35 low-water plants you’ve (probably) never heard of

Photo of dwarf white-striped agave.

The dwarf white-striped century plant is a smaller and more manageable version of the century plant. They are delightful when planted in combination of finer textured plants like grasses and perennials like the California fuchsia shown here. (Note: The century plant in this photo is very young! They can get 2-3 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide!)

At this year’s spring plant sales, in addition to our large selection of Arboretum All-Stars and other region-appropriate plants, we’re featuring “35 Low-water plants you’ve (probably) never heard of.” These plants are compatible with last year’s “New Front Yard” series and include more California natives (about 40% of the list), beneficial pollinator-attracting plants, and a few from the desert with the ability to survive with no summer irrigation.

DOWNLOAD the list here:


Shop for these plants at our plant sales this spring. Make sure we’ve got the selection you are looking for by checking our inventory and arriving early! LEARN MORE.

5 REASONS to JOIN, RENEW or UPGRADE your membership now!

Membership-tableWe are in the midst of our spring membership drive–February 16-May 16, 2015–there’s never been a better time to join, renew or upgrade.

1) GIFT CERTIFICATE eligibility. Everyone who joins or renews during that time period (postmarked or in person) will automatically be entered in a drawing for one of three $75 gift certificates redeemable at any Arboretum and Public Garden plant sale.

2) NEW MUSEUM BENEFITS. If you join at the $100+ level you’ll get free admission and/or discounts at over 700 museums, gardens and arts, cultural and historical institutions through NARM, one of the largest reciprocal admission programs in the world (narmassociation.org). LEARN MORE about other membership benefits.

3) BEST SELECTION. Get first pick from our blockbuster inventory of plants during our members-only sales.

4) DISCOUNTS at plant sales. As a member, you always get a 10% discount on Arboretum plants and merchandise, plus discounts at our regional partner nurseries.

5) FREE PROGRAMS. Your membership helps support the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s vibrant programs that are free and open to everyone…not to mention our world-class collections and demonstration gardens!

SOUNDS GOOD? WHAT NOW? Visit our Friends membership table at the spring plant sales, call or stop by the Arboretum Headquarters during business hours, or join or renew by mail (must be postmarked by 5/17 to be entered in the drawing).

Arboretum Headquarters, located at 448 La Rue Road on the UC Davis campus, are open from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. (Closed from 12 – 1 p.m.)  | Tel: 530.752.4880.

GET READY! Member appreciation plant sale March 7


Click this image to download our spring plant sale flyer.

Saturday, March 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. members of the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden are invited to shop the area’s largest selection of attractive, low-water, easy-care, region-appropriate plants at our teaching nursery before we open to the public in April. Not a member? Call ahead or join at the door. Members receive 10% off their purchases and a $10 member appreciation coupon at this sale. LEARN MORE about membership and 5 REASONS to join during our SPRING MEMBERSHIP DRIVE!

Being in the fourth year of drought, we’re focused more than ever on helping you create your “New Front Yard” with wide variety of your favorite California native plants  in addition to a large selection of choices well-adapted to our Mediterranean climate including Arboretum All-Stars. Think you’ve seen it all? Think again! We’ve put together a list of “35 Low-water plants you’ve (probably) never heard of.”*

Can’t make the sale on March 7? We’re going to be open to the public from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 11, April 18, and May 16 (clearance sale).

Here are some resources to help:

1) INVENTORY: Download the inventory for our Member Appreciation Plant Sale on March 7:  Adobe Acrobat .pdf  |  MS Excel .xlsx
2) LIST of 35 LOW-WATER Plants You’ve (Probably) NEVER HEARD OF (Adobe Acrobat .pdf)
3) 8 TIPS for a Successful Plant Sale Shopping Experience

*We are going to do our best to make sure that these all these plants are available at one of our sales either this spring or next fall. Please cross-reference our inventory to make sure we’ll have what you want and get there early for the best selection!


IN THE NEWS: 40 new favorite plants for water-wise Sacramento-area landscapes

UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden's Director of Public Horticulture Ellen Zagory inspects a dwarf white-striped century agave plant (Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba.') This plant, along with thousands of other attractive, low-water, region-appropriate plants will be available at the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden's upcoming spring plant sales. Photo courtesy of The Sacramento Bee (Lezlie Sterling).

UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s Director of Public Horticulture Ellen Zagory inspects a dwarf white-striped century agave plant (Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba.’) This plant, along with thousands of other attractive, low-water, region-appropriate plants will be available at the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s upcoming spring plant sales. Photo courtesy of The Sacramento Bee (Lezlie Sterling).

Our upcoming spring plant sales, Director of Public Horticulture Ellen Zagory, and Nursery Manager Taylor Lewis were featured in the Sacramento Bee  on February 6, 2015.

The article, featuring information about this spring season’s theme–40 low-water plants you’ve (probably) never heard of–lets readers know about the diverse plant inventory available at our nursery. Read the excerpt by Sarcamento Bee Home and Garden writer Debbie Arrington.

Download our list: 35 low-water plants you’ve (probably) never heard of (Adobe Acrobat required.)
Why 35 instead of 40? There are a few that we consider “waterwise” but not low-water that were included in the Bee’s list.

40 new favorite plants for water-wise Sacramento-area landscapes

by Debbie Arrington | The Sacramento Bee

California gardeners are a hardy lot. Even in the depths of drought, they maintain their passion for plants. And when they find a new favorite, they often want to share.

That’s been the experience of Ellen Zagory, horticultural director of the UC Davis Arboretum, who is always on the lookout for more water-wise plant suggestions.

“People often ask, ‘How did we find these plants?’” Zagory said as she toured the arboretum’s one-acre nursery. “Somebody got one, tried it – and it didn’t die. There’s a lot of word of mouth and trading plants. We keep torturing these plants, seeing how little water they need and still survive.”

The best ones not only stay alive, but thrive in adverse conditions. Irrigated twice a month or less, they still bloom and look beautiful while using a fraction of the water needed by more traditional landscaping. They can take the heat of Sacramento summers as well as the chill of winter nights.

And they offer something extra: They attract birds and beneficial insects. Those candidates that meet all those criteria get added to the arboretum’s collections of recommended plants.

These “new favorites” aren’t always easy to find – unless you’re an immediate friend of the gardener who got it first. That’s where the arboretum steps in to fill that gap.

“These plants are great for our area, but they can be hard to come by,” Zagory said. “That’s how we came up with this idea.”

That idea is another UCD Arboretum collection: “40 Plants You (Probably) Never Heard Of – But Will Love.”

It’s a mouthful, but very descriptive of these drought-tolerant perennials, shrubs and other plants. Many are California natives that haven’t quite crossed over into commerce. Some are lesser-known hybrids of more familiar flowers. All offer easy care and great water savings.

“Gardeners want more plants to add to their low-water landscapes,” Zagory explained. “These are lesser-known players. They’re kind of unusual. But they’re all available this spring at our (arboretum) nursery.”

Credit nursery manager Taylor Lewis and his mostly volunteer staff. They’ve worked months to make sure shoppers will find these new plants and a lot more at the nursery’s spring sales, starting March 7.

“I guarantee we will have some plants that you will not see anywhere else,” Lewis said.

Since last fall, Lewis and his staff have been busily propagating these new-found water-savers as fast as the cuttings and seeds would grow.

“Every day, we’re planting hundreds and hundreds of starts,” Lewis said. “I haven’t had time to count, we’ve been so busy.”

In the year since he’s taken the reins of the Arboretum Teaching Nursery, Lewis has concentrated on expanding its inventory of California natives and more unusual plants.

“We’ve probably got 10 times more plants – at least – than we did last year prior to our first spring sale,” he said. “It’s a good feeling for me to have the nursery so full of plants this time of year.”

Lewis knows what his customers want.

“They like finding things that are cool and interesting,” he said. “I know I’ve got lots of great plants I absolutely love and I know will do so well in our area. Our greenhouse is packed with plants; we’re going crazy trying to get everything transplanted (into larger pots).”

Succulents and other desert natives are well represented among the “40 Plants.” A dwarf striped agave looks just like the popular striped Agave americana century plant, but instead of expanding to 8 feet tall (or more), it stays under 3 feet tall and wide. Gold tooth aloe boasts brilliant spikes of red flowers, a favorite for hummingbirds. Although its spiked edges look scary, they’re soft.

Color Guard yucca features striking gold stripes and is surprisingly tolerant of partial shade. Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) looks like a green starburst.

Lewis is particularly proud of the expansion of one nursery category: drought-tolerant bulbs.

“I’m excited to have this many bulbs,” he said. “They’re all completely drought-tolerant. We’ve got bulbs for practically every season: spring, summer and fall.”

One of those bulbs – yellow autumn crocus (Sternbergia lutea) – made it onto the “40 Plants” list, too.

“We’ve also expanded our grasses,” he added. “We have ornamental grasses from 8 inches tall to over 5 feet. Pick your color; we’ve got something.”

The “40 Plants” collection features one of the best of those grasses: Clearwater Blue fescue. Similar to Siskiyou Blue, Clearwater (Festuca “Clearwater Blue”) is more compact and stays under 8 inches.

Besides color, several of these plants also add scent, said Zagory, as she rubbed the leaves of a pretty perennial. “This is Hildago stachys, but most people call it 7-Up Plant. The leaves smell like 7-Up. They tickle your nose.”

Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), also known as mescal bean, reminds arboretum staff of another soft drink: grape soda.

“It grows into a large shrub or small tree,” Zagory explained. “It has these beautiful cascades of purple flowers that look like wisteria. The whole tree smells like grape bubblegum or grape soda when it blooms. And it’s so drought-tolerant. After its first two years, you probably won’t have to water it at all.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.


The Arboretum Teaching Nursery will host four sales this spring, all featuring the “40 Plants You (Probably) Have Never Heard Of – But Will Learn to Love” collection as well as Arboretum All-Stars, Community Favorites, The New Front Yard, Durable Delights and more.

All sales are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and take place at the nursery, on Garrod Drive on the UC Davis campus across from the Center for Companion Animal Health. Here’s the sales schedule:

▪ March 7: “Friends of the Arboretum” Members Only sale. Members of the arboretum’s support group get 10 percent off all purchases plus a $10 off coupon. New members can join at the door and get a $10 coupon, too.

▪  April 11: Meet the “40 Plants” sale. This is the introduction for the public at large to many of these unusual but useful water-wise plants.

▪  April 25: More drought-busters sale. Find scores of water-wise plants to add to your landscape.

▪  May 16: Clearance sale. Find significant discounts on many plants.

Details: (530) 752-4880, arboretum.ucdavis.edu



UC Davis Russell Ranch gets a visitor entry makeover

Planting Russel Ranch sign

From left to right: Stacey Parker, GATEways horticulturist, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden; Martin Burger, research manager, Russell Ranch; Emma Torbert, post-graduate fellow, Russell Ranch; Farhad Fazel, student; Ellen Zagory, director of public horticulture, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden; and, Matthew Jones-Smiley, student.

The Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility recently received a front door makeover including a new facility monument sign in addition to landscaping provided by a horticultural team from the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

Faculty and researchers at the facility were interested in a small landscape that served many functions—it had to highlight and balance their new signage, be low-water, low-maintenance, and attract pollinators. As it happens that type of plant selection is a specialty of Director of Public Horticulture Ellen Zagory and GATEways Horticulturist Stacey Parker.

The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden provided the plants while members of the UC Davis Agricultural and Sustainability Institute provided the irrigation and planting power, not to mention future maintenance needs. The result is a small landscape that, once established, will require very little water or maintenance while simultaneously helping attract and keep pollinators on the site.

Here’s a list of what was planted:

  1. Quercus lobata, valley oak
  2. Aster chilensis ‘Point St. George’, native aster
  3. Solidago californica ‘Cascade Creek’, Cascade Creek California goldenrod
  4. Muhlenbergia rigens, deergrass
  5. Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet’, valley violet maritime ceanothus
  6. Isomeris arborea, bladderpod
  7. Fremontodendron californicum ‘San Gabriel’, flannel bush
  8. Baccharis ‘Centennial’, Centennial coyote brush
  9. Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat
  10. Eriogonum fasciculatum ‘Theodore Payne’, Theodore Payne buckwheat
  11. Eriogonum fasciculatum ‘Warriner Lytle’, Warriner Lytle buckwheat
  12. Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’, Vine Hill manzanita

Students install low-water, low-maintenance planting

Photo of students from the Environmental Club at UC Davis

Last Saturday, January 24, 2015, students and members of the Environmental Club at UC Davis assisted staff from the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden (APG) in planting a strip of landscape along the curve of Garrod Drive just outside the Vet Med horse corral and across from our teaching nursery.

This project, the result of a partnership with UC Davis Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department, will improve erosion, stormwater quality, and reduce the run-off issues that invariably occur as the result of horses and our other four-legged friends rehabilitating nearby.

The plants, paid for by funding from EH&S, were propagated by students and volunteers at our teaching nursery; some were removed from demonstration beds in areas where the plants needed thinning; and a few were donated by our Director of Public Horticulture Ellen Zagory who had some aloes that were getting too big for her yard!

Photo of Jonathan Su demonstrating proper planting techniques.

Jonathan Su, student and intern with the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, leads a demonstration on proper planting techniques for a large group of volunteers working on the new Garrod Drive landscape.

Haven Kiers, special projects manager with the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, landscape architect, and lecturer for UC Davis Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design courses, designed and facilitated the large planting while UC Davis student  Jonathan Su, Arboretum Ambassador and APG intern, educated the large group of enthusiastic volunteers in proper planting techniques.

A huge thank you goes out to Mandy Royal, APG intern and Environmental Club member, for organizing this incredible team of volunteers and facilitating this important environmental improvement.

What’s next? The landscape along Garrod Drive curve is about a third of the way complete. This recently completed portion reflects the style of landscape located along our teaching nursery just across the street; the middle part of this strip will feature some of the plants listed below along with more grasses, while the final piece of this design will conclude with a mixture of grasses including carex, juncus, and Festuca californica.


  1. Hesperaloe parviflora, coral yucca
  2. Salvia greggii San Takao’, San Takao autumn sage
  3. Iris ‘Canyon Snow’, canyon snow Pacific Iris
  4. Neomerica caerulea, walking iris
  5. Aloe spinossisma, spider aloe
  6. Carex divulsa, Berkeley sedge
  7. Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat
  8. Festuca californica, California fescue
  9. Juncus patens, California grey rush
  10. Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Mozart’, Ed Carman’s rosemary
  11. Muhlenbergia dubia, pine muhly
  12. Saponaria x lempergii ‘Max Frei’, hybrid soapwort
  13. Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet’, valley violet maritime ceanothus
  14. Teucrium chamaedrys , germander
  15. Elymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’, canyon prince wild rye
  16. Nepeta x faassenii, hybrid catmint

LEARN MORE about our campus stormwater quality improvement projects.


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