Go Native!

Go Native!
Water saving can be beautiful when you garden like nature intended

By Debbie Arrington
Guest Writer

Spring is the time to fall in love with low-water California native plants. From golden poppies to vibrant redbuds, they bloom in a rainbow of brilliant hues, brightening nearby hillsides as well as suburban landscapes. And these easy-care plants put on this eye-catching show even during dry years.

Refreshed by winter rains, plants native to our Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills look their best in early spring. That’s how nature intended; the better to attract bees. Their flowers provide needed nectar and pollen to dozens of native bee species.

To replace that thirsty grass, native plants can be transplanted in spring or fall. Once established, these cast-iron perennials and shrubs can tolerate the driest conditions. Even in years with normal rainfall, they save water compared to traditional lawn-based landscaping because they naturally need less moisture year-round to look their best.

That adaptability is a huge asset. During summer, most Sacramento-area household water use goes towards landscaping. But summer is when many California native plants need little if any irrigation.

“When you plant natives, you use way less water,” says landscape designer Soleil Tranquilli, owner of Tranquilli Gardens and a water-wise specialist. “You also spend way less time managing your garden. They are less expensive, too; there’s no need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It makes it better for us when we make it better for nature.”

Rebates available

Rebates from your water provider may be available for lawn removal and landscape makeovers. Learn more here.

Where to view local examples

At the Fair Oaks Horticulture in Fair Oaks Park, visit the WEL (Water-Efficient Landscape) Demonstration Garden created by the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Sacramento County. The garden is open free daily, dawn to dusk. Details are here.

Online, find extensive galleries of local landscapes featured on Gardens Gone Native garden tours. Hosted by the Sacramento Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society, these tours showcase gardens using at least 25 percent natives. Find information here.

Need ideas?

Here are Soleil Tranquilli’s Top five best native shrubs or perennials to grow in Sacramento region

  • Bush anemone (Carpenteria californica): Evergreen shrub with showy white flowers.
  • Golden currant (Ribes aureum): Can take Sacramento’s summer heat with practically no summer water.
  • Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea): Produces lots of fragrant pink and lilac flowers in dry shade.
  • Coffeeberry (Frangula californica): Makes a great hedge or divider that bees can’t resist.
  • Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): Gray-green aromatic foliage contrasts with whorls of blue flowers.

Additional resources


Debbie Arrington is a longtime home and garden reporter and author of the blog Sacramento Digs Gardening.