The Best Spring Plants For Southern California

The top spring plants for southern California available at a nearby plant nursery.

Written by Kara M.

The Best Spring Plants For Southern California

With spring in the air, many Southern Californians have planting on their minds. This is a popular time to refresh and update gardens, and with good reason; many plants do best when planted in the springtime. But how do you know what to plant? That comes down to a  combination of personal preference, and local climate. Our environment and weather dictate the types of plants that will thrive, and there are a few things to consider when choosing new plants.

In Southern California, temperatures can vary greatly, from cool winter evenings, to sweltering summer afternoons. This means that outdoor plants here must be able to withstand very hot weather. Because we continue to experience drought conditions, plants that can survive without an abundance of water can be practical and appealing. Due to the sometimes poor quality of our soil, varieties that thrive in less-than-ideal soil conditions can be a great option. And because our air quality can be compromised by pollution and smoke from wildfires, any plant that is adept at withstanding urban pollution could be a great option.

Additionally, as you know, space can be at a premium in our Southern California neighborhoods. Some residents have lush, spacious backyards in which to cultivate a garden, while others may have only a small patch of grass, or even a windowsill on which to grow new plants. Not to worry- there’s an option for every situation!

Below, please check out four plant varieties that are sure to make your springtime gardening projects dazzle.

Shrub Roses

For many, roses bring back nostalgic memories of childhood gardens, sweet scents, or romantic evenings. One of our most popular flowers, roses come in hundreds of varieties, and differ greatly in appearance, needs, and hardiness. Here in Southern California, shrub roses are often a great option. These types of rose bushes grow thick, wide, and moderately tall. Once mature, they can provide privacy, hiding your yard from the street.

There are many types of shrub roses, like the Bewitched Rose, the Chrysler Imperial Rose, and the First Prize Rose. Each of these is fairly easy to plant, and will establish itself quickly, making them a good option for those just beginning their foray into gardening.

These thick rose bushes produce beautiful, fragrant flowers in a variety of colors to create an eye-catching display. When several are planted side-by-side, they can create a beautiful natural fence of sorts. Because most roses start to bloom in the spring, it’s best to choose a potted rose bush, rather than a bare-root plant at this time of year. This will make it easier for the plant to acclimate to its new environment, without stunting the growth cycle.

These hardy plants can do well in nutrient-poor soil, and don’t need a ton of attention to grow. They can withstand warm temperatures but do best if at least partially shielded from the afternoon sun, especially in the summer. They’re fairly immune to airborne pollution and aren’t very prone to diseases or pest infestations. Plus, they smell incredible!

Kiwi Aeonium

While it shares the same name as the exotic fruit, this plant has nothing to do with kiwis. In fact, it’s a hardy and colorful succulent. Gardening newbies, this one’s for you. Succulents are known for being relatively easy to grow, and the kiwi aeonium is no exception. If it’s given some water, some sunlight, and a little TLC, this plant is likely to thrive in our warm climate.

Unlike some garden plants, this species can be successfully cultivated indoors as well as outside. It’s small size – it only reaches a height of about 8 inches, and a spread of about 6 inches – makes it an ideal candidate for small spaces or indoor growing. Its orange and pink accents set it apart from typically green succulents, and its yellow flowers really make it pop in the summer when they bloom. If possible, it’s best to plant these in the spring, to give them a chance to root before the active summer season.

In terms of growing requirements well suited to Southern California, it doesn’t get much better than the kiwi aeonium. The plant is drought resistant, meaning it can survive on very little water. It loves full sunlight, is accustomed to growing in barren soil (as long as it drains well) and isn’t very susceptible to air pollution. It doesn’t need to be pruned yet will withstand gentle pruning when necessary. While this plant may look as if it has died in the winter, don’t remove it! It will grow back each spring and can live for up to 10 years. Whether planted in an outdoor rock garden, or an indoor pot, this is a plant that is sure to draw some much-deserved attention.

Wedgewood Blue Lilac

While many varieties of lilac grow very well in Southern California, we’re partial to the Wedgewood blue variation. It’s best to plant these in the very early spring, but potted lilacs can also tolerate being planted later in the season, as long as they’re cared for properly.

Lilacs are an ideal plant for our climate for a number of reasons. They can withstand high temperatures and are quite drought resistant. They grow best in full sunlight, and don’t require any special soil conditions. They aren’t easily affected by airborne pollutants and are generally low maintenance.

The Wedgewood blue variety can be especially well-suited to those who live in apartments or condos and don’t have much outdoor space in which to cultivate a garden. That’s because these fast growing, aggressively blooming plants thrive in hanging baskets and window boxes. If grown in the ground, they tend to grow out and up very quickly, becoming quite large. However, if contained in a basket, pot, or window box, their growth is restricted as they become root bound, meaning they will stay relatively small.

The striking, bluish-purple flowers make a bold statement in any garden, and they produce a strong, pleasant, sweet smell. Additionally, they attract butterflies. What’s not to love?

Mission Fig Tree

This one requires a bit of space, we’ll admit. But in terms of species that thrive in Southern California, the mission fig checks all the boxes. This striking plant, with its bold, dark green leaves, can serve as an impressive centerpiece to any garden. If planted directly into the ground, the mission fig tree can live more than 50 years and grow as tall as 25 feet. It can also grow in an outdoor pot, though it will not reach the same heights.

In our climate, it’s best to plant your mission fig tree in early spring if it’s a bare root tree. If you’re planning to plant later in the season, such as in May or June, a potted tree may be a better choice, as the already established roots better prepare the plant to withstand the warm summer season.

The mission fig grows best in full sun to partial shade, making it suitable for many residential yards. It doesn’t require any special kind of soil, and can thrive in somewhat barren conditions, as we often have here. Perhaps best of all? It’s extremely tolerant of urban pollution, which means it should be able to withstand smog, smoke, or any other airborne pollutants, within reason.

We’d be remiss to bring up the mission fig tree without mentioning one of its greatest perks: its fruit. This tree, when properly cared for, produces an abundance of attractive and delicious fruit in the late summer. The sweet, purple treats can be eaten fresh, cooked, or transformed into delicious jams and preserves. Full disclosure, they can also stain your sidewalk when they begin to fall from the tree, so be sure to pick them up as frequently as you can.

Whether you’re a garden newbie or a seasoned expert, and whether you have endless space to work with or hardly any at all, there are lots of options for spring plants that will thrive in our unique Southern California environment. From flowers to shrubs to trees, the possibilities are endless in your quest to create your ideal California garden. Let us know what species you chose to plant this year, and how it turned out! Happy planting, fellow green thumbs.

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