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  • Michael A. Jones / Bee file

    With the many varieties of low-water plants, you can have color in a drier setting.

  • Florence Low / Bee file

    With smooth, mahogany-red bark , the strawberry tree looks like a giant manzanita. It can reach 50 feet in height.

  • Monterey Bay Nursery

    Salvia Clevelandii is one more than 700 perennials ans shrubs in the sage family, offering a wide tange of colors

  • The white flowers of bush anemone can brighten an area. The shrub can grow to 8 feet in height.

Unthirsty plant picks

Published: Saturday, Mar. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 - 7:40 pm

Looking for water-efficient plants? Start with the UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars, 100 easy-care, low-water plants recommended for use in the Sacramento Valley. In addition, the arboretum's 75 Community Favorites are just that – great easy-care plants recommended by area volunteers. Low water use is a priority among these Favorites, too.

Find photo galleries of both Arboretum All-Stars and Community Favorites at The Bee's Home & Garden page,

Or see the plants in person at the arboretum's gardens. Many of the All-Stars are part of the university landscape, formal collections or featured in demonstration gardens at the arboretum teaching nursery on Garrod Drive. Local nurseries such as Green Acres stock several of these plants.

The arboretum's teaching nursery will hold its public sales on April 6, April 28 and May 18. For directions and more details, click on

• Water Efficient Landscape (WEL) Gardens dot the Sacramento area. The Regional Water Authority ( offers an online guide to a dozen, including the San Juan Water District WEL Garden (9935 Auburn Folsom Road, Granite Bay) and the Sacramento County master gardeners' WEL demonstration gardens at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park (8100 Temple Park Drive, Fair Oaks).

• This week is the Regional Water Authority's Fix a Leak Week, which can make any landscape more water-efficient. One leaky sprinkler can waste more than 20 gallons a day. The RWA – which represents 25 water providers – offers links to how-to videos, tips for repairing irrigation systems and fun contests at

That website also provides links to rebate information for removing lawn or updating irrigation, and a water- efficient plant database with more than 1,800 suggestions. Go directly to the plants at


We asked landscape professionals and horticulturists to pick a few plants they like for water-efficient makeovers. Their suggestions:

• Vine Hill manzanita (Artostaphylos densiflora Howard McMinn): An Arboretum All-Star, this California native shrub grows 6 to 10 feet tall and looks beautiful year-round with its wine-red bark and clusters of urn-shaped flowers in the winter – "just when we need to see some beauty in our gardens," designer Cheryl Buckwalter said. She also recommended the more compact Sunset manzanita (it stays under 5 feet) for smaller spaces.

• Bush anemone (Carpenteria californica Elizabeth):Another native, this handsome shrub grows up to 8 feet tall and thrives in afternoon shade. "Its white flowers brighten the area," Buckwalter said.

• California native lilacs (Ceanothus): Several hybrid varieties are available including the bright-blue Ray Hartman and Concha, and pale-pink Marie Simon. Ceanothus is a bestseller, said Green Acres' Andy Emmert, "especially the striking gold and green variegated Diamond Heights."

• Grevillea: Featuring a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, these Australian shrubs have become water-efficient landscape stars. They're also "excellent hummingbird attractors," Emmert said.

• Strawberry tree (Arbutus "Marina"): With smooth, mahogany-red bark, this tree looks like a giant manzanita. It can reach 50 feet and boasts loads of white flower clusters followed by little red fruit.

"It's an excellent evergreen tree," Emmert said.

• Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis): No relation to true willows, this small, graceful tree (15-20 feet) offers large clusters of sweet-smelling pink to violet flowers in late summer. See examples in Sacramento's Capital Park near the succulent garden.

• Pink Dawn chitalpa (Chitalpa x tashkentensis Pink Dawn): This hybrid crossed the desert willow with catalpa, a shade tree, to create a 30-foot flowering tree with loads of orchidlike pink flowers. Because the blooms are sterile, there are no seed pods – and less mess.

• Texas ranger (Leucophyllum zygophyllum Cimarron): This 3-foot gray-green perennial sprouts loads of purple flowers. Said Buckwalter, "Whenever I've used this in one of my designs, my clients love them!"

• Coral bells (Heuchera): With interesting foliage and fairylike flowers, this ground cover loves dry shade. Look for colorful hybrids with purple or silver-laced leaves.

• Rosemary (Rosmarinus): A staple of water-efficient gardens, chose either upright or spreading varieties. Bees love the blue flowers.

• Sage (Salvia): This large family features more than 700 perennials and shrubs. They offer a wide range of flower colors; some sages are tasty, too.

• Yarrow (Achillea): An old favorite is finding many new fans; it's an almost no-care ground cover. New hybrids offer flowers in several pretty pastels.

– Debbie Arrington

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