants for Drought-Tolerant Gardens

For gardeners in the West, drought has proved to be a real and ongoing problem. Water has been restricted in many regions and everyone is interested in drought-tolerant plants. Here are some top choices to consider.

  • Achillea is well-known to many gardeners as a reliable mid-summer bloomer with standout yellow flowers. These yarrow plants are extremely water wise and in fact require little or no maintenance at all. The blossoms are a magnet for butterflies and beneficial insects.
  • Chrysocephalum apiculatum is a low-growing strawflower with attractive silver foliage and yellow flowers. The flowers arrive in spring a bright yellow and keep their hue as they dry. They are very drought-tolerant plants.
  • Mimulus is a happy, shrubby California native perennial with bright flowers in a rainbow of colors. Happy in sun or part shade, these plants need good drainage but little water. They are popular in native plant gardens because of their color range.
Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.