One of the most overlooked ways to conserve water is to reduce wind-driven evaporation in the garden, especially of water in soil. People often forget to protect plants from the wind, which can cause soil to dry out more quickly. While you want your garden to have good airflow, native California shrubs provide excellent windbreaks while not using too much water themselves.
Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.) are native to California and the western United States. These medium-to-low shrubs are very drought-resistant. Some of the species are tolerant of sand or clay, but others are not, so if you live at the coast or in areas with clay soils, choose your cultivars carefully. These shrubs help stop wind from sweeping across your garden, drying out soil. The clusters of drooping, bell-shaped flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds, very common visitors to California gardens. The flowers are also available in shades ranging from white to rich purple.
The coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) shrub requires little water, but it does need care to stay trimmed. The shrub has berries that attract birds, so if you like birdsong, this is the shrub for you. It’s also a butterfly attractor with its tiny clusters of flowers hidden among foliage. It’s good for sandy soils but tolerates most types, and it can grow as tall as 8 feet high.
If you’d prefer a more tree-like bank of shrubs, look at western redbud (Cercis occidentalis). This is a shrub that can grow to 20 feet tall and be trained into tree-like shapes. Dark pink to violet flowers brighten up winter. The shrub works in many types of soils but does best in woodland-type areas. It’s drought-tolerant and another good hummingbird and butterfly attractor.
If you really want to save water, though, reserve the water you have for the shrubs and modify other parts of the garden, such as your lawn. By using artificial grass, for example, you can save most of the water that would have otherwise gone into the ground.
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