Ask the Expert: Janet Sluis on picking the right plants for your garden

We asked Janet Sluis, Sunset Western Garden Collection's plant expert, for her advice on picking the right plants and flowers for your gard...


We asked Janet Sluis, Sunset Western Garden Collection‘s plant expert, for her advice on picking the right plants and flowers for your gardens.

Janet Sluis, Sunset Western Garden Collection

Succulents are great and all, but I want some big, bright flowers that are still drought tolerant. What flowers will thrive in low-water conditions? –Krista Fisher, Riverside, CA

Unfortunately “big, bright blooms” and drought tolerant is a tall order. Try using some blooming shrubs, like Bougainvillea or Lantana, and zoning a section of your garden for lower-water-use perennials. Agastache, Bearded Iris, Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Hemerocallis, Kniphofia, and Salvias are all great choices. Look for newer re-blooming varieties for more color, like Gaillardia ‘Celebration,’ and remember that in warmer winter areas (including Riverside), fall is the best time to plant.

Gardening has been a prominent hobby in my family forever. I’m talking generations and generations, but it seems the green thumb decided to skip me. What are the best plants for a struggling beginner? – Caroline Thomas, Sacramento, CA

First off, congratulations on not giving up! Sacramento can have brutal heat and poor soils, which is challenging for the best of gardeners. Try planting cold-hardy perennials, or colorful shrubs like Nandina ‘Obsession,’ in the fall. These plants will transplant better with the cooler temperatures and will need less water to get established. Coreopsis, Kniphofia, Day-Lily, and Shasta Daisies are all pretty tough blooming plants.

I have no yard and my balcony is only in the shade for about a third of the day. Potted edibles would be awesome, but I’m not sure where to start. Are there even any plants that can grow in those conditions? – Matt Yeadaker, Boise, ID

Most edibles can take full sun, but you might be chained to the garden hose. First, choose large containers; they hold more soil and will not dry out as quickly. Then focus on low-water-use herbs, like Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme. Look for compact varieties of sun-loving vegetables. Zucchini Buckingham or Window Box Roma Tomato would be good choices. After planting, add a layer of mulch to your container to conserve moisture.