Plants for Rain Gardens

With rain gardens in an urban setting, climate considerations are important to understand in order for plants to get established and thrive.  A few climate considerations include temperature ranges, amount of rainfall, humidity, soil characteristics, and the plants climate adaptability. Plant placement is also important, as some plants prefer being “high and dry” and must be  planted either on top of or on the sides of the berm (high spots), while other plants can tolerate standing water for short periods of time, so are planted at the bottom of the swale (low spot).  Remember,  the type of soil (percentage of sand, silt, clay or loam) and solar exposure are also important, with most plants preferring well draining soil, and some plants tolerant of  full sun, to part sun or full shade.

Below is a list of just a few of the plants that would love to live in your rain garden. For a damp area that collects rainwater, keep in mind that most vines and ground covers require some drainage and don’t perform well in areas that are flooded or consistently wet.  Although few plants grow in seasonally wet areas, you can learn which plants tolerate  “wet feet”.    California natives are notes with an *.

Wildflowers, ferns & vines for Rain Gardens:

 Achillea millefolium*, Common Yarrow, ground cover
Aquilegia Formosa*, Western Columbine
Iris douglasiana *, Douglas Iris
Epilobium canum latifolium*, California Fuchsia
Erigeron glaucus*, Beach Aster
Mimulus aurantiacus*, Sticky Monkey Flower
Mimulus cardinalis*, Scarlet Monkey Flower
Monardella villosa*, Coyote Mint
Romneya coulteri*, Matilija Poppy, spreading
Vitis californica*, California Grape

Grasses and sedges for Rain Gardens:

Carex barbarea*, Santa Barbara Sedge
Juncus patens*, California Gray Rush
Muhlenbergia rigens*, Deer Grass|
Muhlenbergia capillaries*, Purple Deer Grass
Sisyrinchium bellum*, Blue-eyed Grass

Trees and shrubs for Rain Gardens:

Aesculus californica*, CA Buckeye
Corylus cornuta californica*, Western Hazelnut
Myrica californica*, Pacific Wax Myrtle
Populus fremontii*, Fremont Cottonwood
Ribes sanguineum*, Red-flowering Currant
Salix lasiandra*,  Pacific Tree Willow
Sambucus Mexicana*, Blue Elderberry

Other Plant Lists

Below are links to other plant lists that are helpful in getting started with using low water or climate appropriate plants in the landscape.

Tree People Resources page
Tree People Native Plant Starter List
Nifty Fifty Plant List (with pictures) from WaterSmart San Diego
San Luis Obispo Guide to LID
LID Plant Guidance for Bio Retention
UC CAL Extension  SEA GRANT – Rain Gardens

 

From Tree People-California Native Plants – A Starter List

Low plants (up to 3’ tall)

 

Scientific Name

Common Name

Plant Type

Water

Sun

Soil

Height x width

Flower Color & Season

Notes

Achillea millefolium

common yarrow

P

M/L

S-P

C,L,S

2-3’x 2-3’

white,yellow,pink, red;spring-summer

Perennial with ferny, scented leaves. Can be mowed for a lawn alternative. Many cultivars with varied colors.

Achillea ‘Moonshine’

Moonshine yarrow

P

M/L

S

C,L,S

2’ x 2-3’

bright yellow; spring-summer

Perennial. Grey-green leaves. Flowers attract butterflies and beneficial insects.

Arctostaphylos edmundsii

‘Bert Johnson’

Bert Johnson manzanita

E

M/L

S-P

WD, C,L,S

1-2’ x 4-6’

pink to white; winter-spring

Groundcover manzanita. Afternoon shade needed inland.

Arctostaphylos edmundsii

‘Carmel Sur’

Carmel Sur manzanita

E

M/L

S-P

WD, C,L,S

18” x 7-10’

very few flowers

More heat tolerant than other groundcover manzanitas, but afternoon shade needed inland. Dense habit.

Artemisia californica ‘Canyon Gray’

Canyon Gray sagebrush

E

L/VL

S

WD, C,L,S

12-18” x 8-10’

white; summer-fall

Groundcover sagebrush. Good erosion control. Spreading silvery mat.

Artemisia douglasiana

mugwort

P

M/L

S-P

C,L

2-3’ x 3’ spreads

white; summer

Perennial. Scented leaves are grey underneath. Spreads by rhizomes. Cut to the ground in early winter.

Artemisia pycnocephala

‘David’s Choice‘

David’s Choice sagebrush

E

M/L

S

WD, S,L

8-12” x 18-24”

white; spring-summer

Silvery leaves on a compact, rounded plant. Deadhead flower stalks.

Asclepias fascicularis

narrow-leaf milkweed

DP

M/L

S-P

C,L,S

3’-4’ x spreads

greenish white; spring-summer

Perennial. Great plant for Life Cycle studies. Food for monarch caterpillars. Dies back in winter.

Asclepias speciosa

showy milkweed

DP

M/L

S-P

C,L

2-5’ x 3-5’

pink; late spring- summer

Food for monarch caterpillars. Fuzzy grey leaves. Dies back in winter. Great in clay.

Baccharis pilularis

‘Pigeon Point’

Pigeon Point coyote bush

E

M/L

S

C,L,S

18-24” x 6-9’

white; fall

Green groundcover. Can cut back periodically. Good in fire- prone areas.

Baccharis pilularis

‘Twin Peaks 2’

Twin Peaks 2 coyote bush

E

M/L

S

C,L,S

1’ x 3-5’

white; fall

Green groundcover. Can cut back periodically. Good in fire- prone areas.

Bouteloua gracilis

blue grama grass

D

L/VL

S-P

C,L,S

6”-1’ x 6”-1’

brown; summer

Fast, clumping/spreading grass can be used for turf. Very drought tolerant. Winter dormant. Seedheads look like flags.

Carex pansa

CA meadow sedge

E

M

S- Sh

WD, C,L,S

6-8” x 3’

brown; spring

Can be mowed for lawn alternative, or left un-mowed for a floppy look. Needs regular water. Needs more shade inland.

Carex praegracilis

clustered field sedge, dune sedge

E

M

S- Sh

WD, C,L,S

18” x 4”-3.5’

brown; spring

Can be mowed for lawn alternative, or left un-mowed for a floppy look. Needs regular water. Needs more shade inland.

Leymus condensatus

‘Canyon Prince’

Canyon Prince wild rye

E

low

S-P

C,L,S

3’ x 4’ spreads

white; summer

Very drought tolerant native grass. Grey-blue leaves are wide and upright. Take heavy clay.

Salvia spathacea

hummingbird sage

P

L/VL

S-P

C,L,S

1-2’ and spreads

red-magenta; spring-summer

Fruity-minty leaf scent. Ground cover with larger leaves and flowers than other sages.

Sisyrinchium bellum

blue-eyed grass

DP

M/L

S-P

C,L,S

12-18” x .5-1’

purple-blue; spring-summer

Leaves like grass blades. Reseeds. Dies back to the ground in summer. Needs regular water in winter.

Sphaeralcea ambigua

desert mallow, apricot mallow

E

L/VL

S

WD, C,L,S

2-3’ x 2-3’

orange-apricot; spring-fall

Low water needs and intense flower color. Drops leaves under drought stress. New leaves with rains. Cut back in fall.

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Medium plants (3-6’)

Scientific Name

Common Name

Plant Type

Water

Sun

Soil

Height x width

Flower Color & Season

Notes

Arctostaphylos

‘Howard McMinn’

Howard McMinn manzanita

E

M/L

S-P

WD, C,L,S

6-8’ x 6-8’

light pink-white; winter-spring

Medium green upright leaves. Late bloomer. Afternoon shade needed inland.

Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’

John Dourley manzanita

E

M/L

S

C,L,S

4’ x 6’

pink; winter

Easily grown. Coppery colored new growth. Grey-green leaves and red stems.

Arctostaphylos ‘La Panza’

La Panza manzanita

E

M/L

S

C,L,S

3-4’ x 3-4’

light pink; winter

Grows in sand or clay. Clean grey leaves. Beautiful red peeling bark.

Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’

Joyce Coulter ceanothus

E

M/L

S-P

WD, C, l

3-5’ x 10-12’

blue; late winter- early spring

Sprawling ground cover. Very showy, long clusters of flowers. Partial shade needed inland.

Encelia farinosa

Brittlebush, desert encelia, incienso

E

L/VL

S

C,L,S

3-5’ x 3-5’

yellow; spring

Grey-white leaves and bright yellow daisies. Native to CA deserts.

Eriogonum cinereum

ashyleaf buckwheat

E

L/VL

S-P

C,L,S

4-5’ x 6’

light pink; late spring-summer

Leaves white below, green on top. Good inland and at the coast. Excellent butterfly plant, erosion control for slopes.

Juncus textilis

basket rush

E

H

P

C,L,S

5-6′ x 4, spreads

brown; spring

Leaves for basketry. Good erosion control. Needs a consistently moist soil. Handles standing water.

Leymus condensatus

‘Canyon Prince’

Canyon Prince wild rye

E

low

S-P

C,L,S

3-4’ x 4’ spreads

white; summer

Very drought tolerant native grass. Grey-blue leaves are wide and upright. A shorter version of the species.

Penstemon spectabilis

royal penstemon

P

M/L

S

WD, L,S

3-6’ x 2-3’

purple-blue-pink; spring-fall

Trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Striking plant.

Perityle incana

Guadalupe Island rock daisy

E

M/L

S-P

L,S

3-4’ x 3-4’

yellow; spring- summer

Silver-blue-grey lacey foliage. Cut it back by a third each year to maintain compact/dense plant. Part sun needed inland.

Rhamnus californica

‘Eve Case’

Eve Case coffeeberry

E

M/L

S- Sh

L,S

3-6’ x 3-4’

yellow; spring

Tidy shrub, much smaller than the species. Good for a screen or hedge.

Rhamnus californica

‘Little Sur’

Little Sur coffeeberry

E

M/L

S-P

WD, L,S

3-4’ x 3-4’

yellow-green; spring

Good solid, clean evergreen shrub. Flowers attract pollinators and round dark purple berries attract birds.

Rhamnus californica ‘Mound San Bruno’

Mound San Bruno coffeeberry

E

M/L

S- Sh

WD, C,L,S

5’ x 5’

yellow; spring

Very tidy shrub that bares small fruits that birds love, but not edible for humans. Easy to maintain as a hedge.

Ribes indecorum

white flowering currant

D

M/L

S-P

L,S

4-6’ x 6-8’

white; winter-spring

Second most drought tolerant native Ribes. Summer deciduous if dry. Black-purple edible berries. Shade from

Ribes malvaceum ‘Dancing Tassels’

Dancing Tassels currant

D

M/L

P- Sh

WD, L,S

6’ x 5’

light pink; winter

4-5” flower tassels attract hummingbirds. Near the coast, closer to evergreen.

Salvia apiana

white sage

E

L/VL

S-P

C,L,S

3-4’ x 4-5’

white with pink; spring-summer

White, silvery foliage – very different looking than other sages. Used by many native peoples for ceremonies.

Salvia clevelandii

Cleveland Sage

E

L/VL

S

WD, L,S

3-5’ x 4-5’

blue; spring-summer

One of the best smelling sages. A dense shrub. Winifred Gilman is excellent selection with electric blue flowers.

Salvia leucophylla

purple sage

E

L/VL

S

L,S

3-6’ x 5-15’

pink-lavender; spring-summer

Many hybrids created with Cleveland sage. Strong sage scent. Best near the coast.

Salvia mellifera

black sage

E

L/VL

S

L,S

3-5’ x 6’

white-lavender; spring-summer

Not as showy as other sages, but a good plant to attract native pollinators. Leaves are green.

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Tall Plants (6’+)

Scientific Name

Common Name

Plant Type

Water

Sun

Soil

Height x width

Flower Color & Season

Notes

Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Austin Griffiths’

Austin Griffiths manzanita

E

M/L

S-P

WD, L,S

10’ x 6’

pink; winter-spring

An early blooming manzanita. Red peeling bark. A hummingbird favorite.

Arctostaphylos

‘Howard McMinn’

Howard McMinn manzanita

E

M/L

S-P

WD, C,L,S

6-8’ x 6-8’

light pink-white; winter-spring

Medium green upright leaves. Late bloomer. Afternoon shade needed inland.

Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Byrd Hill’

Byrd Hill manzanita

E

M/L

S

WD, L,S

8-10’ x 10’

white; winter-spring

Great cultivar of a local southern California native. No summer water once established.

Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Dr Hurd’

Dr Hurd manzanita

E

M/L

S

WD, C,L,S

12-15’ x 10’

white; winter-spring

Great cultivar of a local southern California native. Pale green leaves. No Summer water once established.

Atriplex lentiformis ssp lentiformis

salt bush

E

L/VL

S

WD, C,L,S

10-15’ x 12-15

spring

Excellent habitat plant. Very tough against salt and wind. A.lentiformis ssp breweri has larger leaves and best at coast.

Baccharis salicifolia

mule fat

E

M/L

S-P

L,S

4-12’ x 8’

white; spring-summer

Tall semi-deciduous shrub. Long, linear leaves that are similar to willows. Rapid growth. Attracts native birds.

Berberis ‘Golden Abundance’

Golden Abundance barberry

E

M/L

P- Sh

C,L

8’ x 6-12’

yellow; spring

Bright yellow flowers help to brighten up shady spots. Prickly leaves, so plant it away from paths.

Ceanothus ‘Concha’

Concha ceanothus

E

M/L

S-P

WD, C,L,S

6-9’ x 6-10’

cobalt blue; late winter-early spring

Glossy, narrow leaves. Very showy. Flowers in tight clusters. Part shade needed inland.

Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’

Ray Hartman ceanothus

E

M/L

S-P

C,L,S

12-20’ x 15’

medium blue; spring

Readily available. Does well at the coast or inland. Tolerates garden water and clay! Butterflies love it.

Cercis occidentalis

western redbud

D

M/L

S-P

WD, L,S

6-20’ x 6-20’

magenta; late winter-spring

Multi-trunk small tree. Round leaves turn yellow in fall. Magenta seed pods turn brown and hang through winter.

Cercocarpus betuloides

mountain mahogany

E

L/VL

S-P

C,L,S

8-10’ x 8-10’

yellow; spring

The cork scew silvery-white seeds cover the shrub making it shimmer. Easy to prune for narrow spaces.

Chilopsis linearis

desert willow

D

M/L

S

WD, L,S

12-20’ x 12-20’

white, pink, lavender; spring

Large shrub or small tree. Lightly fragrant flowers attract hummingbirds. Must have well-drained soil.

Eriogonum giganteum

Saint Catherine’s lace

D

L/VL

S-P

WD, L,S

5-10’ x 5-10’

white; spring-fall

Largest buckwheat. Big flower heads can be used in flower arrangements. Semi-deciduous. Cut back after blooming.

Heteromeles arbutifolia

toyon

E

M/L

S-P

C,L,S

12-25’ x 10-20’

white; summer

Red berries in winter provide food for birds. Very common in local chaparral. Good at coast or inland.

Rhus integrifolia

lemondade berry

E

L/VL

S-P

WD, L,S

10-25’ x 10-25’

white-pink; spring

Can handle some water if given good drainage. Sturdy screen shrub. Lemon-flavored fruits. Not good in valley.

Rhus lentii

pink-flowering sumac

E

L/VL

S-P

WD, L,S

4-8’ x 5-8’

pink; late winter- early spring

Blue-green oval leaves. Flowers and berries attract birds. Native to Baja. A smaller version of R. integrifolia.

Rhus ovata

sugar bush

E

L/VL

S-P

WD, L,S

12-35’ x 20-25’

white-pink; spring

Similar to R. integrifolia, but this species is native away from the coast.

Ribes aureum

golden currant

D

M/L

S-P

WD, C,L,S

6-10’ x 5-7’

yellow; spring

The most drought tolerant Ribes. Semi-deciduous shrub. Edible yellow-orange berries. Leaves susceptible to rust.

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Key:

Plant Type

E-evergreen (leaves present all year)
D-deciduous (loses all leaves in a season)
P-perennial (a non-woody plant that lives many years)
DP- deciduous perennial (a non-woody deciduous plant- typically dying all the way to the ground every year)

Water

Ratings listed with two letters divided by a “/” designate plants that need less water in the summer. The second letter is the summer water needed. L/VL – Low water, very low water in summer months
M/L – moderate water, low water in summer months
H/M – high water (soil kept very moist), moderate water (soil is allowed to dry out between waterings

M – Moderate water all year
Sun S-full sun, P-partial sun, Sh-shade
Soil WD-well-drained, C-clay, L-loam, S-sand

References and Resources:

O’Brien, Bart C. 2007. Plant Lists for the San Gabriel River Watershed. Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. Azusa, CA
Bornstein, Carol; Fross, David; O’Brien, Bart. 2005. California Native Plants for the Garden. Cachuma Press. Los Olivos, CA
Perry, Bob. 2010. Landscape Plants for California Gardens. Land Design Publishing. Claremont, CA.
Grow Native Nursery Westwood; branch of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. 100 Davis Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90049. http://www.rsabg.org/gnn-westwood Las Pilitas Nursery; http://laspilitas.com. Great online information.

Theodore Payne Foundation; http://www.theodorepayne.org. Great online information. Nursery on site. 10459 Tuxford St, Sun Valley 91352. (818) 768-1802. Tree of Life Nursery; http://www.californianativeplants.com. Largest native plant nursery. 33201 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. (949) 728-0685.

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