9 Best Native Plants for Sacramento

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Native plants are all the rage in Sacramento and other climates that struggle with drought. But which plants are best for your lawn? We’ve got a list of nine Sacramento natives to get you started.

Benefits of Sacramento’s native plants

Here are a few reasons Sacramento’s native plants are beneficial to your yard:

  • Low-maintenance

Native plants have lived in your area for hundreds of years (at least), so they’re not fussy about the long, dry summers or winter rains. They’ve become accustomed to the weather and are quite happy in Sacramento’s climate. Lawns full of native plants have become an attractive, low-maintenance option for drought-weary Sacramento lawns.

  • Attract pollinators

Not only are Sacramento’s native plants friends with the local climate, but they’re also friends to the local population of pollinators, as well. If you want to create a butterfly garden or invite more birds and bees into your garden, choose plants that provide food or shelter to these creatures.

  • Reduce pesticides, fertilizer

Since these native plants have been in the area for such a long time, they predate modern fertilizers and pesticides. So, ditch the chemicals (some may be detrimental to pollinators) and enjoy a chem-free lawn. 

  • Include drought-tolerant plants

Many plants native to Sacramento are low-water or no-water once-established. Some will require more water than others, though. Know how much (if at all) you want to water your plants and choose specimens that will match.

  • Protect the ecosystem

Native plants support your local ecosystem. Not only are many of these plants water-wise additions to your lawn, but supporting pollinators, and giving food, shelter, and egg-laying sites to local wildlife means your lawn is a vital part of the health of your local ecosystem.

1. California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)

California fuchsia is a popular, low-lying perennial with scarlet, trumpet-shaped flowers common in the foothills and coastal areas of California. This summer and fall-flowering plant checks so many boxes for Sacramento homeowners:

✓ Flowers in the hottest months of summer
✓ Perennial (no re-planting each year)
✓ Water once per month in the summer
✓ Cold tolerant down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit
✓ Attracts hummingbirds
✓ Adds beautiful red flowers to your landscape
✓ Fire-resistant

Cut California fuchsia to the ground once the flowers die in the fall. In the spring, it will grow back full and lush. If you love pollinators, the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) notes that California fuchsia is among the top choices if you want to attract hummingbirds to your landscape. So, hummingbird lovers, this one’s for you.

  • Plant type: Perennial herb
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Once per month in the summer in inland areas (less or none once established in coastal and northern areas)
  • Soil: Sand, clay, or serpentine soils
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Up to 1 ½ feet tall and 3 feet wide

2. Coffeeberry (Frangula californica)

Despite its name, coffeeberry, or Frangula californica, won’t provide you with a cup of joe, although the seeds inside the berries do resemble coffee beans. Also known as California Buckthorn, this evergreen shrub is ideal for local bird populations since its berries are a favorite treat. Give this red-branched shrub plenty of room to grow since it can grow up to 15 feet tall and just as wide. CNPS describes coffeeberry as “beautiful and easy to grow.” 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Sun: Full sun or partial sun
  • Water needs: Twice per month once established
  • Soil: Many types — check your species before you buy because some species prefer certain soil types
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-15 feet tall and 5-15 feet wide

3. Common manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita)

There are more species of manzanita in California than you can shake a stick at, but many are not native to the Sacramento area. Fortunately, Arctostaphylos manzanita is found on the outskirts of Sacramento and makes a dramatic, sculptural addition to area landscapes. Common manzanita, also known as Whiteleaf manzanita, is an evergreen tree or shrub that puts out small, upside-down white flowers and berries that deepen in color over the summer season. It’s visually interesting with its reddish-colored winding, twisting branches.

  • Plant type: Shrub/small tree
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Once per month in summer
  • Soil: Tolerates many soils, including alluvial or clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-20 feet tall and 10 feet wide

Pro Tip: Don’t have room for a tree? Try a ground cover instead. The Sacramento Valley chapter of the CNPS recommends these low-growing manzanitas for Sacramento homeowners:

  • Carmel Sur manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii “Carmel Sur”)
  • Emerald Carpet manzanita (Arctostaphylos “Emerald Carpet”)
  • Wayside Monterey manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri “Wayside”)
  • John Dourley manzanita (Arctostaphylos “John Dourley”)

4. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Like manzanita species, there are many choices if you want to include yarrow in your native California landscape. If you’ve never planted yarrow, Achillea millefolium is a good plant to start with as it grows well on its own and reseeds. On the flip side, it may be an aggressive spreader. 

Common yarrow displays yellow or white flowers in the spring and summer and needs watering no more than once per week once it’s established. Got erosion? Yarrow is great for controlling erosion due to its deep roots and can live in any soil as long as it’s not too wet. Another plus? It can grow in any amount of sun, from full sun to full shade.

  • Plant type: Perennial herb
  • Sun: Full sun, partial sun, full shade
  • Water needs: Once per week once established
  • Soil: Any type except wet soils
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet tall and ½-1 ½ feet tall

5. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

If you need ornamental grass, consider blue-eyed grass for your landscape. It not only adds a different plant type to your lawn, but it also puts out purple or blue flowers from January through July. (A great long-term flowering species.) Sisyrinchium bellum goes dormant during the hot summer months in dry climates, but you may be able to keep it alive by watering it twice per month in the summer. This grass self-seeds and is best planted on the perimeter of your garden for a fresh pop of color.

  • Plant type: Perennial herb
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Twice per month once established
  • Soil: Prefers moist loam but will tolerate sand or clay
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet tall; 3 inches wide
  • Bonus: Blue-eyed grass is fire-resistant

6. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica

This brightly colored flower needs no introduction for most Californians. The California poppy is the state flower of California and can be found in much of the state, including Sacramento. It is prized for its golden, orange, and yellow flowers (appropriate for the Golden State) which it puts out from February to September. This flower is either an annual or perennial depending on your climate, but it readily self-seeds.

  • Plant type: Perennial or annual herb
  • Sun: Prefers full sun; tolerates partial shade
  • Water needs: Water twice per month once established
  • Soil: Poor, well-drained, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial or annual (depending on the climate). In more extreme parts of the state (higher or lower temps), it is an annual. In areas with more mild summers and winters, it is a perennial. 
  • Mature height: Up to 2 feet tall and up to 2 feet wide

7. Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

Few trees put on a show quite like a western redbud. This plant is considered a large shrub or small tree and showcases heart-shaped green leaves and stunning pink flower clusters in the spring. As a deciduous tree, it will shed its leaves in the fall, so be ready to mulch the leaves when the time comes. 

Western redbuds have a mild scent and a moderate rate of growth. Birds are attracted to this tree, and up to 11 species of butterflies and moths are likely guests. 

  • Plant type: Shrub/small tree
  • Sun: Full sun or partial shade
  • Water needs: Once per week or less after establishment
  • Soil: Tolerates many soil types
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 10-20 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide

8. Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Whether or not you can ID deer grass, you’ve almost certainly seen it. Deer grass is an oft-seen perennial grass found in low elevations throughout the Southwestern U.S. and in a variety of plant communities, from grasslands to chaparral to riparian areas. Its colors span from light green to purple, and its tall flower stems have a long history of use in coiled baskets.

Also known as deer muhly, this grass grows in a waterfall or fountain shape as the tips grow tall and bend over. This grass rarely needs supplemental water once established, so it’s great for a low- or no-water landscape. Deer muhly also attracts seed-eating birds in the summer months.

  • Plant type: Grasses
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade, or full shade (full shade means slower growth)
  • Water needs: Once per month after it’s established or less in some climates
  • Soil: Prefers sand or gravel; will tolerate clay, serpentine soil, and most well-drained soil types
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4-5 feet tall and 4 feet wide

9. Valley oak (quercus lobata) 

Doesn’t every landscape need an oak? If you’re in the market for an oak in your capital city lawn, consider Quercus lobata or valley oak. It is a California native “All-Star” that is an ideal addition to larger landscapes. Valley oak provides shelter for insects, small animals, and birds, many of which are beneficial and eat undesirable insects. 

Valley oaks are not for you if you’re low on space. These titans can grow up to 100 feet tall and up to 50 feet wide in ideal conditions and are the largest of the oaks that call North America home. They prefer full sun and deep, fertile soil but can grow well in other soil types as long as they have adequate moisture. Finally, don’t get rid of your mower (or rake) if you decide to plant this tree. This oak is deciduous, so you’ll want to mow or rake its leaves in the fall.

  • Plant type: Tree
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Twice per month in the summer once established
  • Soil: Deep and fertile, but will tolerate other soils as long as adequate moisture is present
  • Duration: Perennial — can live up to 600 years
  • Mature height: Up to 100 feet

Local resources

If you want to plant a native garden in your lawn, you are in an ideal location. Sacramento has a plethora of in-person and online resources right in your backyard (or at your fingertips).

Check out their Gardening Resources page, with plant lists, plant sales, local nurseries, seeds, and more.

  • Bloom! California — learn more about how to grow, buy, and care for California native plants in your landscape.

If native plants still feel a world away, contact one of our Sacramento lawn care pros. They’ll install native plants to make your lawn more resilient, colorful, and beautiful all year long.

Main Photo Credit: magdus | Pixabay

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