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California Coastal Mediterranean Landscaping Ideas

California Native Landscape Idea 1
California Native Landscape Idea 1:
Mix Them Together

Mediterranean Landscaping Plant Guide

We characterize a Mediterranean climate as one with dry mild temperature summers and cool, but not freezing, very wet winters. It's a two season climate. The Mediterranean climates are near large bodies of water, such as the Mediterranean sea, which is the dictator of land climate. The sea or ocean keeps land temperatures from freezing in the winter and from getting too hot in the summer.

We break this warm coastal climate into four regions, three of which have direct exposure to the Pacific ocean influence. The forth hides just on the other side of the coastal foot hill range that roughly parallels the coast-line. However, within these distinctive climates are many micro-climates. Each micro-climate is a function of its exposure or lack of exposure to the coastal influence due to the hilly terrain. You will need to evaluate your micro-climate and experiment with various plant material until you the right mix of plants that works best and looks attractive to you.

An undisturbed natural landscape is very cooperative. Plants (even of different species) in the same community share resources during stress times. They typically share resources through beneficial bacteria called Mycorrhizal. Having this important organism in your soil increases the health of your landscape, reduces water needs, and almost eliminates the need for fertilizers. For a more technical explanation of the benefits of Mycorrhizal in the Mediterranean garden, click here. If you can re-create this phenomenon in your landscape, you can make it almost totally maintenance free.

Unique Properties of California Native Plants

Plants native to California, and for that matter, most of the west, behave somewhat differently than mass produced high maintenance exotic plants you buy at big box retailers, such as Walmart. For example, native plants are difficult to maintain in pots. However, when planted in the ground, they require almost no maintenance once established. Here are some other features that would be valuable to know.

  • Mediterranean native plants are best planted in the fall around the time of the first rain. Typically, the first rain of the wet season begins sometime in October. However, this varies widely from year to year and from north to south. Most of the growth for native Mediterranean plants occurs during the wet season. During the dry stress period of summer, most natives go dormant.
  • Mediterranean native plants become leggy if over-watered during the stress season.
  • Mediterranean native plants should be planted as a communities of like kind rather than as individuals.
  • Mediterranean native plants attract native wild-life into your landscape. They typically are the foundation for an interdependent eco-system, where associated birds and ground animals farm your landscape for you. By farm, we mean, they keep pests in check, rotate surface mulch as they forage, and help spread seed produced by your native plants' fruit.

Benefits of Using Mediterranean Natives in the Landscape

There many benefits of using locally adapted plants in your landscape. Here are just a few.

  • Lower Maintenance
  • Attracts Wild Life Traditional landscapes tend to be very sterile, except for pigeons. A native
  • Reduced Irrigation Needs A native landscape can use as much as 15 times less water than a traditional turf and tulip landscape. You can even contour your yard so that retained site water could just about eliminate the need for an irrigation system. For sure, you would not need an overhead sprinkler system.
  • Better Soil Retention Native plant roots tend to be much deeper than those of turf grass.
  • Reduced pests, pesticides, weed killers, mowing, and trimming.
  • More Attractive Pallet of Plants

California's Mediterranean Landscaping Regions

The south coastal Mediterranean climate extends from the Monterey - San Luis Obispo county line at the north end to the south of the Mexican border in Baja California. The central coast Mediterranean climate extends from the Monterey - San Luis Obispo county line at the south end to include coastal Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The southern end of the north coast climate begins with the San Mateo - San Francisco peninsula and extends to coastal Oregon. The further north you go along the California coast, the colder the summers and the wetter the winters.

California Native Landscape Map 1
California Mediterranean Landscaping Regions

South Coast Landscaping Ideas

California Native Landscape Idea 2
A Native Garden in the Angeles National Forest
Overlooking the Los Angeles Basin

This region has the least amount of rain and the most sun. It has long dry summers that end with hot dry Santa Ana winds from the deserts to the east. As the Pacific Ocean warms and relinquishes its control over coastal temperatures, the entire region becomes a fire hazard. Soon after, the dipole flips and the first rain storm hit causing mud slides in the burned areas. The rain continues until early spring, powering new growth on trees and shrubs, and germinating new plants. Spring begins early with an explosion of blooms.

California Native Landscape Idea 3
A Native Garden in the Angeles National Forest
Overlooking the Los Angeles Basin

The plant communities of southern coastal landscape are generally called California scrub. They are generally the same types of plants as central California, but can tolerate more heat stress. They are very distinct from plant communities of the Mojave and Colorado deserts to the immediate east. Most California scrub plants can not handle the low humidity, excessive heat, and freezing temperatures of the deserts, because they are protected by the marine layer of the coast.

California Native Landscape Idea 4
A Native Garden Brings the Wildlife.

Here are are some suggestions of plant material for creating a sustainable landscape in coastal southern California.

  • Agave desertii
  • Agave shawii
  • Arctostaphylos glauca
  • Arctostaphylos pungens
  • Arctostaphylos viscida
  • Artemisia californica
  • Ceanothus cuneatus
  • Ceanothus cv. Joyce Coulter
  • Diplacus rutilus
  • Eriogonum arborescens
  • Eriogonum fasciculatum
  • Eriogonum giganteum
  • Eschscholzia californica
  • Hesperyucca whipplei
  • Lycium californicum
  • Malacothamnus densiflorus
  • Mirabilis californica
  • Penstemon centranthifolius
  • Penstemon heterophyllus
  • Penstemon spectabilis
  • Pinus torreyana
  • Prunus ilicifolia
  • Quercus acutidens
  • Quercus douglasii
  • Rhus integrifolia
  • Rhus trilobata
  • Ribes indecorum
  • Ribes speciosum
  • Salvia apiana
  • Salvia clevelandii
  • Salvia mellifera
  • Sidalcea malvaeflora
  • Sphaeralcea philippiana ~ Globe Mallow
  • Trichostema lanatum
  • Xylococcus bicolor
  • Yucca schidigera
  • Zauschneria californica
  • Zauschneria cana

South Coast Landscaping Resources

Here are some nearby organizations, nurseries, and online information to help guide you along the way in creating a fantastic Southern California Coastal Landscape.

Central Coast Landscaping Ideas

California Native Landscape Idea 6
The Many Varieties of Manzanita (Arctostaphylos) on the
Central Coast are Perfect for the Landscape There.

This region's climate is very similar to the north coast. Its summers are also cool, foggy, and windy; however, not as brutal as the summers of the north coast. Also the winter rain fall levels are slightly less.

  • Acer macrophyllum
  • Amelanchier alnifolia
  • Arbutus menziesii
  • Arctostaphylos densiflora
  • Arctostaphylos edmundsii Carmel Sur Manzanita
  • Arctostaphylos edmundsii
  • Arctostaphylos hookeri
  • Arctostaphylos insularis
  • Arctostaphylos manzanita Dr. Hurd
  • Arctostaphylos Pacific Mist
  • Arctostaphylos pumila
  • Arctostaphylos refugioensis
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi suborbiculata San Bruno
  • Ceanothus Concha
  • Ceanothus griseus horizontalis Yankee Point
  • Ceanothus thyrsiflorus
  • Cercis occidentalis
  • Cercocarpus betuloides
  • Clematis ligusticifolia
  • Corethrogyne filaginifolia
  • Cupressus goveniana
  • Diplacus grandiflorus
  • Diplacus puniceus
  • Dudleya caespitosa
  • Dudleya farinosa
  • Encelia californica
  • Erigeron glaucus
  • Eriogonum parvifolium
  • Eriogonum grande var. rubescens
  • Eriogonum arborescens
  • Fremontodendron californicum
  • Galvezia speciosa
  • Horkelia rydbergii
  • Holodiscus discolor
  • Juncus occidentalis
  • Lessingia filaginifolia
  • Lupinus arboreus
  • Monardella villosa obispoensis
  • Rhamnus californica
  • Ribes californicum
  • Ribes divaricatum
  • Ribes malvaceum
  • Rosa gymnocarpa
  • Salvia spathacea
  • Trichostema lanatum
  • Zauschneria californica Uvas Canyon

Central Coast Landscaping Resources

Here are some nearby organizations, nurseries, and online information to help guide you along the way in creating a fantastic Central California Coastal Landscape.

North Coast Landscaping Ideas

California Native Landscape Idea 10
North Coast Garden Example

Climate dominated by cold foggy summers. Then, when the ocean warms in fall, the sun comes out and things warm up a bit. Think of all the old movies shot in San Francisco. Winters are mild and rainy, up to 6 inches per month in some areas of the north coast. The plant pallet in this area is very unique and usually unable to survive elsewhere. Here are some suggested plants for the area.

  • Arbutus menziesii
  • Aralia californica
  • Arctostaphylos Pacific Mist
  • Aristolochia californica
  • Carpenteria californica
  • Ceanothus gloriosus
  • Ceanothus griseus
  • Ceanothus maritimus
  • Cercis occidentalis
  • Clematis ligusticifolia
  • Cornus nuttallii
  • Cupressus lawsoniana
  • Epilobium 'Brilliant Smith'
  • Epilobium septentrionalis
  • Erigeron glaucus
  • Eriophyllum lanatum
  • Erysimum franciscanum
  • Eriophyllum confertiflorum
  • Heuchera rubescens
  • Iris douglasiana
  • Juglans californica
  • Juncus effusus pacificus
  • Lilium pardalinum giganteum
  • Lupinus polyphyllus
  • Mimulus cardinalis
  • Philadelphus lewisii californica
  • Polystichum munitum
  • Populus fremontii
  • Prunus ilicifolia lyonii
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Pteridium aquilinum
  • Quercus agrifolia
  • Quercus chrysolepis
  • Ribes sanguineum glutinosum
  • Ribes speciosum
  • Rhamnus californica
  • Rhododendron macrophyllum
  • Rhododendron occidentale
  • Rosa gymnocarpa
  • Salvia sonomensis
  • Salvia spathacea
  • Sambucus mexicana
  • Satureja douglasii
  • Scrophularia californica
  • Sedum oreganum
  • Sedum spathulifolium 'Blood Red'
  • Sequoia sempervirens
  • Spiraea densiflora
  • Torreya californica

North Coast Landscaping Resources

Here are some nearby organizations, nurseries, and online information to help guide you along the way in creating a fantastic North California Coastal Landscape.

Near Coast Inland Landscaping Ideas

Cities like Gilroy, Soledad, Santa Maria, Vallejo, Fairfield, Riverside, Santa Clarita, and King City are just far enough away from the coast or isolated by foot hills that the coastal influence is much less. These communities experience hotter summers and colder winters than their close friends to the west. However, they are not as hot as the Central (San Jaquin) Valley, which totally removed from the coastal climate by a north-south hill range that parallels the coast. The Central Valley of California is really almost a desert climate and homeowners in that region should follow our desert landscaping suggestions.

The plants selected for the near coast inland climates of California should be able to handle 100 degree summer temperatures and near freezing winter night temperatures. The better adapted your plants are to it's character, the simpler your irrigation system will be. Here are the temperature and rain profiles for Gilroy, the typical city in this intermediate climate, and Watsonville, a coastal city just on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountain.


Temperature and Rain Fall for Gilroy, CA
Month Avg. High (F) Avg. Low (F) Avg. Rain (inches)
January 60 39 4.3
February 64 43 4.1
March 67 45 3.64
April 73 47 1.16
May 78 51 0.41
June 84 54 0.1
July 88 56 0.06
August 88 56 0.05
September 86 54 0.33
October 79 50 0.93
November 67 43 2.52
December 60 38 3.00


Temperature and Rain Fall for Watsonville, CA
Month Avg. High (F) Avg. Low (F) Avg. Rain (inches)
January 61 39 4.72
February 63 41 4.45
March 64 43 3.92
April 68 45 1.62
May 69 48 0.51
June 71 51 0.12
July 72 53 0.08
August 73 53 0.07
September 74 52 0.29
October 72 48 1.06
November 66 42 3.00
December 61 38 3.41

Although the two towns are only 19 miles apart, the summer temperatures are much warmer in Gilroy. They are separated by the Santa Cruz mountain range, which blocks the cool moist marine air that Watsonville gets.

Landscaping Ideas Map
Gilroy and Watsonville, two climates separated by one hill.

Typically, cities and towns along the 101 freeway have this inland climate, because the freeway was laid on the east side of the coastal hill range. So without further delay, here are some recommendations for this climate.

  • Arctostaphylos luciana
  • Arctostaphylos pechoensis
  • Artemisia californica
  • Ceanothus arboreus
  • Ceanothus Concha
  • Diplacus aurantiacus
  • Diplacus longiflorus
  • Diplacus puniceus
  • Erigeron foliosus
  • Eriogonum arborescens
  • Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum
  • Eschscholzia californica
  • Juniperus californica
  • Malacothamnus densiflorus
  • Malacothamnus jonesii
  • Mirabilis californica
  • Penstemon heterophyllus
  • Penstemon spectabilis
  • Quercus douglasii
  • Salvia clevelandii
  • Salvia mellifera
  • Trichostema lanatum
  • Zauschneria californica
  • Zauschneria cana

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