10 Best Native Plants for San Diego

Close up of a vibrant pink bloom from a protea

San Diego is known for beautiful scenery, a stunning coastline, and professional sports teams, but “America’s Finest City” has its share of attractive native plants, too. The native flowers of San Diego draw birds, butterflies, and bees to backyards and landscapes. 

Advantages of San Diego’s native plants:

  • Environment – Native plants adapt to San Diego’s climate, weather patterns, and soils. They need less water and can survive droughts.  
  • Fire-resistant – Succulent plants like cacti, agave, and aloe vera protect themselves from the heat and potential wildfires.
  • Easy to care for – San Diego’s native greenery is well-adapted to the city’s dry Mediterranean climate.

Choosing Plants for your San Diego Yard

Pretty plants and flowers are easy to find, but because San Diego is in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8a through 10b, the right greenery depends on whether it can handle hot and dry climates.

Check out these attractive shrubs, vines, and flowers for your backyard.  

1. Salvia

bright red flowers from a salvia plant
Jim, the Photographer | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Woody shrubs, annuals, biennials, and perennials — salvia blooms in shades of blues, purples, reds, pinks, and whites. All varieties produce long flower spikes and are heat-tolerant.   

If you want to attract butterflies and other pollinators, salvia is a perfect choice.   Blossoms appear in late spring to early summer and may continue blooming through early fall.

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 7b-11
  • Sun: Full sunlight to partial shade
  • Water needs: Water regularly; do not oversaturate
  • Soil: 6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic), 6.6 to 7.5 (neutral), 7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)
  • Duration: Seasonal
  • Mature height: 18 inches to 5 feet tall 

2. Protea ‘pink ice’

vibrant red and orange flower from a protea plant
scarymonkeyshow | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Drought tolerant and suitable for xeriscaping, Protea ‘pink ice’ is an evergreen shrub growing 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide.  Pink blooms and sweet nectar lure the bees and butterflies, and birds will snuggle into branches for nesting. Flowers bloom in late spring through mid-autumn.

‘Pink ice’ tolerates most soils, enjoys bright sunshine, and is drought-tolerant once the roots are firmly established.  

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 9a-11
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Drought tolerant
  • Soil: Acidic, free-draining soil is ideal. Sandy and loamy is best.
  • Duration: Evergreen
  • Mature height: 8 feet tall

3. San Diego sunflower (viguiera laciniata)

large area of San Diego sunflower
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters | Flickr | public domain

The San Diego sunflower is a flowering perennial shrub growing mostly in southern San Diego County.  It blooms in most months of the year. 

When planting your backyard or front landscape, combine San Diego sunflowers with other native plants — penstemon, salvia, trichostema, and the like — for a stunning display of color.  San Diego sunflowers are hardy plants that tolerate drought and sandy soils. They thrive in full to partial sunlight. Water regularly as needed but do not let water pool around the roots.    

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 9-10
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: As needed
  • Soil: various
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1 to 1 2/3 tall

4. Aloe vera and other succulents

3 aloe vera plants in dirt
Forest and Kim Starr | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Aloe vera is only one type of succulent plant that thrives in the xeriscapes, gardens, and flowerbeds of San Diego, but you can create a visual oasis with a variety of greenery.  With plump fronds, stems, and roots that store water, succulents withstand drought, add a sculpted texture to the landscape, and just scream out “California!” 

Fill your landscaping with aloes, agave, echeveria, euphorbia, sedums, and a few spiny cacti. The warm and dry climate of San Diego helps these plants produce clusters of colorful flowers, but they do not need a lot of water.  

Aloe Vera plants are very prolific: They will shoot off sprouts that you can replant outside or in containers.

  • Plant type: Evergreen succulent
  • Hardiness zones: 8-11
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low, occasional
  • Soil: Well-draining, loam mixture, pH 7.0-8.5
  • Duration: Up to 12 years or more
  • Mature height: Varies 

5.   Penstemon spectabilis

light purple flowers of penstemon spectabilis
peganum from Small Dole, England | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

With tubular flowers on spiky stems, penstemon spectabilis is noted for blue, purple, red, pink, and white florets. Also called ‘royal beard tongue,’ the plant grows up to 4 feet tall and just as wide.  Native to Southern California and often seen in San Diego gardens and neighborhoods, this regal perennial grows best when planted in autumn so it can bloom the following spring.

Hummingbirds love the sweet nectar from penstemon, which also draws bees and butterflies to your yard.  

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 8-11
  • Sun: Full
  • Water needs: Every three to four weeks, if needed
  • Soil: Chalk, clay, loam, sand
  • Duration: Varies, self-seeds
  • Mature height: 2-4 feet

6. Anacapa island pink morning glory (calystegia macrostegia)

single pink morning glory
Audrey | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The name is a mouthful, but this climbing vine grows up to 30 feet high and looks nice on trellises, pergolas, posts, and chain-link fences. Also known as Calystegia ‘Anacapa Pink,’ the leafy green vine thrives in full to partial sunlight and doesn’t need much water. Fragrant pale pink blooms trail along to brighten up your landscape.  Anacapa Island pink morning glories attract bees and butterflies, they also make nice groundcovers.

As with most perennial vines, pruning the plant in winter controls the spread, and encourages them to sprout new stems and flowers in the spring.

  • Plant type: Vine, perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 10a-11
  • Sun: Full to partial shade
  • Water needs: Once weekly, if needed
  • Soil: Sandy or rocky, pH 6.0-8.0
  • Duration: Seasonal
  • Mature height: Spreading, up to 30 feet

 7. California fuchsia (epilobium canum)

California fuchsia is a perennial native to the foothills and coastal areas, producing bright red-pink flowers in summer and fall.  Fuchsia usually dies back and goes dormant in the winter, but it will be blooming around your San Diego home for many years to come. 

California fuchsia is called the Hummingbird Flower for a good reason — the tiny birds flutter to its bright colors and enjoy sipping the blooms’ sweet nectar. Easy to grow, plant California fuchsia in full sunlight and water it once a month if there’s no rain.    

  • Plant type: Perennial shrub
  • Hardiness zones: 8-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Occasional, after establishing
  • Soil: Well-draining, sand, and grit
  • Duration: Ongoing
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet

 8.  Orchids

close-up of a white orchid with purple stripes and a yellow center
gssavage | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

With so many species of orchids growing in warm climates, San Diego has a few native flowers to add to your landscape.  For a perennial that blends in well with other colors, striped Bletilla (Bletilla striata) doesn’t have sharp solid bands, but variations in the pattern float softly over white flower petals.  This perennial needs to be watered regularly — take care not to drown the roots.

Leafy green, soft foliage lights up Bletilla in spring, summer, and fall. Blooming from mid-spring to late summer, these orchids propagate by rhizomes, bulbs, and tubers.

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Hardiness zones: 8b–10b
  • Sun: Light shade
  • Water needs: Water regularly but don’t oversaturate.  Do not let soil dry out
  • Soil: pH 5.6 to 7.5
  • Duration: Propagation
  • Mature height: 12-24 inches 

9. California monkey flower

bright yellow monkey flowers
ALAN SCHMIERER | Wikimedia Commons | CC0

Don’t let the name fool you, California Monkey Flowers don’t really look like smiling simians, but the genus Mimulus is from the Latin “mimus,” a comic actor or mime. Related to snapdragons, monkey flowers draw hummingbirds and other nectar-loving critters.

From spring through summer, monkey flowers blossom in rose, peach, white, and yellow, and are about 1.5 inches wide. Common names are San Diego Monkey Flower, Red Bush Monkeyflower, and Mission Diplacus.  

  • Plant type: Perennial herb
  • Hardiness zones: 9a-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Occasional watering, do not oversaturate
  • Soil: Well-draining, sandy soil; pH 6.0-8.0
  • Duration: Varies
  • Mature height: 2 feet high, 3 feet wide  

 10.  Seaside daisy (erigeron glaucus)  

pale purple seaside daisies with a yellow center
LongitudeLatitude | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The simplicity of the seaside daisy brings soft hues to your San Diego landscape.  Native to dunes, beaches, and coastal bluffs, seaside daisies spread with bluish-green foliage and flowers that bloom in winter to summer with little or no water.  Create a xeriscape with these perennial evergreen herbs; they fit next to borders, along paths, in rock gardens, and in front of shrubbery.  

Seaside daisies germinate by seed making them easy to plant. Lavender-white flowers bloom from January through August. Certainly unexpected, but IF the temperature ever drops below freezing, seaside daisies will survive.  Pinch off dead blooms.

  • Plant type: Perennial herb, evergreen
  • Hardiness zones: 8-10
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Once a week in dry weather
  • Soil: Sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1 foot high, 2 feet wide

Native plants are the way to go

Make it easier on yourself by planting native flowers, shrubs, trees, and ground covers. Not only do they attract birds, butterflies, pollen-carrying bees, and wildlife to provide food and nesting resources, but native plants promote biodiversity and protect groundwater. The best part? Native plants are low maintenance, leaving you more time to enjoy your San Diego home.

Want to make your landscape even lower-maintenance? Hire a local San Diego landscaping pro to create the yard of your dreams. 

Main Photo Credit: Bernard Spragg. NZ | Flickr | CC0 1.0

Teri Silver

Teri Silver is a journalist and outdoor enthusiast who spends her weekends mowing her 5-acre lawn and puttering around in 3 gardens. The best parts of the year are summer and fall, when home-grown veggies are on the dinner table.