Putting Together A Waterwise Garden That Still Looks Gorgeous

Creating a beautiful waterwise garden with the help of a nearby plant nursery or garden center.

Written by David S.

Waterwise gardens can still look beautiful and lush but to do so, you have to be crafty with their care. This blog discusses how to put together a waterwise garden using drought-tolerant plants and their care. 

Drought Tolerant Landscape Design Tips

Watering – Do yourself and your plants a favor and group together plants that have similar care needs, such as watering. Use regulated watering tools, such as drip irrigation to water efficiently and that water only the plant root zones rather than the surrounding soil. Pair watering with appropriate soil building by adding supplements and amendments that absorb water and hold it for when the plants need it most. 

Shade and Light Requirements – Pair plants that have similar light needs. Some full-sun plants may appreciate afternoon shade in hotter areas. By pairing these plants together you reduce their stress and make it easier on yourself to create a habitat in which they thrive. 

Soil drainage nutrient needs – Grouping plants by the type of soil they need makes it easier for you to create a growing environment that supports the plants even in low-water conditions.

Plant recommendations

Plant types include:

  • Annuals
  • Perennial
  • Succulents
  • Bulbs
  • Groundcovers
  • Shrubs 
  • Trees 

If you are building a landscape, you get the most out of using perennial plants, shrubs, and trees. These are three categories of plants that once, established require little maintenance besides pruning. 

Annuals, grasses, and bulbs can require more work since they may require replanting each year. That added labor is prepaid though in the freedom you have to change the colors and textures of the plants that grow in your garden. 

Succulents and groundcovers are filler plants that help to close the gaps between focal points in your landscape. Both can be focal plants but often have a connecting role in the garden. 

Trees and shrubs are best used to create shade, block eyesores, or block wind. 

These are not hard and fast rules, and gardeners continue to create unique-looking landscapes by being creative in how and where they plant their gardens. 

Nice looking combinations of plants

Agastache and Golden Yarrow 
These two plants are perennials and produce contrasting bloom colors. Agastache is a beautiful deep pink flowering plant with a spike of color while Golden Yarrow produces flat, disc-like flower heads that are golden. The contrast between deep pink and gold shows off each plant. 

Size – around two feet by two feet. Watering Weekly – Attracts pollinators and provides reliable mid-summer blooms. Space plants every 18″ to 2 feet apart, they will grow together to form a lovely clump. 

A good addition to the mix of Agastache and Yarrow is bunching grasses, which can help “pen” these plants to a specific place. Short groundcovers, such as creeping thyme can also be a beautiful addition to a mixed clump of Agastache and Yarrow. Add depth and dimension by using landscape rocks, river rocks, or wooden structures. Increase the impact with a bird bath or fountain.  

Purple Cone Flower – Echinacea purpurea – and Seaside Daisy –  Erigeron glaucus – 
The purple coneflower offers a soft purple-pink large daisy-like flower while the seaside daisy has smaller blooms, with pink-creamy petals with bright yellow centers. There is a size difference in plant height and this combination works by planting the Echinacea in the back with the seaside daisy as a front border plant. 

Echinacea purpurea gets 3-4 feet tall and will spread 2 or so feet wide. The seaside daisy is short at around one foot in height but spreads two or so feet wide. Plant spacing should be 18″ to two feet apart – watering is weekly and once the root balls of each plant are soaked, they can both go for longer periods without water. However, weekly watering will keep both plants looking nice. Both prefer full sun and will attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. 

Grasses as Focal Plants and Fillers

You can mix bunching grasses and decorative grasses with almost any other type of plant, so long as you pay attention to the height of both plants. Grasses can be short or very tall. 

Feather Reed Grass – Calamagrostis acutifolia – Grows 2-3 feet tall with a feathery buff tuft or spike of color that is nicely contrasted with the bright green blades. It will spread to three feet in width and the bloom stocks will range from three-six feet in height. These are wonderful plants along a walkway, in containers, or as a backdrop in a bed.

Watering is every week and these grasses love full-sun to half-sun locations.  

Foothill Sedge – Carex divulas – A shorter grass to two feet in height and one or so feet wide. They require deep watering every month, and while they do not produce flowers, their bright green blades are striking They will tolerate shade, half sun, and may do okay in full sun. 

Foothill sedge is a lovely plant along a walkway or as a border plant in a bed. They are also wonderful additions to Xeriscape gardens and on hills or slopes. 

Shrubs – A perfect filler 

With shrubs, you want to pay close attention to their mature size. Some stay small, such as cotoneasters and others can almost be considered small trees. Another consideration for shrubs is their fall colors. Some are evergreen while others will put on a beautiful fall display. 

Japanese Barberry – Berberis thunbergii – A beautiful small shrub with reddish green leaves and a wildness that adds a touch of excitement to a hill, or the corner of a garden bed. These stay in the two-foot by three-foot range, and they pair lovely with iris, decorative grasses, smaller ground covers, and even annuals. A good combination would be to pair the Japanese Barberry with creeping thyme or sedums in bright yellows. 

Water every 1-2 weeks once established. Space two feet from other plants and allow them to fill in. If there is a gap, you can fill that with annuals. 

Bottlebrush – Callistemon – Tall in the 8-10 foot range. 

A wispy shrub with long airy blooms that almost looks grass-like. The soft pink color is delightful in windy locations as they sway and bob. Plant these along fences or in the background and allow them to fill out the space. These are good plants for dampening road noise and blocking eyesores. These will be happy in full sun or half sun with afternoon shade. You can pair these with butterfly bushes as both will be a magnet for pollinators. Water every two-three weeks

Waterwise plants are available in both native and cultivated varieties. Many native plants will thrive in local conditions and may be easier to grow than cultivated varieties. 

A good design tip is to consider the growing space as a cube rather than a flat rectangle or square. Design with height in mind and if you buy small plants, visualize how they will fill the spot where you place them. A small sage plant, for example, can grow into a three-foot wide plant. Overcrowding is not beneficial to waterwise plants. 

The list of plants that are waterwise is quite long. Explore your options for low-water plants by visiting any of the five Southern California, Green Thumb Nursery locations. Our plant experts are available to help answer your question and discuss the attributes of the plant, their growing needs, and water requirements. 

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