Monteciello countryside

California Native Plants and the Mediterranean Climate

We live in northern California, and we landscaped our yard with California native plants which are adapted to the dry summers of our Mediterranean climate.

In October we visited Italy, which has a Mediterranean climate.  It  rained more frequently in Italy than California, and Italy was greener too. In the photo below, this Tuscan olive orchard is green from grass growing between the trees. I noticed tall grass growing on roadsides, so grass is widespread. There’s enough rain to grow tall grass in Tuscany, without irrigation.

Tuscan olive orchard with grass
Tuscan olive orchard with grass

California and Italy both have a Mediterranean climate. I thought that California’s weather would be like Italy’s. But Italy was wetter this fall. Is this normal?

This post compares weather averages for my town (Los Altos, California) and Montepulciano, the Tuscan hill town where we stayed in October. Los Altos is about 40 miles south of San Francisco.

The chart below shows Los Altos weather.  The monthly average high and low temperatures is shown in red.  The green bars indicate the average rainfall.  Note that Los Altos has almost no rain during the four hottest months of the year —  extended warm weather with no water is a very tough climate for plants.  Most landscaping uses plants that need regular summer water.  More than half the water used by my town is to irrigate landscaping. I believe this is typical for California suburbs.

Los Altos weather
Los Altos weather

Here’s the weather profile for Montepulciano, located in southern Tuscany between Florence and Rome.  It rains through the year, even during the summer. Montepulciano is much colder in the winter, and the summer warm period lasts only two months. Montepulciano also has 50% more rainfall per year than Los Altos.

Montepulciano weather
Montepulciano weather

As shown below, temperatures in New York City are more similar to Montepulciano’s.  The  summer high temperatures last about two months (but higher temperatures), and the average high temperature for both places dips to about 40 degrees in the winter.  New York (48 inches/year) gets twice as much annual rain as Montepulciano (24 inchdes/year), and three times as much rain as Los Altos (16 inches/year).

New York Weather
New York Weather

California’s climate appears to be more unique than I thought, different from other areas with a Mediterranean climate. I have a greater appreciation for the California native plants that can survive our harsh summers. Plants native to other areas like Tuscany and New York are used to much more water than California natives, so they need more irrigation.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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