Gardening in Southern California presents the dual challenge of managing temperatures and moisture levels. This region, which is generally classified as zones 8–10 on the USDA hardiness scale (with a few small pockets of 7), is both hot and dry, meaning it’s not friendly to a lot of ornamental garden plants. But that doesn’t mean your SoCal yard has to be featureless.
While you can always throw caution and social concern to the wind and plant groupings of thirsty plants in your yard, that isn’t a great long-term strategy. Instead, consider planting drought-tolerant succulents, trees, flowering perennials and even some fragrant herbs that help make your home more beautiful year after year. It’s all a matter of making the right choices.
Perennial, bushy herbs with woody stems such as rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and lavender are great choices for SoCal gardens across most hardiness zones. Some varieties may be more heat-tolerant than others, but in general, these herbs all favor well-drained soil and plenty of sun, something Southern California has in spades.
These are all herbs that you can add to food or use for scenting your home’s interior, but they can also add some lovely color and texture to your garden. On particularly hot days, you may be able to smell the herbs’ fragrant oils on the air. Several of these plants, including rosemary and lavender, also produce fragrant blossoms, adding another level of sense enjoyment to these plants.
Herbs aren’t the only way to get some florals into your Southern California garden. There are several flowering plants that can resist heat and drought to produce beautiful colors and scents in your yard. Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is lovely to look at and blooms beautifully in hardiness zones all the way up to 10.
Bearded irises are another great choice; this may be surprising because some irises grow well in boggy conditions, but these showy blossoms are hardy through zone 10 and prefer dry soil. They can withstand long periods without watering and still look wonderful. English roses, too, can grow well in this climate, but be sure to choose a tender — not hardy — variety and insulate roots with mulch to enjoy the most vigorous blooms.