by Sonoma County Master Gardener Steven Hightower
While it is perhaps the most common and widespread shrub in plant communities such as coastal sage scrub and chaparral in northern and central California, Coyote bush is used less frequently in cultivation than it should be. Valuable for its ability to flourish in a wide range of conditions, it is drought tolerant, deer resistant, tolerates poor soil, and while best suited to full sun, will take some shade as well. It requires good drainage and moderate summer watering to become established, and monthly in subsequent seasons, to stay green. Coyote Brush, like many native plants, hates dust.
The plant features numerous small and stiff egg-shaped grey-green leaves, jagged on the edges and covered in a waxy coating that reduces the amount of moisture lost to evaporation into the air. The leaves are fire-retardant, meaning that they have a chemical makeup that reduces their ability to catch on fire. Coast Miwok Indians used the heated leaves to reduce swelling, and some Native Indians used the wood from this bush to make arrow shafts and for building houses.
Baccharis is a secondary pioneer plant (which means that it is one of the first shrubs to appear after other plants have been removed by cultivation or fire) in plant communities such as coastal sage scrub and chaparral. While common in coastal sage scrub, it does not regenerate under a closed shrub canopy because seedling growth is poor in the shade.
There are both upright and groundcover forms. The upright form Baccharis pilularis consanguinea ranges to 4-6 feet, and is useful for hedging or fence lines. As a specimen they take a rounded form--"like clouds on a hillside" according to Lowry.
They must be periodically pruned to maintain their shape. Unpruned, they tend to get leggy. If they get out of control, they can be pruned almost to the ground--6-12 inches--simulating fire, and stimulating new growth.
The low forms, the most commonly available of which are 'Pigeon Point' and 'Twin Peaks' grow low and mounding to about a foot, creating a dark green undulating groundcover. Plant 6-8 feet apart for a roughtly two year fill-in. If you are less patient, you can plant closer together, but they may grow over each other, resulting in a higher groundcover.
Find a place for Baccharis in your native plantings, and become one of the Friends of the Coyote Bush!