Water Wise Plants
For best results, it's important to choose the right plants for your yard, purchase quality plants, and install them properly. Find resources, pro tips, and where to buy below.
Choose the Right Plants
For a plant to thrive in your garden it needs to be compatible with the local climate, your yard's micro-climate, and your soil type.
- Local Climate: Choose plants that thrive in Contra Costa County. That means they should love cool wet winters and hot dry summers. Most California native plants and Mediterranean plants would work great.
- Micro-Climate: Some areas of your yard may have full sun all day (south side of the house) and others may be in shade part or all of the day (north side of the house). This impacts what plants you choose. For example, a plant such as Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha) may grow well in full sun, but in full shade it won't bloom nearly as well.
- Soil Type: Most of us in Contra Costa County have heavy clay soil. A few areas, such as Oakley, have very sandy soil. Plants that require well drained soil will often grow quickly and die quickly if planted in heavy clay soil. Consider your soil type when choosing plants. Both soil types can be improved by adding organic soil amendment (compost). Visit Build a Healthy Soil for details.
- California Native Plants: It is always best to use plants that are native to your local region. These plants will thrive with little or no irrigation water and they help support local biodiversity including beneficial insects, pollinators and local birds.
Water-Wise Plant Lists
- Gardening in Contra Costa County is a CCWD partner site offering a searchable database with vivid color photographs and detailed plant information.
- Bette Boatmun Conservation Garden is a living example of diverse and colorful landscaping that is water efficient. Find plant lists for the main garden and butterfly garden to inspire you.
- Calscape Garden Planner is focused on helping people restore nature by growing the plants that belong where they live. Find the perfect native plants for your garden.
- Native Pollinator Plants for Contra Costa County is a list from local landscape designer, Kelly Marshall, that includes information about water requirements and when the plants bloom by month.
- UC Davis Arboretum is a list of 100 plants that work well in northern California gardens, even under difficult conditions. Find the right plants for your garden with their online database or download the brochure.
- PlantRight can help you prevent the spread of invasive species. Invasive species can harm wild land areas, displace native species, and have a high economic cost.
If you're considering a full landscape makeover, check out our Lawn to Garden Rebate and Lawn to Garden Approved Plant List (PDF). Plants not on the list will be approved on a case by case basis. For approval, send your plant names (botanical names, if available) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purchase Quality Plants
Purchasing healthy plants from the nursery will help you be successful in the garden. Also, when you purchase a tree or woody shrub, consider that it's an investment that will last a decade or more in your yard, so a quality specimen is key.
- Inspect plant stems and leaves: Inspect the plant to make sure the stems are intact and not broken. Check the leaves for mildew, fungal issues, mites, or other problems.
- Inspect the root ball: Pull the plant out of the pot to inspect the root system. You might need to ask the nursery professional for help with this. The roots should be loose and just reaching the edge of the root ball. They should not be circling the pot. Some amount of root circling is ok, but too much will be a major problem in the long run. This is especially important when purchasing woody shrubs and trees. Pro Tip: Buying a smaller plant with a good root system is better than a larger specimen with circling roots.
- Inspect Trees: Look for trees with a thick enough trunk so they can stand up without a stake.
Where to Buy Water-Wise Plants
Below are local nurseries we recommend when planning to buy plants.
- Ruth Bancroft Garden Nursery, Walnut Creek
- Sloat Garden Centers, Pleasant Hill, Concord, Martinez, and Danville
- Annie's Annuals, Richmond
- Orchard Nursery, Lafayette
- Alden Lane Nursery, Livermore
- Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, Berkeley
- East Bay Nursery, Berkeley
- Native Here Nursery, Berkeley
- East Bay Wilds Native Plant Nursery, Oakland
- Watershed Nursery, Point Richmond
- High Country Gardens, mail-order
- Las Pilitas Nursery, mail-order
Proper Plant Installation
Installing a plant properly can make all the difference for the success of your garden. Review the following guidelines for successful planting.
- Remove plant from pot: Remove the plant from the pot gently. You might need to knock the side of the pot with your fist to help the root ball slide out.
- Loosen roots: Once the root ball is out of the pot, loosen the roots with your fingers. If there are any roots wrapping around the pot, break them lose or cut them with a knife. Circling roots will cause problems later.
- Dig a hole: The hole should be dug equal to the depth of the pot and two times as wide. Mix the excavated soil with a shovel full of soil amendment (compost).
- Water the hole: Fill the hole with water and wait for it to soak in. This will ensure there is ample soil moisture in the surrounding soil. If the soil is particularly dry, fill it two times.
- Install the plant: Place the plant into the hole and ensure the top of the root ball is about a half inch higher then the surrounding soil. Then fill the amended soil around the root ball and pack it firmly with your hands to remove any air pockets.
- Create a basin: Using your hands, create a small mound around each plant about 12-inch diameter. The mound should be approximately 2 inches high. This will allow you to easily hand water the plant.
- Water the plant: Water the plant when finished. Generally, you want to apply at least 2-3 gallons for small plants, so they have ample water on their first day.