Plant Suggestions for your Rain Garden

Nov 30, 2018

Plant Suggestions for your Rain Garden

Nov 30, 2018

By Alicia Springer, UC Master Gardener of Butte County, November 30, 2018

Four weeks ago, in this column we ran an article on rain swales (“Slow it, Spread it, Sink it”-- Creating a Rain Garden,” Nov. 2, 2018). A week after that, the Camp Fire made the idea of planning and planting a rain garden seem all too irrelevant. Now, with several full days of decent rain behind us, more rain in the forecast, and the Camp Fire declared 100% contained, we can start thinking again about how to practice effective water conservation in our own yards. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have gardens can make the most of the gift of rain.

Therefore, this week's Real Dirt is a list of appropriate plants for the kind of rain swale discussed in the previous article. It is far from an exhaustive list, but it provides a solid start for those beginning such a project. Because our region's climate of hot summers and (with luck) moist winters requires plantings that can withstand these extremes, most of the species suggested here are California natives adapted for those conditions. Species from other Mediterranean climates are also good bets. By design, a swale has different zones of moisture, from a soggy base to a dry upper bank, so the water requirements of countless species can be met (this is one reason why our list is by necessity incomplete).

Note that our merciless summers require additional irrigation for even drought-tolerant native plants while they are getting established. A spare but regular drip-irrigation line for the first two summers will improve survival rates.

Cool-season grasses and herbs to line a grassy swale or the banks of a rock creek:

  • Sedges (Carex species) and rushes (Juncus species) for sun
  • Yerba buena (Clinopidium douglasii) for part-shade

Deep-rooted, larger grasses to anchor:

  • Deer grass (Muhlenbergia patens)
  • Native fescues (Festuca californica, F. idahoensis, F. rubrica)
  • Creeping wildrye (Leymus triticoides)

Perennials that tolerate winter moist, summer dry conditions:

  • Douglas iris (Iris douglasii)
  • California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)
  • Prostrate manzanita (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
  • Buckwheats (Eriogonum species)
  • Fleabane daisies (Erigeron species)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Common monkeyflower/aka sticky-monkey (Mimulus aurantiacus)
  • Yellow monkeyflower/aka seep mimulus (Mimulus guttatus)
  • California coneflower (Rudbeckia californica)
  • Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) and other salvia species

Drought-tolerant ferns for shade

  • Polypody fern (Polypodium californicum)
  • Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
  • Wood fern (Dryopteris arguta)

Shrubs and small trees for banks

  • Hybrid rockrose (Cistus skanbergii)
  • Barberry (Berberis aka Mahonia pinnata)
  • Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
  • California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica)
  • Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum)
  • Wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa)
  • St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
  • Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
  • Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides)
  • Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)
  • Ceanothus species
  • Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species)

For more information on gardening in our area, visit the Butte County Master Gardener web page at: If you have a gardening question or problem, call our Hotline at (530) 538-720l.