7 Drought-Tolerant Herbs for Southern California Gardens + Tips
Southern California seems to be in an almost perpetual state of drought, which means all of us must do our part to conserve water. Much of the water used in residential settings is used to irrigate landscaping, so this is a key aspect to consider when determining how best we can save water in our homes.
Of course, most exterior water usage at private homes goes towards watering natural grass lawns; therefore, the most important first step for anyone who still has natural grass is to reduce the size of their lawn or replace it with low-water alternatives. This, alone, will significantly reduce water waste and will help these homeowners save money on their water bills.
Aside from reducing or replacing natural grass lawns, homeowners can also reduce water waste by landscaping with native plants or non-natives that originate in similar climates and can thrive in Southern California with minimal irrigation and care. We can use drought-tolerant ornamental options for landscaping borders and flowerbeds, while also choosing low-water options for growing in our food gardens or herb gardens. We can also use a combination of both to create edible landscaping that adds texture and color to our outdoor living areas while also providing herbs for culinary or medicinal purposes.
For those of us who like to grow herbs for use in cooking, crafts, or home remedies, we can look to low-maintenance, drought-tolerant herbs to grow in containers, raised beds, or in the ground. It is most obvious to look to native herbs when selecting varieties for your garden, but there are also many herbs that are not native to Southern California but that are native to a similar client in Mediterranean countries. This means that we can add these herbs to our list of options that will thrive here with minimal water and care. Oregano and thyme are two good examples of herbs that are not native to Southern California but can be grown as natives here.
Uses for Drought-Tolerant Herbs
Herbs are easy to grow in containers, raised garden beds, raised herb gardens, or in the ground. This makes them an easy way to add color, texture, and visual appeal to your food garden, landscaping, or outdoor living areas.
You can grow herbs in containers to add color and texture to a paving stone patio. Herbs can be grown around your artificial grass lawn as a living, water-saving border. They can also be grown along walkways or driveways or as ground covers in large areas where you want to increase visual appeal without significantly increasing the area’s water needs.
Aside from enhancing the look of your yard and outdoor living areas, growing herbs provides you with aromatic ingredients for use in and around your home. Here are just a handful of the ways you can use drought-tolerant herbs.
- Herbs can be used for flavoring soups, stews, sauces, side dishes, and main courses.
- Herbs can be used to make a variety of cocktails and mocktails.
- Fresh herbs can be used to flavor sparkling or still water.
- Dried or fresh herbs can be used to make herbal teas.
- Herbs can be used to make household cleaning products and room sprays.
- Herbs can be used to make potpourri, sachets, eye pillows, or other craft and self-care products.
- Herbs can be used for their medicinal qualities to make natural home remedies.
- Fresh or dried herbs can be used to make home décor, such as wreaths or centerpieces.
- Dried herbs can be used to create custom flavoring blends.
- Herbs can be used to flavor honey, oil, or vinegar.
It is important to remember that herbs grown for culinary or medicinal uses should be grown organically with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. If you are planning on making home remedies with your herbs, it is important to research each herb beforehand to learn about possible side effects, interactions, and usages that are recommended or not recommended.
7 Drought-Tolerant Herbs for Southern California Landscaping
Drought Tolerant Herb #1: Lavender
Lavender is commonly found in Southern California gardens and is most often grown for its beautiful blooms, ability to thrive with minimal care, and drought resistance. This hardy, shrubby herb is often grown along walkways or driveways to add color and a softer texture along gravel, concrete, or paving stone hardscapes.
Lavender is also popular for home gardens because of its versatility. This includes culinary purposes, such as flavoring dishes or making herbal teas. It can also be used in an array of crafts and self-care products, such as eye pillows, bath salts, aromatic sachets, and floral arrangements.
You may want to consider planting it near your food garden, since it attracts pollinators to your yard. You can also use it to repel mosquitoes and flies.
Drought Tolerant Herb #2: Sage
Sage varieties are common in Southern California landscaping and are usually chosen for their ability to add silvery-green foliage and colorful blooms while requiring minimal care and irrigation. Mexican sage is one of the most common varieties found here, but there are also several types of culinary sages grown in containers, as border plants, or in herb gardens.
Culinary sages can be used to flavor oils, butter, marinades, meat dishes, and pastas. It can also be used to make sage bundles for smudging and for crafting home remedies. Traditionally, sages have been used in folk remedies to treat heartburn, depression, dementia and memory loss, and digestive issues.
Sages are usually cooked or dried for later use; it is not common to eat raw sage leaves. Sprigs of sage can be tossed into the fire in your fire pit or patio fireplace to help keep mosquitos and other insects away from your guests.
Drought Tolerant Herb #3: Rosemary
Rosemary is well known for its culinary and medicinal qualities, but it is most often grown in Southern California as a landscaping plant. This is an ideal choice for those looking for an option that they can use as a natural or well-groomed hedge. It can be used as a privacy screen, grown in a container, or used for topiary. You may want to consider growing it as a low hedge around your vegetable garden to help keep slugs and snails away.
You can toss sprigs on the fire in your fire feature to help keep mosquitos away or harvest the rosemary to craft homemade mosquito-repellent spray. Rosemary also has quite a reputation in the kitchen and can be used to flavor breads, cookies, meat dishes, soups, stews, potatoes, other vegetable dishes, and cooking oils.
Drought Tolerant Herb #4: Thyme
Varieties of thyme can be placed in two basic categories: low-growing ground covers and taller varieties used for culinary purposes. The drought-tolerant, low-growing ground cover varieties spread out across an area forming a mat and can be walked on. This makes them a good choice for growing in turfstones, around stepping stones in walkways, or bordering paving stone patios and paths.
If you are looking for a living ground cover, thyme might be a good choice, since it will give you the look you want without the excessive irrigation requirements of other living options.
If you want to grow thyme in your container garden or herb garden for culinary use, choose a taller variety specifically intended for flavoring beans, potatoes, vegetable dishes, soups, stews, casseroles, and meat dishes.
Thyme is another herb that deters mosquitos, but the leaves need to be bruised a little to release the repellent. Therefore, if you want to use thyme as a mosquito deterrent, you might want to consider using it as a ground cover that will be walked on to bruise the leaves.
Drought Tolerant Herb #5: Feverfew
Historically, feverfew has been best known for its medicinal uses. Over the ages, this popular herb has been used in home remedies to treat a wide range of ailments, including toothaches, headaches, allergies, arthritis, fever, anemia, and the common cold. It is best known as a natural remedy for headaches and migraines.
It can be used to craft homemade insect repellent, brewed into an herbal tea, made into a tincture, or dried and placed in capsules for easier consumption. It can also be made into an herb butter to be used when cooking.
For landscaping purposes, feverfew has delicate, white flowers that look like miniature daisies, which make them a great choice for use as an ornamental plant in a drought-tolerant garden.
Drought Tolerant Herb #6: Echinacea
Echinacea is best known for its use in herbal remedies to treat and prevent the flu and the common cold. You will find it in many over-the-counter concoctions at your local drugstore, and it is most often available in capsules, extracts, tinctures, and teas. You can grow your own Echinacea to dry and use in teas or home remedies, or you can use this member of the daisy family as an ornamental plant in your drought-tolerant landscaping.
It is most common to see pink flowers, but you can also find Echinacea plants that bloom in white, orange, or red if that better suits your landscaping design.
Drought Tolerant Herb #7: Oregano
Oregano is commonly found in backyard herb gardens and is a versatile, easy-to-grow plant that can be used for ornamental, culinary, or medicinal purposes. Most folks grow oregano along with basil for flavoring pasta dishes, soups, and sauces. You can use it fresh or dried and can grow it in the ground, in raised garden beds, or in a container.
As an ornamental addition to your garden, it can be used in borders or containers around outdoor living areas to add color and deter pests.
Traditionally, oregano has been used in folk medicine to create treatments for sore muscles, blood sugar regulation, relieving inflammation, and improving gut health.
Tips for Growing Drought-Tolerant Herbs
Here are five tips for helping your drought-tolerant herbs thrive in Southern California:
1. Install a Drip System.
Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water plants without losing excessive water to wind or evaporation. It achieves this by delivering the water directly to the base of the plant. This will help you save even more water while making sure your plants receive the irrigation they need.
2. Water Early or Late in the Day.
To avoid evaporation and conserve water, it is best to water your food plants and landscaping either early in the morning or later in the evening. If you are using an automatic irrigation system, you can set it to water in the early hours of the morning. If you water by hand, do your watering soon after you get up or in the early or late evening.
3. Layer on the Mulch.
A good layer of mulch helps soil retain moisture, which will help your plants thrive with less irrigation. Mulch also helps maintain soil temperature and limit weed growth. As it breaks down, natural mulches will also add nutrients to the soil.
4. Remember that Growing in Containers is Different.
Plants growing in containers may need more or less water, depending on the type of container. Glazed pots hold water well, which generally calls for less frequent watering. Terra cotta pots and other unglazed planters generally dry out faster and may need a bit more water.
5. Amend Your Soil.
Drought-tolerant herbs generally prefer well-draining soil, which is pretty much the opposite of the clay soil found in much of the San Diego area and in Southern California. If your soil is particularly dense, you may need to amend it with compost or mulch to improve drainage.