How to Save Water & Your Landscape

How to Save Water & Your Landscape A 2022 Drought Survival Guide

The drought isn’t easing up but the struggle to find answers should be. Check out our 2022 Drought Survival Guide for sound advice & decision-making guidance to not only save water, but also save your landscape. Before wells run dry, let’s get the ideas flowing!

How to Save Water & Your Landscape eBook

Make Every Drop Matter: Water Saving Strategies for Your Landscape

Make Every Drop Matter: Water Saving Strategies for Your Landscape Watch the FREE Webinar Recording

Make Every Drop Matter: Water Saving Strategies for Your LandscapeYou can’t talk about drought without talking about water conservation! Hear from industry leaders and local BrightView experts as they reveal key strategies to conserve water while maintaining a beautiful landscape.

In this webinar we cover:
  • The 2022 drought season outlook
  • How to navigate new state and local water regulations
  • Tips and tricks to save water on your property
  • Irrigation improvements to help reduce water usage
  • Protecting your landscape's most valuable asset — trees
Water Management

10 Easy Ways to Save Water

10 Easy Ways to Save Water Tips to Lower Your Water Usage Without Feeling the Pinch

Could you do more with less? When it comes to water management, it’s possible. Follow these 10 tips to lower your usage without feeling the pinch.

  1. Sweep to Save Water
    Save water by using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks.

    Water early in the morning, just before dawn, to reduce evaporation due to sun and wind.


    Leaks in your irrigation system or inefficient watering can run up your water bill. Regular inspection by an irrigation professional enables timely repairs and sprinkler head adjustments to avoid waste.

  3. SAY "NO WAY" TO SPRAY (except for lawns)

    Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are a better choice for planting beds. Save the spray heads for lawns, where it’s a more efficient choice.


    Install rain shut-off devices and ground moisture sensors so you’re only watering when absolutely necessary.


    By keeping your grass at a slightly longer length, you’ll increase ground shade and water retention in the soil.


    Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks.

  7. Turf Conversion Install Crew
    BrightView crew members install pavers, irrigation and drought friendly plant material as part of a turf conversion project.

    Replace lawns in unused areas with native, drought tolerant plants, xeriscaping, hardscape, or fruit & vegetable gardens.


    By adding compost and dressing your beds with a 2–3-inch layer of mulch, you’ll improve water retention, soil health, and reduce weeds.


    Instead of water-guzzling seasonal flowers, fill beds with drought-tolerant flowering shrubs instead.


    Save money on turf conversions, irrigation upgrades and more with rebates from your local water authority. Your landscape partner can help you explore the latest offerings!

Drought Friendly Landscape

Irrigation Training Offers a Solution Amidst Regional Water Shortages

Irrigation Training Offers a Solution Amidst Regional Water Shortages Regional Irrigation Manager James Carr & His Teams Fight Drought with Knowledge

Irrigation can sometimes feel out-of-sight, out-of-mind; after all, the lion’s share of your system is underground. But for our irrigation specialists, water management is something they live and breathe, even in the winter months. They know their jobs are crucial to addressing the Southwest’s persistent drought, a task that requires year-round attention. See how Regional Irrigation Manager James Carr and his teams tackle it head-on.

Wintertime is the Right Time to Improve Irrigation

It’s the first week of the new year, and while most of us are still in a post-holiday lull, James is in California. Given the mild temperatures, few people are thinking about droughts, but for James and our Orange County irrigation technicians and client service teams, it’s very much top of mind. They’re in the midst of a deep dive field training on Preventative Maintenance Irrigation Inspections, fine-tuning how to catch problems before they require costly repairs. 

Though it may seem counterintuitive, winter is the best time to improve irrigation systems. No one wants their irrigation system offline for repairs in the heat of summer. That’s why the teams are hitting the ground running. Not long after, James is off to Las Vegas, then San Diego to run the same training with teams there. James calls it “keeping the pedal to the metal.” There’s no off-season in irrigation.

James Carr conducts irrigation training in the Southwest region.
To prepare for spring, James lead a series of intense, 3-day trainings throughout the Southwest region with a focus on spring start-ups. 

It Takes a Village

Over the years, irrigation has become higher tech and advancements in water management have created the need for specialists. Yet while the drought problem is universal, the knowledge of how to address it is not. Sharing information is critical. 

That brings James to the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association, where he teaches an irrigation training for 50 individuals. They’ve come from landscape companies throughout Arizona.

“All have the goal of raising the bar for our industry and achieving better water management skills,” he said.

James isn’t just leading the class, he’s leading change. He’s a certified board member for the Irrigation Association Certification Board. He also serves as Co-Director of Education and sits on the Board of Directors for the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association (ALCA). What he’ll teach in his class he’s successfully put into practice himself. In 2021, he accepted an Outstanding Landscape Contractor of the Year award from the ALCA

Starting on the Right Foot

With summer approaching, James keeps “the pedal to the metal.” To prepare for spring, he lead a series of intense, 3-day trainings throughout the southwest region with a focus on spring start-ups. Spring start-up refers to the process of de-winterizing an irrigation system. Since irrigation represents a significant investment for many clients, it’s important the system is maintained properly to ensure its longevity. Breaks and leaks aren’t just costly for the client if not caught soon enough, they can also exacerbate drought conditions. 

In this section of the training, irrigation specialists are huddled over their phones, studying intently the content on their screens. While it might look like they’ve found something more interesting than their training, they’re actually wrapped-up in researching the ET-- evapotranspiration-- rates for their area. Evapotranspiration refers to how quickly water moves from the earth’s surface into the atmosphere. They use this information to build irrigation schedules for their clients. James, meanwhile, is excited for those clients. 

“They’re in good hands!” he said proudly, before enthusing about the magic of smart controllers. “If you don’t understand the magic behind them, you’ll never fully appreciate the efficient tool that they are!” Thanks to James and his team, it’s safe to say a lot more people appreciate that magic. And while they may not actually be magicians who can singlehandedly make drought conditions disappear, they’re doing a lot behind the scenes to make them smaller. 

Regional Irrigation Manager James Carr and his teams tackle Irrigation head-on

How to Preserve Your Trees During Drought

How to Preserve Your Trees During Drought Make Trees a Priority in Your Preservation Plan

The trees in your landscape are one of your most valuable assets—aesthetically, environmentally and economically. With one 25-year-old Oak valued at about $25,000, it makes sense to take care of your trees. Unfortunately, the continuing drought makes it tough. Inadequate rainfall causes high salt content in the soil, diminished tree root function and a lack of deep root water. As heat increases and water becomes scarce, foliage gets scorched, branches become brittle and trees fall prey to pests and disease. There is something you can do. Follow the tips below and save your trees from drought’s adverse effects.

Make a Plan

There are a number of things BrightView can do to maintain the quality of your landscape.

  1. Identify high-value trees in your landscape.
  2. Make them a priority in your preservation plan.
  3. Designate diseased or weak trees* for removal.
    *Those that either don’t fit your landscape design or negatively impact visibility of your property.

Water Deeply, Effectively and Efficiently

In times of drought, you need to rethink how you irrigate trees. Take these steps:

Temporary drip line
Drip lines provide efficient watering delivery directly to the root zone.

Temporary Drip Line

Place a temporary drip line around the outer tree perimeter (especially good for larger trees in turf areas or parking lots).

Deep Water Injection

Perform deep water injection with hydraulically-pressurized water at root depth.

  • Inject with recycled water on trees that can tolerate reclaimed water.
  • Inject with potable water on more sensitive trees such as Redwoods.
Treegator Bag
Water bags help deliver water deep below the soil without the run-off.

Water Bags

Use water bags (AKA Treegator Bags) on smaller trees or newly established trees not in proximity to irrigation systems. 


Reduce Water Loss with Mulch

Mulching minimizes evapotranspiration and helps retain water around tree root zones. If you haven’t already done so, mulch your tree wells and remove any water-intensive plants or ground cover from tree root zones. Consider these mulch options:

Mulching minimizes evapotranspiration and helps retain water around tree root zones.
Mulching minimizes evapotranspiration and helps retain water around tree root zones.
  • Recycled Mulch from Your Pruning Byproducts
    Cost efficient, high water content and nutritional value. Best for non-focal areas.
  • Processed Mulch
    Great esthetic value but cost is higher.
  • Sheet Mulch
    (layered compost, cardboard)
    Good esthetic value for the cost. Highest water retention of the three options.

Use Deep Root Feeding for Vulnerable Tree Species

All trees suffer during drought but some species are especially vulnerable. These species include:

Sequoia sempervirens         
Coastal Redwood
Prunus cerasifera
Purple Leaf Plum
Salix spp., Geijera parvifolia
Cupaniopsis anacardioides         
Alnus sp.
Gleditsia sp.
Populus spp.
Ligustrum sp.
Betula spp.

Watch for Signs of Decline

You can use the images in the gallery below as a visual guide to keep an eye out for the 5 stages of decline in your trees. (Good > Top Dieback > Discoloration > Dieback - No Growth > Dead). 

Learn More about Smart Water Management

When you conserve water, you’re benefitting your community and the environment at large. If you have further questions on ways to conserve water in your landscape, let us know.

How to Preserve Your Trees During Drought

Maintain a Healthy Landscape During Drought

Maintain a Healthy Landscape During Drought Is Your Landscape Water Smart?

Droughts are challenging but you can count on BrightView to advise you every step of the way. We proactively monitor local city and water agency restrictions ensuring our team is well prepared to assist you.

Your Landscape is in Good Hands

Is Your Landscape Water Smart? Maintain a Healthy Landscape During Drought
BrightView proactively monitors local city and water agency restrictions ensuring our team is well prepared to assist you.

There are a number of things BrightView can do to maintain the quality of your landscape.

  1. Develop a plan based on your property needs and local restrictions.
  2. Complete system inspections regularly to identify sources of water waste as quickly as possible.
  3. Implement irrigation system and component upgrades that increase water savings.
  4. Aerate turf and add mulch around trees, shrubs and planting beds.
  5. Check water levels in soil around important assets like trees which are susceptible to drought.
  6. Prioritize areas that require maximum aesthetic value so water can be applied wisely.
  7. Consider selectively removing or replacing high water use plants and capping non-essential irrigation.
  8. Modify your plant palette and convert fountains to planters.
  9. Evaluate your overall landscape design and how sustainable it is.
  10. Create a short-term and long-term plan to address your property needs.

Every Drop Counts

Our water management experts work with you to develop a plan specific to your property that minimizes water use without sacrificing quality.

Is Your Landscape Water Smart? Maintain a Healthy Landscape During Drought

Ground Covers: Enhancing Commercial Landscapes

Ground Covers: Enhancing Commercial Landscapes Reducing the natural challenges commercial landscapes encounter
Japanese Spunge
Ground covers have several benefits for your soil, including improving its quality, providing insulation, and preventing erosion.

In the landscaping world, ground covers refer to the typically perennial, low-lying plants that spread and creep across sections of your grounds. They provide visible appeal with minimal maintenance.

Similar to mulch, ground cover plants provide a cost-effective means to cover the soil, creating interest, and finishing the design look of any landscape. These dependable and hardworking plants come in a wide variety of color and texture choices and solve a variety of landscaping challenges.

Ground Cover Contributes to Soil Care

Improves Soil Quality: Ground cover improves the humus levels in the soil. In its simplest description, humus is a slow-release organic fertilizer for your plants that is found in the soil. The more organic matter in the soil, the richer the humus content and the better chances all the plants will thrive.

Provides Soil Insulation: Ground cover plants offer a layer of protection and insulation. In the hot summer months, the plants help maintain the soil's cool temperature, trapping in moisture levels. This can result in less need for supplemental watering and, in turn, saves you money. During the winter months, they help warm the earth, protecting plant roots from the low temperatures in colder seasons.

Prevents Soil Erosion: Perfect for sloping areas or hillsides, some ground cover plants help protect the soil from eroding. They also protect the landscape from soil erosion during high winds and heavy rains.


Evergreens are by far the most popular type of ground covers and keep their color year-round. They have the ability to turn what could have been a bleak and dead-looking landscape into one that is lush in every season. As a bonus, they require little to no maintenance and grow in a variety of regions, soils, and sun conditions. Ground covers can also help minimize weeds in two ways. First, by covering the soil so that weed seeds have a harder time germinating. Second, once the ground cover matures, weeds are physically suppressed from growing.

As the country’s largest commercial landscape company, BrightView has a vast knowledge of which plants work best in which environments. Discover some of our favorite ground covers and the challenges they overcome below.

Landscaping Challenges

1. Zones

Not all plants are suited to grow in all climates and conditions. So how do you know if the plant you fell in love with will flourish in your landscape? Fear not.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a climate zone map that divides the country by zone boundaries. These zones correlate to the zone recommendations you will find on plants, shrubs, and trees from the growers.

2. Shade
Hosta Ground Cover
Hosta provide an attractive and lush covering, particularly where shade and roots make grass difficult to grow.

Wet, shaded areas of your landscape can often drown out the roots of some plants.

  • Sweet Woodruff: Ideal for Zones 4 to 8, they grow to a height of 6 to 12 inches with a spread of 9 to 18 inches. They flourish in dense shade and are perfect for below trees and shrubs. Their tiny white flowers will bloom in the early spring.
  • Bishop's Weed: Ideal for Zones 4 to 9, they grow to a height of 12 inches and have an unlimited spread. This a fast-aggressive plant that comes in a variety of leaf choices, but works well in contained spaces, such as between buildings or a building and sidewalk. It is not evergreen as it does drop leaves in winter.
  • Ajuga: Ideal for Zones 3 to 9, they grow to a height of 4 to 9 inches with an unlimited spread. Ajuga aggressively spreads via runners and can tend to be invasive if not controlled properly. It is ideal for large areas, helps to choke out weeds due to its denseness, and is resistant to deer. There is an array of varieties with leaf colors ranging from shades of green, maroon, bronze, purple, pink, or white. Tiny spikes of blue, pink, lavender, or white flowers will bloom on spikes in mid to late spring.
  • Lamium: Ideal for Zones 3 to 8, they grow to a height of 6 to 8 inches and spread almost twice as wide. It has a delicate silver-marked foliage that tolerates cold, heat, and drought and is deer resistant.
  • Hosta: Ideal for Zones 3 to 8, they grow to varying heights up to 2 feet with a spread from 4 inches up to 6 feet, depending on the variety. Their foliage ranges from forest and lime green to variegated and all white. From May through August, blooms of small white or purple blossoms on top of tall spikes are loved by hummingbirds and bees.
  • Brass Buttons: Ideal for Zones 5 to 9, they grow to a height of 3 inches and spread up to 18 inches. They like moist, but well-drained soil. They feature textured, feathery foliage in shades of bronze-black to purple-gray and have small, button-like yellow-green blooms in late spring and early summer.
  • Periwinkle: Ideal for Zones 4 to 8, they grow to a height of 3 to 6 inches and trailing vines that grow to 18 inches long. Their blue, lavender, purple, or white flowers bloom in the spring and sometimes have a second, though less spectacular showing in the summer. Incredibly adaptable, they can grow in full sun to full shade, can tolerate drought conditions, and even assist in preventing soil erosion. These almost self-maintaining vines are deer and rabbit resistant and are ignored by most insects.
3. Drought
Creeping Thyme Ground Cover
Creeping Thyme is excellent planted as a lawn substitute or among stepping stones or pavers to create a living patio.

If your region doesn't get a lot of rain, that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice colorful foliage. Plenty of ground covers can withstand the heat. Commercial landscapers are turning to drought-resistant plantings more often to preserve natural resources and save on costs. Here are a few of BrightView's favorites.

  • Pink Creeping Myoporum: Ideal for Zones 8 to 9, they grow up to a height and spread of 9 inches. These west coast favorite, low growing shrubs prefer full sun. They are both deer resistant and fire defensible. Their small, white flowers appear in the spring and last through the summer.
  • Dragon's Blood Sedum: Ideal for Zones 3 to 10, they grow to a height of 8 inches and spread up to 18 inches. They are super hardy, withstanding a wide range of temperatures and conditions and help to choke out weeds. During the summer, the succulent's leaves are a bright dark green with a burgundy edge. In the fall, those leaves turn to a deep dramatic red that gives the plant its name.
  • Creeping Juniper: Ideal for Zones 3 to 10, they grow up to a height of 12 inches and spread as much as 8 feet. The leaves on this low-growing shrub have a blue tint in the warmer months and turn to a purple-red tint in colder months. Due to their spread, they assist in soil erosion.
  • Lamb's Ears: Ideal for Zones 4 to 9, they grow to a height of 12- to 18-inches tall and spread as much as 12 inches, depending upon the variety. Growing in full sun or partial shade, they flower in summer with tiny white, pink, purple, violet, or red blooms, but its the fuzzy, silvery-green leaves that are the real attraction of these plants.
  • Japanese Spurge: Ideal for Zones 4 to 8, they grow to a height of 6 inches and double that in width. An incredibly tolerant plant, it will grow in partial and/or full shade, drought conditions, and is resistant to pests. While it produces pretty white flowers in the spring, it is grown primarily for its dark, leathery green foliage.
  • Creeping Phlox: Ideal for Zones 3 to 9, they grow to a height of 2 to 8 inches and spread from 9 to 24 inches. Preferring partial shade and average soil moisture, they are early spring bloomers with pink, purple, blue, and white star-shaped flowers.
  • Nepeta: Ideal for Zones 3 to 8, they grow to a height of 10 to 24 inches and spread up to 24 inches. While flexible in their sun exposure - full sun to part shade - they prefer dry to medium moisture and well-drained soil. Its fuzzy, billowing foliage produces spikes of purple flowers in early summer, which return throughout the season.
  • Creeping Thyme: Ideal for Zones 5 to 9, they grow up to 4-inches tall and are slow to spread to their ultimate 36 inches. They prefer moderate climates, but can withstand full sun and drougt-like conditions. Ideal for controlling weeds and repelling deer, they also attract butterflies, honeybees, and other cross pollinators.
  • English Ivy: Ideal for Zones 4 to 9, they grow to a height of 6 inches with vines that can reach 24 inches. Incredibly tolerant, it will grow in partial and/or full sun and prefers well-drained soil, but will grow well in any soil condition. It covers the ground so thoroughly that it holds the ground together, presenting soil erosion while choking out the weeds.

Trust the BrightView Professionals

Your commercial landscape team of professionals at BrightView has the experience and knowledge to help you select the right ground cover for your region and property type.

Japanese Spurge ground cover

Experts’ Top Five Ways to Conserve Water on Your Golf Course

Experts’ Top Five Ways to Conserve Water on Your Golf Course We asked our golf course maintenance experts’ for their tried and true water conservation solutions.

Drought, abnormally dry conditions, water restrictions—the last few years have been hard on the golf industry. Undoubtedly, no matter where your course is located, you and your team are working to conserve water. To help you get ahead, we’ve rounded up our golf course maintenance experts’ top five, tried and true, water conservation solutions

1. Do an Irrigation Audit

Before you undertake any water conservation efforts, do an audit of your course’s current water situation. Determine water use per acre and make sure your calculations are correct. Map your irrigation system, noting the efficiency and working order of every nozzle and valve. Adjust nozzles and water pressure as necessary, ensure your irrigation system’s programming reflects the changes and plan to address any deficiencies.

According to Ted Horton, BrightView’s Senior Consulting Superintendent, a comprehensive water audit and regularly scheduled maintenance of irrigation systems can reduce annual water usage on a golf course by about 5 to 10 percent.

sprinklers on a golf course
Ready to cut your course's water usage? According to our experts, the first step is an irrigation audit.

2. Revisit Your Course’s Cultural and Maintenance Practices

Though it may seem obvious, it’s important to know the water needs of your plants in order to understand how and where to prioritize water use. Once you know that, you can consider adjusting cultural practices to save water. For instance, studies have shown plant growth regulators can cut down on water use by about 11 percent per year. Using wetting agents or soil penetrants also helps ensure the water you are using will be readily absorbed into root systems.

There are other simple steps you can take to help conservation efforts. Make sure your mower blades are sharp and reduce the height of the cut in the rough. You can also aerate and reduce soil compaction to allow water to infiltrate more efficiently. Consider hand watering instead of turning on irrigation heads and wash equipment with pressurized air rather than water. Don’t skip routine golf course maintenance practices. Aeration, sand topdressing, verticutting and a good fertility management program assist with soil compaction and allow for better moisture penetration, saving water usage in the long-term.

3. Use Soil Moisture Sensors

If you’re not already doing so, add soil moisture sensors to your golf course maintenance toolkit. Far more efficient and affordable than in the past, these sensors measure moisture content in turf and enable you to dial in irrigation efforts.

Mike Huck, a water quality and conservation specialist who consults at golf courses nationally, compared good soil moisture sensors to gas gauges. “The information these sensors provide is real time and exact,” he said. “It’s not based on opinion or a guess about the weather.”

Huck told of one Arizona golf client who, following information provided by soil moisture sensors in his turf, turned off irrigation in one zone one night per week. The savings amounted to half a million gallons of water per night.

“His turf didn’t suffer at all,” said Huck. “And over the course of a month, the amount of water and money saved was pretty significant.”

4. Plant Drought Tolerant Turf and/or Consider Turf Conversion

By far one of the most impactful ways to conserve water is through turf reduction and conversion projects. Kevin Neal, BrightView Vice President and Area Director for the West, has seen clubs take several approaches, including installing artificial turf on driving ranges, planting drought tolerant landscaping around bunkers, and converting turf from cool to warm season grasses.

“Just going from something like Rye grass to Bermuda grass can cut water use by as much as 15 percent,” said Neal. However, as Neal points out, planting a warm season grass that goes dormant in the winter requires a mind shift among clubs and players alike.

“People are getting used to not seeing green grass all the time,” said Neal. “But the reasons behind any turf conversion project need to be communicated clearly so that everyone can get behind and support the decision.”

5. Explore Alternative Water Sources

Being smart about water conservation means being aware of all water sources around you. Alternative sources to consider include wells, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams. Find out about recycled water opportunities in your area. For example, if sewer lines can be tapped into and skimmed, find out how you can do this and whether you can secure this resource for future use.

“Only 30 percent of golf courses are not using potable water, which means a lot still are,” said Ted Horton. “With water becoming ever scarcer, we all need to look at how we are using this precious resource. It’s up to all of us to use water as carefully and efficiently as possible.”

Golf Course Maintenance
water hazard on a golf course

3 Reasons to Use Drought-Tolerant or Native Plants

3 Reasons to Use Drought-Tolerant or Native Plants Native or drought-tolerant plants will save you time and money by needing less water to survive
Agave drought-tolerant plant
Agave plants look great in a landscape and require minimal irrigation.

A native plant is one occurring naturally, in a given geography, without human involvement. These are the plants growing on the landscape without the aid of humans. A drought-tolerant plant, on the other hand, is not necessarily native to the area, but can survive in your landscape with less than normal amounts of rainfall. There are three main reasons to use these two types of plants in your landscape.

1. Less Water

Because drought-tolerant plants have adapted to dryer climates and have lower water requirements, they naturally use less water. Although native plants are not necessarily drought tolerant, once established, they usually require minimal supplemental irrigation. Agave plants are a great example of a plant that looks beautiful and requires minimal irrigation. However, you should always research your geography requirements to make sure you are using the right native plants.

2. Lower Maintenance 

Not only can you look forward to using less water with native plants, but because these plants have adapted to their environment, you can also spend less time fertilizing, pruning, and caring for them in general. Most likely, you can maintain a beautiful garden by only spending a little time with them each month. Drought-tolerant plants tend to be more disease-free and pest-resistant so you can spend less time on fertilization.

Lantanas drought-tolerant plant
Lantanas add beauty without requiring a lot of water.

3. More Beauty

Drought-tolerant landscapes do not have to mean cactus, succulents, and rocks. Well designed, drought-tolerant landscapes can look attractive all year long. Even when using drought-tolerant and native plants, you can have an abundance of color in your landscape. Colorful plants, such as lantana, verbena, and agastache, will add beauty without requiring a lot of water. Houzz has some great examples of colorful, drought-tolerant landscapes.

Choosing the right plants for the right place is one of the most important considerations for all types of landscaping. Careful planning and completing a thorough evaluation of your landscape is an important first step when designing a new space. Drought-tolerant and native plants can help you avoid a costly landscape which looks unhealthy.

Water Management
Benefits of Drought Tolerant Plants

Top Drought Tolerant Plants for California

Top Drought Tolerant Plants for California Tree, shrub, groundcover selections to make the make the most of any California based landscaping project

Landscapers are increasingly turning to drought-tolerant landscaping as a way to preserve resources and save costs. With the increasing frequency of wildfires in California, the need to conserve water is even more critical. Here is a list of some top choices for drought-tolerant trees and shrubs for Northern and Southern California for front yard landscaping, public areas, and landscaping for graded/sloped areas.

Top Drought-Tolerant Plants for Front Yard Landscaping in California

Myoporum and olive trees
The yellow-green of Myoporum, a water-wise lawn substitute, sets off the silvery tones of olive trees.

There are a few basic things to consider when selecting plants for the front yard:

  • Choose plants that stay contained and compact; unwieldy and woody plants make a yard feel small and less tidy.

  • Go for plants that will please year-round, such as evergreens or deciduous plants and trees with good branching structures.

  • Consider varied texture and color. Mix grass and agave (fine vs. bold) or blend green and variegated plants.

  • Go with plants that echo the architecture, i.e. Spanish vs. Cottage.

Northern California


  • Redbud: This thrifty water-user produces brilliant spring blossoms.

  • Tabebuia: Sometimes called pink or golden trumpet trees because of its trumpet-shaped blossoms.

  • Arbutus 'marina:' This is a broadleaf evergreen tree which requires minimal care.

Shrubs and Groundcover

  • Myoporum 'pink' (as a lawn substitute): This is a deer-resistant groundcover which grows in sun or shade and produces tiny, pink flowers in the summer.

  • Callistemon 'Little John:' A mid-sized, red flowering evergreen shrub.

  • Coffeeberry: Member of the buckthorn family with shiny, dark leaves and reddish berries.
Yucca and Agave Plants
Yucca geminflora and Agave desmettiana add a sculptural note against the softness of rosemary.

Southern California


  • Olea 'wilsonii:' This is a fruitless olive tree with no mess.

  • Carolina laurel: Producing deep green foliage, this is a spring-flowering tree.

  • Rhus lancea: Commonly called African sumac, its an evergreen with sword-shaped leaves.

Shrubs and Groundcover

  • Sedges and Salvias: These both add color to the landscape and are pollinators.

  • Agave: Tough-as-nails and adds nice texture and contrast.

  • Dymondia (as a lawn substitute): This groundcover, often refered to as mini-gazania, grows flat to the ground.

Top Drought-Tolerant Plants for Public Space Landscaping in California

It goes without saying that public space landscapes need to be hardy, but these spaces also need to be an attractive visual endorsement for the commercial or pubic property they surround. Public space landscaping also requires higher maintenance, so keep these things in mind:

  • Choose plants which can withstand heavy traffic.

  • Consider the plant's year-round appeal.

  • Select plants with high visual interest; plants with showy foliage, such as succulents and purple grasses, or plants with showy bark, such as Manzanitas and Arbutus.

Northern California


  • Desert Willow: Called a "willow" because of the shape of the leaves. It is related to the Catalpa.

  • Acacia aneura: This tree is commonly known as "mulga," or "true mulga."

  • Citrus: These trees take a lot of specific nutrients, but not a lot of water.

Shrubs and Groundcover

  • Lamb's Ears: This plant is soft and velvety in texture and deer-resistant.

  • Groundcover roses: Baby Blanket or the ever-hardy White Meidiland are great groundcover options.

  • Bioswale plants such as Juncus and Carex: Perfect for use in low points within the landscape to help clean the rain runoff before it enters streams and the ocean.
Dragons Blood Sedum
A colorful and drought-tolerant groundcover pair: Dragon’s Blood Sedum with shrubs of Dymondia Omit Heath.

Southern California


  • California Bay: These large hardwood trees native to California's coastal forests.

  • Catalina Cherry: Evergreen that produces red berries and showy, white flowers in the spring.

  • Crape Myrtle: Blooming mid- to late summer, this tree comes in various shades of pink.

Shrubs and Groundcover

  • Ribes: The genus contains about 150 species, several of which are native to California.

  • Achillea: Also known as yarrow, legend has it that it was gifted to the war hero, Achilles, by the Olympian gods to help quell the bleeding of his soldiers during the Trojan War.

  • Fremontodendron: Best time to plant is late autumn.

Top Drought-Tolerant Plants for Graded/Slope Landscaping in California

Most of the remaining developable land in California is located on hillsides and landscaping such sites takes careful consideration. In addition, much of this land borders natural open spaces, so planting native allows the area to regenerate and flow seamlessly into neighboring areas while also conserving valuable water resources. Think about these basic factors when developing graded landscapes or slopes:

  • If exposure to wildfires is an issue, plant the most fire-resistant plants closest to structures and emanate outward.

  • If possible, convert the area back to native plants. It saves money, water, and the maintenance associated with more exotic landscapes.

  • Think about tighter spacing and more showy plants to enhance trail edges and parkways.

Northern California


  • Oaks: Valley Oaks and Coast Live Oaks are able to withstand the long, dry summers of California. It is best to plant oaks young as any major change in its environment can weaken or kill it, no matter how healthy it is.

  • Redwoods: A California icon, it is adaptable to most soil conditions. Word to the wise: these are very fast-growing trees, so plant with that in mind.

  • California Christmas Tree: Also known as Deodar Cedar. Allow plenty of room around these fast-growing trees to best display its stately shape.

Shrubs and Groundcover

  • Ceanothus: This plant composes about 50 to 60 species. Try Ceanothus Yankee point and Concha.

  • Manzanitas: There are lots of varieties of these shrubs that work well in cooler climates.

  • Echium: "Pride of Madera" is the common name. This plant is very showy and tough.

  • Encelia californica: This shrub is commonly referred to as "California bush sunflower."

Southern California


Deer Grass
Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass) is a striking and water-efficient way to add shape to a landscape.
  • Native Walnut varieties: Juglans nigra, also known as Black Walnut, originated in Persia, but thrive in Southern California's dry conditions.

  • Oaks: There are over 20 species of native California oaks, from shrubby species which only grow a few feet to the mighty oak trees. Many species of native oaks are not regenerating adequately in California, which in turn threatens the oak forests themselves and the wildlife that use them as resources.

  • Sycamore (plant at base of slopes): This is one of the largest hardwood trees. It's great for shade.

Shrubs and Groundcover

  • Baccharis: This plant is in the aster family It is sometimes referred to as "brooms" because of the plant's small, thin leaves.

  • Acacia: Named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus after the African species Acacia nilotica.

  • Yucca or Opuntias: These are great for adding focal points and sculptural shapes.

  • Deer Grass: Grows in dense clumps with spiky flower stalks and creates striking forms in a landscape.
Agave - Drought Tolerant Plants of CA
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