Brilliant Spring

High-Impact, Low-Demand Shrubs for Water Wise Gardens

Horticulturists at University of California, Davis Arboretum have identified and tested 100 tough, reliable plants that don’t need a lot of water, are resilient to pests and disease, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of these Arboretum All-Star plants are California natives that support wildlife by providing nectar, pollen, seeds, and fruits. The list includes plants that can be used to create year-round interest in the garden as well as plants of different sizes and forms. Trees, shrubs, ground covers, bulbs, and vines are all represented. The following three shrubs are especially colorful stand­outs in the springtime garden.

Photo: courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum

Photo: courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum

California lilac (Ceanothus ‘Concha’)

• Medium shrub – California native

• Locate in full sun to part shade

• Requires little or no pruning; shape after spring flowering

One of the best California lilacs for the garden. Evergreen foliage is attractive throughout the year. Showy, deep blue flowers in spring attract beneficial insects.

Photo: courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum

Photo: courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum

Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

• Large shrub – California native

• Locate in full sun to part shade

• Requires little or no pruning; may be shaped as a small tree

Blooms in early spring before foliage appears, followed by attractive reddish seedpods in summer. Pale green heart-shaped leaves turn yellow and drop in fall.

Photo: Saxon Holt

Photo: Saxon Holt

Western spice bush (Calycanthus occidentalis)

• Large shrub – California native

• Locate in part shade to shade

• Requires little or no pruning; prune to shape

Striking maroon-red flowers attract pollinating beetles. Foliage has a sharp, clean fragrance and turns yellow in the fall adding seasonal interest to the garden.