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My Most Recommended Tool for Choosing Water-wise Plants for California Gardens

My Most Recommended Tool for Choosing Water-wise Plants for California Gardens

Choosing plants for a landscape plan or even a small garden project can be overwhelming.  There are so many plants!  It is easy to find examples of landscapes and plants we love, but how do we know that the plants we like are going to thrive in our garden?

There are many factors to consider when choosing plants, and if you want your plants to be low-water users, developing your plant list can be challenging.

When researching plants, we see terms like, “water-wise”, “low-water use”, “drought tolerant”, “no summer water”, “medium water”, “moderate water”, “water regularly”, “keep evenly moist”, “keep on the dry side”, “let dry between waterings”, “let dry somewhat between waterings”, “deep and infrequent waterings”.

Seriously?!  How do we know what these words really mean in terms of how to choose and water our plants?  This is like trying to figure out how much light a plant needs:  low, moderate, high, bright, indirect, part sun/part shade, half sun/half shade, dappled shade, filtered shade, etc.!

Introducing Waterwonk!  Waterwonk ( is my absolute favorite Must-Have tool I use when choosing plants for a California garden.  The water needs of any given plant will vary depending on the climate region where it will live.  To make sure the plants I’m considering are appropriate for the location, I look them up in the WaterWonk database. WaterWonk is the WUCOLS online California plant database search tool.

What is WUCOLS?

Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) provides a guide to estimating irrigation water needs of landscape plantings in each of 6 distinct California climate regions.  WUCOLS was developed by the University of California Cooperative Extension in cooperation with landscape professionals and funded by the California Department of Water Resources.

What I love about WaterWonk is that it is so easy to use.  You simply type in your city, and the tool will pull your search results from the correct WUCOLS climate region.  You can view the entire list of plants appropriate for your region, or you can filter the list by entering other search criteria such as type of plant (tree, shrub, succulent, etc.).  You can even select CA native plants only, or plants that require less summer water once they are established.  The database also provides clickable links to Flicker photos of each plant so you are able to get a really good idea of what the plant looks like.  Enjoy!

If you check out the WaterWonk search tool, I would love to hear how you liked it.  Let me know in the comments below!

If you’re gardening in a state other than California, check with your county Cooperative Extension Service, or do a Google search to find landscape water efficiency resources for your region.  Many water agencies, native plant societies, plant nurseries, and other organizations publish plant lists online.  You might start by entering search terms such as “low-water”, “drought tolerant”, or “water-wise” plants for (your city/state).