Brittlebush in Bloom

Brittlebush in Bloom

  • Plant in fall to early spring – avoid planting in summer if at all possible.
  • Dig a hole at least twice as wide and half again as deep as the planting container size.
  • Pre-irrigate the planting hole so there is adequate moisture around the root system. Fill the hole with water and allow it to drain.
  • Remove the plant from its container slowly. Most natives will not be the standard size of a nursery-grown plant. They tend to be smaller and not as established while still in the pot. Place your hand on the soil with your fingers spread around the base of the plant. Turn the container upside down, and with a slight tap on the bottom, the plant should slide out. Keeping both hands on the root ball, place it in the hole.
  • Set the plant crown one inch higher than the soil level so that moisture drains away from the stem. Planting too deeply will cause rot.
  • It is advisable to install a deep-water sleeve (3” x 18” perforated drain pipe) beside the new plant to aid in deep irrigation to establish a deeper root system.
  • If you choose to amend the soil, incorporate a well-composed mulch (no manure), and mix it half and half with soil removed from the hole. Back-fill the hole with the pre-mixed soil and mulch. Potting mixes containing synthetic material such as perlite, vermiculite, and supplemental nutrients should be avoided. These materials do nothing to improve soil conditions over time, and do not allow for a smooth transition into the native soil. Keep mulch and excess soil away from the crown.
  • For plants larger than 5 gallons, add water into the hole at the same time as you back-fill with soil to eliminate air pockets. Tamp backfill in gently.
  • The only time you cannot over-water a native is on the day you plant. Provide ample water to each plant and generous water to an entire bed or area of new plantings.
  • Add mulch on the soil surface to hold soil moisture and cool plant roots, but avoid burying trunk or stems. The best mulch to use around most desert plants is rocks or gravel, or even large pieces of driftwood. Desert plants that naturally grow on more shaded north-facing slopes and canyons (holly-leaf cherry, manzanita, scrub oaks, mountain mahogany, sugar bush, etc.), can be mulched with wood chips or chipped bark.
  • Many native plants also like to have a rock placed on their south side to help moderate soil temperature and retain moisture.
  • Because nursery-grown plants are prone to being chewed by the native animal life, it is advisable to provide a temporary wire enclosure for the first season, or until the plant sends out new growth, at which time you can remove the enclosure (except in extremely dry years, when animals are desperate for food).

Why Plant Native?

Inviting Native Plants into Your Yard

Tips on Watering Native Plants

Nurseries Selling California Native Plants

Native Plants for High-Desert Gardens

Water regularly in cool months; less frequently, but deeply in hot months.

One of the biggest advantages of using California native plants is that you can select plants whose water needs match our climate. California native plants are well adapted to our climate and can tolerate extended periods of heat and drought. Many California natives in the wild experience a drought-induced dormancy in the summer. They simply maintain their size and shape, add very little or no new growth, and sometimes even lose a few leaves toward the end of the season. This is how they “tough it out.” For natives to display such resilience during our long, hot, rainless season, they need to be well-established with extensive, deep root systems. You can help them establish deep roots by irrigating them properly with deep, in­frequent watering.

Songbird Cottage Yard

Songbird Cottage Yard

To have well-established plants in the summer, it is best to plant in the fall to spring planting window. Summer is the most difficult season to install native plants in the landscape. Wait until fall if at all possible and you will decrease the amount of irrigation needed to establish na­tive plants over their first few years. You may successfully plant natives any time from fall until spring, but they will require less water to become well-established the earlier they are planted in the fall-to-spring planting window.

How Much Water?

You can kill natives with too much water, espe­cially during summer months. In general, Cali­fornia’s arid natives in both the low and high desert get significant rainfall only during win­ter rains. To establish a newly-planted native plant, check every 3-4 days, and water regu­larly whenever the soil in the root zone (about 3-4 inches deep) dries out.

Since moisture retention varies with soil tex­ture, season, and sun-exposure, you will need to establish the frequency at your site by testing the soil around new plantings with your finger or a moisture probe. Branches which shade the root zone and leaf litter or mulch will protect the topsoil from excessive drying, and extend time between watering.

Once established, native plants can usually ex­ist on natural rainfall. In times of drought, dur­ing the period before your plant produces new leaves, or if you want to encourage greener growth, extra water can be added safely dur­ing the winter and spring, with monthly or bi­monthly watering in summer. In the low des­ert, where winter rainfall is often scarce, some summer watering is usually necessary.
  • Water to keep the plant alive, not to make it grow fast. Try to teach the plant to be drought tolerant. Watering less often and more deeply will stimulate roots to grow deeper instead of near the surface where they will be susceptible to drying out.
  • Water by hose, drip or low volume sprinkler in early morning. Drip tubing fitted with microspray emitters deliver water in a more natural way (more like rainfall) than drippers. Install two half-spray emitters per plant, at the drip line of the plant (under the outermost ends of branches), each pointing away from the plant. As the plant grows, move the microsprays away from the plant, keeping them at the drip line of the plant. Avoid watering during the heat of the day or at night as this may cause branch die-back or root rot. Remember if water runs off or does not soak in it does not count.
  • Water only when the soil in the root zone begins to dry out. Check the root ball 3-4 inches below the surface to see if it is moist; if it is still moist, wait for the root ball at that depth to dry out between watering days. Water enough to thoroughly soak the soil around the plant, and deep enough to reach the bottom of the planting hole. The establishment period for most natives is usually one year. Your soil type will determine how often you water.
  • Water regularly in cool months if no rain falls. Water less frequently but deeply in hot months. Desert soils that remain consistently wet during hot summer months are prone to the growth of harm­ful soil pathogens, bacteria, and fungus, which can cause root rot in native plants and quickly kill them. Remember that our desert native plants have evolved to survive in wet soil when it is cool, and dry soil when it is hot. They are not adapted to survive wet, HOT soils. If you are able to add water only at a depth where the soil remains cool even in the summer (using a deep-water sleeve, with no water moist­ening the hot surface soils), then you may safely irrigate throughout the summer.
  • Avoid watering frequently with small amounts of water (high frequency, short duration). This method only teaches roots to stay at the surface, making them susceptible to the moisture loss of hot, quick-drying surface soils, and compromising any drought-tolerance they are capable of achieving.
  • Apply water at a low frequency with long dura­tions to thoroughly soak the soil and allow vital oxygen to re-enter the root zone between watering. Remember, mulch on the surface will preserve soil moisture between watering.
  • For best results, avoid using overhead irrigation for long durations (especially in the sun) because prolonged leaf-wetting during the dry season can promote disease.

Once your plants are established you may only need to water them occasionally during dry winters and once a month or less during the dry season—late spring through fall—to keep them looking good. If you must water them, try to simulate a summer thunderstorm: soak the soil well but very infrequently.

Why Plant Native?

Inviting Native Plants into Your Yard

Tips on Planting Native Plants

Nurseries Selling California Native Plants

Native Plants for High-Desert Gardens


Pick drought-tolerant plants

1. Pick drought-tolerant plants

STEP 1—Pick drought-tolerant plants.

Plants adapted to our climate of hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters will outperform plants from wetter, milder regions. Growing plants that are well-adapted to the extremes of our climate makes the best use of our water, time, and money. Visit local demonstration gardens to view beautiful examples and mature sizes of drought-tolerant plants adapted to our climate. Ask your local nursery which water-wise plants are available for your area, or check our new online “Plant Search” to find climate-adapted plants that will thrive in your area. Consider planting some native shrubs, trees, perennials and grasses that have evolved impressive water-saving strategies on their own (visit  the Power of Plants California Natives for High-Desert Yards for lists of star-performing native plants and how to grow them). Another “desert-wise” option is to select star-performing plants from other dry regions like the Mediterranean, Australia, and South Africa.

Plant in Fall or early Spring

2. Plant in Fall or early Spring

STEP 2—Plant in Fall, if possible, or early Spring.

Planting is best done from fall through early spring (from mid-October to early March). Avoid summer planting. During the fall, trees, shrubs, and perennials have very active root growth. In fact, up to 80% of the yearly root growth of these plants occurs in the fall, triggered by shorter daylight hours and cooler air temperatures while soils are still warm. Planting in fall saves water for many seasons to come. Roots that become well-established from fall through spring are already better prepared to withstand their first hot summer without frequent watering. A plant with an established root system resulting from a fall planting is ready and able to grow vigorously and flower heavily the following spring and summer. Plants need at least 6-8 weeks to re-establish their roots before the extreme heat of summer.

Group Plants by Water Need

3. Group Plants by Water Need

STEP 3—Group plants according to similar water needs.

Keeping plants together that need the same amount of water promotes healthy growth and strong root systems, and reduces the risk of over- or under-watering. Grouping plants into water-use zones allows you to focus water use where it is most beneficial to the beauty of your yard, and also greatly simplifies your irrigation. Keep plants that use the most water close to your house where they are most visible, and plants that use the least water around the outermost areas of your property. Examples of plants that make good water-use companions together are: Very low water use plants – Gopher Plant, Blackfoot Daisy, Palmer’s Penstemon, Damianita, Apache Plume, and Toyon; Low water use plants– Strawberry Tree, Rock Rose, Sandpaper Verbena, Autumn Sage, Artemisia, and French Lavender.

Train plants to grow deep roots with infrequent, deep soakings.

4. Train plants to grow deep roots with infrequent, deep soakings.

STEP 4—Train plants to grow deep roots with infrequent, deep soakings.

The deeper you encourage your plants’ roots to grow, the less often you need to water. If plants are irrigated often with only shallow water penetration into the soil, you train roots to stay close to the surface, where soils heat up daily and dry out quickly. Deep, infrequent watering trains roots to seek deeper soil depths for moisture, and allows you to water much less frequently. For even more water efficiency, install deep water sleeves of perforated PVC pipe into the soil at the drip line of your plants to water with your hose or irrigation emitters below the soil surface to reduce evaporation.

Install a drip irrigation system

5. Install a drip irrigation system

STEP 5—Install a drip irrigation system.

Tiny emitters attached to flexible tubing can direct water flow exactly where it’s needed—directly over the root-ball where your plants can absorb it. Water-saving devices can be very easy to install, and your water savings can start immediately. Home-improvement stores or your local nursery can help you get started.

Install a smart controller

6. Install a smart controller

STEP 6—Install a smart controller that monitors your local weather conditions and adjusts water schedules to match your soil texture and individual plant needs.

If you don’t have a smart controller, make sure to turn off or reset your timers manually to respond to rain or drought periods. Check the soil moisture around the root ball of your plants to determine when to irrigate again after rain.

Let nature help you save water

7. Let nature help you save water

STEP 7—Let nature help you save water with mulch and rainwater harvesting.

By adding a generous layer of mulch several inches thick around the base of plants, you can help cool the soil, reduce evaporation, and also deter weed growth A layer of gravel can also help retain moisture and reduce erosion. Keep as much rain on your property as possible by creating features to capture and direct water to your plants, instead of losing it down the driveway. Dry creek beds, earthen dams, and swales contain rainwater that can soak in and replenish soil moisture for your plants. Moisture that percolates deep into soil is a long-lasting treasure that your plants can tap into for months to come. You can also collect rainwater from downspouts in covered cisterns, especially ones with spigots to attach a hose for easy watering. It’s a great feeling to harvest today’s rain for tomorrow’s use.

The following plant list represents the most reliable, garden-worthy and relatively available native plants indigenous to the High Deserts of California:

Common Name / Botanical Name

Desert Catalpa

Desert Catalpa


  • Desert willow, Desert catalpa / Chilopsis linearis
  • Honey mesquite / Prosopis glandulosa
  • Pinyon pine / Pinus monophylla
  • Scrub oak / Quercus dumosa/turbinella


Subshrubs/Perennial Flowers


Parry Nolinas in bloom


  • Beavertail / Opuntia basilaris
  • Hedgehog cactus / Enchinocerus engelmanii
  • Joshua tree / Yucca brevifolia
  • Mojave yucca  / Yucca schidigera
  • Parry nolina, Parry beargrass / Nolina parryi
  • Red barrel cactus / Ferocactus acanthodes


  • Deer grass / Muhlenbergia rigens


 Why Plant Native?

Inviting Native Plants into Your Yard

Tips on Planting Native Plants

Tips on Watering Native Plants

Nurseries Selling California Native Plants