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The Right Plant for the Right Place

Choosing the right plants is the secret for success in sustainable gardening. Plants native to Santa Clara Valley are a great choice, as are other California natives. Many plants adapted to Mediterranean climates will also thrive locally with our cool, wet winters and dry summers. Pesticides and fertilizers are not needed, protecting the environment and your health, and saving you time and money.

Diverse plantings limit the spread of diseases by creating buffers between susceptible plants; attract beneficial insects to control pests; flower successively through much of the year; and may also offer food and shelter to wildlife.


A Plant may be in the wrong place if it does not thrive, outgrows its space, or is prone to diseases and insect pests. The best solution is to replace the plant with one better suited to the site.

Get to Know Santa Clara Valley Natives

Using local natives connects your landscape to the natural ecosystem. Advantages include:

  • Natives thrive in the local soil and climate, and resist local diseases and pests.
  • Local birds, butterflies, and pollinators are adapted to live with and benefit from them.

Consult a designer or native plant nursery professional to help you choose the right plants.

Don’t Plant a Pest

Invasive plants are non-native plant pests that can grow extensively because they are no longer controlled by natural predators. Invasive plants can escape from landscapes and aggressively invade wild land areas, destroying wildlife habitat and increasing the risk of fire and flooding. Common examples of invasive garden plants include English ivy, iceplant, periwinkle, scotch broom, and cotoneaster. Learn more at the California Invasive Plant Council website.

Replace English Ivy (Hedera helix) with Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca ssp. Californica)

Understand Your Site Conditions

Not all native plants are made for the same site condition. The Santa Clara Valley has a wide variety of microhabitats such as sunny grasslands, under shady oaks, or wet creek banks. Understanding the unique site conditions or “microclimates” of the landscape is important for selecting the right plants. The microclimates in your landscape may be similar to one or more local habitats such as those shown on the map. Plants from other Mediterranean climates can be grouped together with natives that share similar growing requirements.

Grassland community plants can be used to replace a lawn with a beautiful, low maintenance meadow.

Choosing Plants That Fit Your Landscape

Sunny, and Flat with Deep or Heavy Soil: try wildflowers, perennial plants, and bunchgrasses from the Grassland community.

Achillea Millefolium
Functions: Groundcover, erosion control, habitat, cut flower

Idaho Fescue
Festuca idahoensis ‘Siskiyou Blue’
Functions: Border plant, habitat

Purple Needlegrass
Nassella pulchra
Functions: Mix with other grassland plants for lawn substitute.

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Full Sun: Sites with south and west exposure, and well-drained soil, try plants from the Chaparral community.

Dry Shade: Sites with shade from a building or mature trees for part of the day, try plants from the Oak Woodland community.

Seasonally Damp: Sites with low drainage or bordering a creek or seasonal waterway. Try plants from the Riparian community.

Deep Shade: Sites on the north side of a building or located under an evergreen (redwood, pine, or cypress tree), try plants from the Conifer Forest Community.

Arctostaphylos species
Functions: Several species available may serve as groundcovers, privacy hedges or screens, small trees, and wildlife habitat.

Salvia species
Purple Sage Salvia leucophylla
Functions: Attracts hummingbirds, bees, butterflies

California Fuschia
Epilobium canum
Functions: Attracts hummingbirds, seasonal color

Hummingbird Sage
Salvia spathacea
Functions: Groundcover, attracts hummingbirds, bees, butterflies

Functions: Informal privacy screen as a shrub or small tree, seasonal color, berries attract birds

Pink-Flowering Current
Functions: Accent shrub, seasonal color, attracts birds

Wire Grass
Juncus Patens

Carex tumulicola or Carex flagellifera

Creek Dogwood
Cornus sericea or Blue elderberry

Western Sword Fern
Polystichum munitum

Western Mock Orange
Philadelphus lewisii
Functions: Scented flowers, specimen plant, informal hedge

Coral Bells
Huechera species
Elegant Coral Bells Heuchera elegans Functions: Groundcover, path border

Creating a Habitat Garden

If your landscape provides food, water, and places for wildlife to raise their young, you can register your garden with the National Wildlife Foundation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Succulent Gardens: A Water-Wise Splash of Color

Succulents come in many bright and bold colors with interesting flower blossoms in red, yellow and purple. Succulent plants prefer full sun, gravelly, well-drained soils and can survive for several weeks without water. When planted in the right place, succulent gardens are very low-maintenance and free of pests and diseases.

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Tips for Planting Native and Drought Tolerant Plants

Plant with the Rain

Planting in the cool months of October to February will reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal infections that can grow in warm, wet soil. Plants will establish more successfully and put down deep roots when rain waters them in.

Soil Preparation

The Santa Clara Valley tends to have heavy, clay soils. Mixing one to two inches of good quality compost into the soil will improve drainage, prevent crown rot, and help plants establish successfully. Planting on small mounds or in raised beds can also improve drainage and add interest to the landscape.

Gopher Protection: If you have gophers, install a gopher basket in the hole to protect the roots while the plant establishes.

Developed by Ecology Action of Santa Cruz consulting with the City of San José IPM Program, 408-945-3000. Content reviewed by A. Sutherland, Urban IPM Advisor Alameda County, UC Statewide IPM Program.

Funding for this project has been provided in full or in part through a grant awarded by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

For more information about sustainable gardening, please visit

Digging the Planting Hole

The planting hole should be as deep and about twice as wide as the root ball. This will allow feeder roots to grow out horizontally in the compost-amended soil. Adding additional fertilizers, compost, or soil amendments is not necessary unless the soil is very sandy and lacks organic matter.

Planting for Success

Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the roots. Hold the plant in the center of the hole and fill in with excavated soil. Make sure that the root crown (where the stem meets the roots) is level or slightly above the soil surface. Create a temporary irrigation basin around the plant by mounding soil into a berm. Water the basin so that the water level is below the root crown. Remove the berm before the rainy season to prevent ponding of rainwater at the root crown.

Additional Resources


Right Plants Right Place - Water Smart Tips

Helpful Websites:

Santa Clara Valley Water District

List of waterwise plants, where to find them at local nurseries and information about landscape water conservation rebate programs.

California Native Plant Society
Santa Clara Valley Chapter

California Native Garden Foundation

Workshops and Classes on Plant Selection:

Bay Friendly Landscaping Coalition

Green Gardener Certification Program


Plants and Landscapes for Summer Dry Climates
East Bay Municipal Utility District, 2004

Designing California Native Plant Garden
University of California Press, 2007

California Native Plants for the Garden
Cachuma Press, 2006

Sunset Western Garden Book
Sunset Books Inc.