In the world of living plants and landscapes there is no equivalent of the little black dress – the absolutely carefree plant that goes anywhere with the right accessories – but this has never stopped us from looking for one. Nor has it stopped us from believing we’ve found such a plant, from embracing it with too much enthusiasm and then rejecting it outright when it fails to live up to impossible expectations, moving on to the next high fashion.
Nowhere is this trend more obvious than in our vain attempts to completely cover the ground. In the 1960s we planted junipers. In the ‘80s and ‘90s it was ‘Emerald Carpet’ manzanita. And between those times, somewhere in the 1970s, surely it was dwarf coyote brush.
Each time we learned that all plants need a little maintenance, they don’t last forever, and there are limits to their tolerance. What we didn’t seem to learn is that there were good reasons we fell in love with these plants and, though perhaps somewhat out of fashion now, there are still good reasons for planting them.
Dwarf coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) was once commonly planted as a low-water evergreen groundcover over large expanses in new housing developments, where it spread quickly from widely spaced one-gallon cans and looked quite wonderful for five to ten years and sparse, rangy, or mostly dead a few years later. It has fared much better in the landscapes of experienced gardeners who know it responds vigorously to regular cutting back and greens right up with a little summer water.
The cultivated variety ‘Pigeon Point’ is about a foot tall and mounding higher, spreading eight to ten feet wide, with small, densely set bright green leaves and tiny yellowish white flowers.
Deer resistant and requiring little to no summer water, coyote brush thrives in most soils, takes full sun to part shade, slows erosion on slopes, and is a great habitat plant, providing food and cover for birds, small animals, and butterflies.
Use it in manageably small areas, intersperse with other low-water natives, and provide access for maintenance with paths or permeable pavings.
I thinking about planting Dwarf Coyote Bush as a replacement for red apple ice plant in my front yard. I live in land, San Diego (Poway). It will be facing south with very little shade. Would recommend this plant?
Bruce – Coyote Bush does fine in the sun but you will certainly want to put it on drip irrigation to keep it happy, especially in first year or two. It will take a few years to fill in but is a great habitat and pollinator plant instead of the ice plant.
We need to cover a large slope/bank area and are also located in San Diego (inland). We need something that will help prevent erosion, drought tolerant, and good for firescaping. Would the Dwarf Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’ be a good plant for firescaping or would it only lend fuel (a fire fueler) in the event of a fire?
Any woody plant adds to fuel in the event of major fire. Some plants are more resistant than others, as seen in this link to Cal Fire, Succulents like agave and Aloe are almost foolproof but may no the practical for large slopes.
Hello, live in Ohio was thinking of putting this on a steep south facing hill in clay soil . Do you think this would be a suitable plant?
Steven – The Coyote Brush would not survive in Ohio. There must be many better choices if you consult your Ohio native plant experts.
I want something that needs little water on a hillside but have a pool and don’t want a lot of bees because my small grandchildren swim there. Will this plant being many bees?
That’s a good question. Descriptions in plant books and online often mention that coyote brush is a nectar source for bees, but I have not seen a lot of bee activity around this plant. How close to the pool will you be planting?
Our dwarf coyote bushes seem to be dying despite being on drip irrigation. We are north of Sacramento in the valley. All the leaves are brown, does this mean they are dead or would some extra water help them? This is their third summer and they did great up to now.
This sounds like a fungal pathogen, but to be sure you could contact the UC Cooperative Extension office for Sacramento County. If your drip irrigation system is still working and the plants did well for the past two summers, it is not likely that more water would help an extensive dieback such as you describe.
A bit late, but I wanted to put this out there. DO NOT use drip irrigation on Coyote Brush. For that matter, don’t use it on any California native plant.
Las Pallitas Nursery specifically states on their website that drip irrigation will kill most natives after several years. You should be using your standard overhead irrigation.
I live in zone 9 so can it tolerate a freeze?
Depends on how low the temperature falls and for how long, but dwarf coyote brush is said to be fine down to USDA zone 7. Check with your local nursery to be sure.
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When is the best time to plant dwarf coyote bush?
Fall is usually the best time to plant natives in summer-dry climates such as ours. It’s a bit late now because soils are quite cold, but it is not too late, especially since we’ve already had a few winter rains. Plant now, maybe cover them if frost is expected. I’ve just planted a few natives myself and expect them to do supremely well come spring.