When It Comes to Landscaping, Go Native!

By Eileen Oldroyd

This year’s increased precipitation has been a critical event for our thirsty state, especially in Southern California, where we had been required to reduce our overall water consumption by an average of 20 percent. However, last month the State Water Resources Control Board extended the California’s emergency drought regulations.

How can this be?

California has a very diverse climate. We have Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, as well as Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower forty-eight. We also have diverse rainfall to coincide with our climates. Orange County receives an average of only 14 inches of rain each year while Northern California receives nearly 30 inches. Yet two-thirds of our population live in much drier Southern California, where the demand for housing continues to grow. Needless to say, one size does not fit all when comes to the demand for water.

This is especially true in South Orange County, where the ability to store water from local rainfall is almost nonexistent. When it rains here, most of the water drains to the ocean. What is the solution? South Orange County imports more than 90 percent of its water either from the High Sierras in Northern California or from the Colorado River by means of infrastructure that is almost one hundred years old. It is an engineering miracle that fresh drinkable water flows from South Orange County taps every day. Thus, in a sense, South Orange County is in a continuing state of drought emergency.

As a real estate professional, you can make your clients aware of the continuing water crisis and help them improve their home by landscaping with California native plants.

Because 50 to 75 percent of residential water consumption is used for landscaping, the most significant change South Orange County residents can make to reduce their water consumption is to remove turf or grass and replace it with native California grasses and plants. Native plants not only require less water but also restore local biodiversity like bees, butterflies, and birds that are crucial to sustaining our wildlife. And because native plants have been growing in this climate for thousands—perhaps millions—of years, they have developed the natural ability to thrive in local soil and to fend off pesky insects. They don’t need to be treated with high-nitrogen fertilizers and harmful pesticides that pollute ground water and oceans.

The advantages of going native when you landscape include the following:

  1. Decreased water consumption. Once established, native plants require very little, if any, supplemental watering because that are accustomed to Southern California’s dry weather conditions.
  2. Little Need to Feed. Because native plants have been growing for thousands of years in the local soil, they thrive without being artificially fed.
  3. Low maintenance. There is no need to fuss over native plants other than to trim, thin, or shape them occasionally so you save money on gardening bills.
  4. Improved curb appeal. A yard full of drought-tolerant, low-maintenance native plants may increase the value of a home.
  5. Bragging rights. A garden that is reminiscent of California’s history and brings wildlife back to your own front yard can be a source of pride.

But before you encourage your clients to go native in their landscaping, do your homework. Choices are not limited to succulents and cacti. Native species vary from fragrant vines to handsome oak trees to butterfly-attracting shrubs and include, of course, the California poppy. When you let your imagination be your guide, possibilities include an English garden, a tropical oasis, or a Mediterranean conversation area.

For more information, visit Tree of Life Nursery off the Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano or go to

Eileen Oldroyd is a director of the Orange County REALTORS® (OCR) and a former chair of OCR’s Green Committee. She is a winner of the EverGreen Award, which is given each year by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Green REesource Council. Every Monday, she posts on her Facebook page at a feature called Go Native Monday in which she highlights a specific California native plant.