Drought Tolerant Trees to Consider Planting in Sonoma County

What Drought Tolerant Plants Grow Well in Sonoma County?

Here in California, we’ve dealt with fires and drought for the last several years. In efforts to conserve water, and reduce the risk of wildfires in Sonoma County, the certified arborists at Atlas Tree are dedicated to providing personalized landscaping installation and maintenance services to all of our clients. One of the best ways to ensure your property remains beautiful, healthy, and safe is by planting drought-tolerant trees and fire-resistant vegetation. 

If you want to maintain a beautiful yard that can thrive with less watering, consider these five drought-tolerant and fire-resistant trees and shrubs in your next landscaping project. As a bonus, all of these trees and shrubs produce something edible for humans and wildlife. 

1. Lemonade Sumac Tree

The Lemonade Sumac, or Lemonade berry shrub, is a small tree that is native to California. This decorative shrub is well adapted to drier environments, making it incredibly drought-tolerant. Its waxy leaves are also highly fire-resistant.

The Lemonade Sumac is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to 10-20 feet tall and 5-20 feet wide. In the spring, it produces beautiful pink and white flowers. These flowers turn into edible, orange berries in winter. 

With a small amount of irrigation, it can protect your house from radiant heat from a wildfire without combusting. Therefore, it is also one of the best shade trees or hedges for planting near a house. This shrub can flourish in full or partial sun while requiring extremely low amounts of water. Once the Lemonade Sumac is established it will only need supplemental water one to two times during the summer months.

2. Toyon Shrub

Toyon shrubs, also known as Christmas Berry, grow from Baja California to Southern Oregon. They are famous for their red berries that can persist from Fall into January.

The abundant berries are edible if cooked but are also fantastic for attracting birds. They brighten up the winter months with a stunning show of red. In summer, the white flowers are a haven for bees and butterflies. This decorative shrub requires minimal summer water once established, however watering once or twice in the summer can make it even more fire-resistant and productive. It is very versatile in that it can grow in nearly full shade to full sun. It usually grows around 6-8’ tall and 4-5’ wide. However, a well-cared-for specimen in full sun can reach 20’ with a tree-like structure.

3. Western Redbud Tree

The Western Redbud is a stunning California native, especially in February when it coats itself in bright pink flowers. It can go without water in all but the most extreme heat waves, but prefers a bit of shade in the hottest climates. This tree grows about 12’-20’ tall, 8-10’ wide. Cal Fire recommends it because its smaller stature doesn’t offer a large amount of fuel or burn very hot.

The edible flowers taste a bit like snow peas and show up when bees are most desperate for pollen. The young seed pods are also edible before they turn brown. To further minimize their fire danger, you can pick most of these pods before they dry out. Some cultivars also do not produce seed pods. Unlike almost every other legume, the western redbud does not appear to fix nitrogen. However, as a deciduous tree that drops its leaves in late fall, it helps add organic matter to the soil or your compost.

4. Madrone Tree

The gorgeous evergreen Madrone tree is native to Sonoma County and much of coastal California. It becomes quite drought-tolerant once established. It produces red, edible berries in the fall that wildlife love, and with which many Native Americans in the area once made flour. 

Due to its peeling bark, it is not the most fire-safe tree on this list. It will often survive a fire, even if the top portion is killed, and will readily regrow afterwards. Mature madrone trees also produce very few low-hanging branches. This limits the likelihood of a low burning wildfire jumping up to the canopy, which can reach 50-80’ in a garden and up to 100’ in optimal conditions. 

The Madrone tree can be a bit finicky to grow. However, its red, flaky bark and sculptural growth pattern make it well worth it. This tree is fairly slow-growing and doesn’t transplant well, so work with a certified arborist to determine the best location to plant one on your property. 

5. Indian Fig Cactus

While not exactly a tree, the Indian Fig Cactus can grow 15’ tall and 10’ wide and produces numerous delicious fruits in summer. The pads, called “nopales” in Mexico, are also edible and widely eaten. This cactus need very little water since they absorb and hold so much of it, making them one of the most fire-resistant plants available. It likes full sun or part shade in well-draining soil. It will thrive with no supplemental water, however occasional irrigation in the summer can keep it from shriveling.

The Indian Fig Cactus is the most widely cultivated prickly pear in the world. It is highly productive and not nearly as spiny as many prickly pears. However, it produces glochids, tiny spines that are difficult to see, so both the fruit and pads must be peeled to be eaten. Do make sure you like it before planting it (although birds love the fruits as well) and keep this plant away from walkways. The plant can spread from the occasional broken-off pad, so keep eating the pads and remove fallen ones to keep them in check. It also makes a good fire-safe fence.

Get a Personalized Landscaping Plan from the Certified Arborist at Atlas Tree!

We hope this list has inspired you and relieved any notion that all trees require lots of water or are an increased wildfire danger. Need more help deciding what drought-tolerant trees or shrubs to plant in your yard? From design, installation, to ongoing maintenance, the expert landscaping team at Atlas Tree is here to help! We can create a personalized landscaping plan specific to your lifestyle, property, and budget. 

Contact Atlas Tree today to learn how we can help maintain your home or business landscape’s health, appearance, and safety.

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