How to Spice-up Your Drought-Friendly Rock Garden

Attract the Birds, the Bees, and the Butterflies

If you have a drought-friendly rock garden in California, you probably already focus on native plants and arrange your plantings according to fuel modification recommendations. However, you may have more options for spicing up your rock garden than you know.

Attract the Birds, the Bees, and the Butterflies

You can add splashes of sound, color, fragrance, and motion to your rock garden, and help birds, bees, and other wildlife that need sources of food and moisture during a drought. Add a backdrop of berry-producing shrubs to your rock garden. There are several drought-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties, but those suggested below bloom in spring with berries following later, when drought is more likely and more likely to be severe.

  • Chaparral Honeysuckle (Lonicerna subspicata johnstonii) — native evergreen perennial, produces clusters of creamy yellow flowers in spring followed by yellowish berries
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) — semi-deciduous shrub, produces bright yellow flowers winter through spring followed by yellow, orange, and red currants

Both butterflies and hummingbirds will fly for penstemon (Penstemon) and sage (Salvia). Agastiche (Agastiche), a favorite with bees, also attracts hummingbirds. Butterflies and bees appreciate catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) and coneflowers (Echinacea). Some studies suggest that hummingbirds prefer red flowers while butterflies and bees prefer blue and violet flowers. However, other studies reveal that these preferences are related to the structure of the flowers and the ease with which hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees are able to obtain nectar from the flowers. The color provides a quick guide to the most likely source of nectar.

Add a Water Feature

Adding a water feature may seem self-defeating in a drought-friendly rock garden created to reduce water use. However, a water feature that recycles the water can be a life-saving water source for wildlife. While a standard bird bath is fine for larger birds, tiny hummingbirds prefer bathing in a fine spray from a fountain or a mister or a dripper set to splash off of rocks or leaves. To create a bee waterer, place pebbles or marbles in a bowl or pan and then add water. Bees can land on the marbles or pebbles and drink without drowning.

Harmonize Your Rock Garden and Hardscape Elements

Stone pavers and slabs harmonize with the natural look of your rock garden. Use them to create a walkway through your rock garden or a seating or entertainment area. Arrange stones of different colors to add a pattern. To create the look of a dry streambed, pour pebbles or pea gravel around the pavers. For a forest look, use drought-resistant groundcover plants instead of gravel or pebbles. Such a path can fill in the spacing required by fuel modification zones. A large boulder or stone or faux stone orb can become a focal point that fills in what had been a gap. Stone or faux stone statuary or a bench also complement and add variety and accents to a rock garden. Wood benches, trellises, and other wood elements coordinate with the natural look. Metal trellises, benches, and sculptures add a contrasting texture and an eye-catching gleam.

Create More Contrast and Variety

To add more variety and contrasting textures to your rock garden, mix flowering plants and those with striking foliage. Clumps of decorative grasses add height and texture, and some grasses provide a food source for butterfly caterpillars. Containers and hanging baskets allow you to display plants at a variety of heights. Containers also retain water, allowing you to add accent plants with higher demands for watering.

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