4 Types of Santolina for your dry garden

Santolinas are great plants to survive the climate changes we face. If you are looking for hardy and drought-tolerant shrubs to plant in your low-maintenance dry garden, you have come to the right place.

Among the several types of Santolina plants, I have selected the 4 most popular species for you to choose.

4 cute santolinas

I will describe each Santolina with lots of images so that you can easily see what they look like and also compare them in terms of size, hardiness, drought tolerance and blooming times. 

Let’s walk through each plant and then compare them so that you can select the best Santolina for your garden.

Varieties of Santolina

Santolina plants, some of which are known as lavender cotton, are native to the Mediterranean basin, where they are adapted to grow in full sun and poor, well-drained soils. This makes them an ideal choice for a Mediterranean garden style.

They are drought-tolerant, hardy and can tolerate most types of soils, from acid to mildly alkaline.

These robust  evergreen shrubs can be diverse:

  • Foliage can vary from silver to dark green.
  • Flowers can come in various shades of yellow.
  • Habit is cushion shaped
  • Height can range from 20 cm (0.5 ft) to 60cm (2 ft) or more.

Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender Cotton)

Santolina chamaecyparissus, commonly called Lavender Cotton or Grey Santolina, is a small, aromatic, evergreen shrub with a compact cushion shape. It has silver-grey woolly leaves and long, wiry stalks bearing bright yellow button-like flower heads.

Lavender cotton is very popular for its compact cushion form that resembles coral. The silver-grey leaves contrast with other green tones in the garden. During the summer, its long flower stalks rise above the foliage carrying bright yellow button-like flowers that create a spectacular effect.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. It also looks lovely in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

Its compact form that can be easily trained makes it an interesting plant to be used as a hedge in knot gardens. 

It´s a good choice for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender cotton)
  • Size: 40 – 60 cm (1.3 – 2 ft) height, 60 – 80 cm (2 – 2.6 ft) width
  • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Drought-tolerance: Approx 5 months
  • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Southern Europe to North Africa)

Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Lavender Cotton.

Santolina rosmarinifolia (Green Santolina)

Santolina rosmarinifolia, commonly called Green Santolina or Holy Flax, is a small, aromatic, evergreen shrub with a compact cushion shape. It has thin, dissected, bright green leaves and long, wiry stalks bearing yellow button-like flower heads.

This shrub is very pretty, and its dark green leaves make a nice contrast with the grey and silver leaves of other shrubs with the same hardiness and drought tolerance. During the summer, its long flower stalks rise above the foliage carrying bright yellow button-like flowers that create a spectacular effect.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. It can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

Its compact form can be easily trained, making it an interesting plant to be used as a hedge.

It is also very popular for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

Santolina rosmarinifolia (Green Santolina)
  • Size: 20 – 60 cm (0.5 – 2 ft) height, 60 – 80 cm (2 – 2.6 ft) width
  • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Spain and Portugal)

Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of the Green Santolina.

Santolina pinnata (Rosemary-Leaved Lavender Cotton)

Santolina pinnata, commonly called Rosemary-leaved Lavender Cotton or Green Santolina, is a small, aromatic, evergreen shrub with a compact cushion form. It has feathery, grey-green leaves and long, wiry stalks with pale yellow button-like flower heads.

This shrub is very pretty and is mainly grown for its foliage which has a delicate feathery look. During the summer, its long flower stalks rise above the foliage carrying pale yellow button-like flowers, creating a spectacular effect.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. It can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

Its compact form can be easily trained to be used as a hedge.

It is ideal for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

Santolina pinnata (Rosemary-leaved lavender cotton)
  • Size: 30 – 60 cm (1 – 2 ft) height, 60 – 90 cm (2 – 3 ft) width
  • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Italy)

Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Rosemary-Leaved Lavender cotton.

Santolina magonica (Minorcan Cotton Lavender)

Santolina magonica commonly called Minorcan Cotton Lavender, is a small, aromatic, compact, evergreen shrub with a flattened cushion form. It is one of the smallest Santolinas, with small silver-grey leaves resembling cotton buds and long wiry stalks bearing orange-yellow button-like flower heads.

This shrub is very pretty with its compact flattened cushion shape. During the summer, its flower stalks rise above the foliage carrying many orange-yellow button-like flowers, creating a lovely effect.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. It can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

Its compact flattened cushion form that gradually spreads by self-layering makes it a great plant for a ground cover. 

It is a good choice for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

Santolina magonica (Minorcan Lavender cotton)
  • Size: 25 – 30 cm (0.8 – 1 ft) height, 60 – 80 cm (2 – 2.6 ft) width
  • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun 
  • Drought tolerance: Approx 5 months
  • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Spanish Balearic Islands)

Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Minorcan Lavender Cotton.

What do Santolinas look like?

4 types of Santolinas compared (chart).

Santolina plants have a dense cushion form which can be easily trained to form clouds or hedges. In some cases, the cushion can be flattened making it ideal for a ground cover.

The flower heads are composed of numerous small florets but without ray florets. The colour comes in different shades of yellow: from bright yellow to orange-yellow to pale yellow.

The leaves have a pinnate form with more or less cylindrical segments. but can be quite varied in terms of shape and colour. They can have different shapes, oblong, oblong-linear, or linear. Their colour tone may range from silver to grey-green to bright green to dark green. 

The size and habit are similar, they are usually medium-sized with a cushion shape. Except for the Minorcan Lavender Cotton, which has a more flattened shape.

In the chart, you may see how the different parts of the selected Santolinas compare.

Height and Width of Santolinas

Santolinas height and width chart

The size of any plant can vary based on many factors, such as soil, weather, watering and so on. However, the height and width are quite similar between the different santolina species. The spread is between 60 and 90 cm (2 and 3 ft), and the maximum height is around 60 cm (2 ft). The shortest one is Santolina magonica which has a maximum height of 30 cm (1 ft).

They all have a mounding habit.

Which Santolina is a good ground cover?

The best santolina for ground cover is Santolina magonica (Minorcan Lavender cotton). It does not grow very tall, a maximum of 30 cm (1 ft) and has quite a wide spread, around 60 to 80 cm (2 to 2.6 ft).

Santolina bloom times

Bloom times of Santolina plants (chart)

Santolina plants will bloom around spring and summer. Some types start a little earlier than others, and the duration of the bloom time may also vary slightly.

Many factors affect flowering, such as temperature, sunlight availability, and soil fertility so slight variations may depend on your garden´s environment. But generally, the bloom times for the 4 selected species in this article are shown on the chart.

Which is the hardiest Santolina?

Santolinas cold hardiness chart

If you give your santolina the right growing conditions, such as well-drained soil and no fertilization, most santolinas will be pretty hardy. They will only suffer in very wet and cold winters.

Nevertheless, some Santolinas are naturally tougher than others. The hardier types are Santolina chamaecyparissus and S. pinnata. A little less hardy are S. rosmarinifolia and S. magonica.

Depending on your climate, you may choose the best ones for your garden based on the hardiness chart shown here.

Which is the most drought-tolerant Santolina?

Santolinas drought tolerance chart

Santolinas are amazingly tough plants that can survive hot and dry weather for long periods of time and remain evergreen with showy blooms.

Although all santolinas are drought-tolerant, some are extremely resistant to drought, such as Lavender Cotton and Minorcan Lavender Cottob.

The chart uses the drought-tolerance code defined by Olivier Filippi (https://jardin-sec.com/), which I find very useful and have found to be correct based on my own experience.

Which is the best santolina for your garden?

This is the question that I hope to answer with all the information provided in this article. The best santolina will be different for different people and different environments.

While some conditions you cannot change, such as the aspect and hardiness of the plant, others you can adjust, like soil and watering.

Steps to choose the best santolina for your garden

  • Check if the santolina is hardy enough for your climate. If not, then you need to select a different one.
  • Check if you have poor, well-drained soil. If not, see if you can adjust it.
  • Check if the size and shape are appropriate for the spot you want to plant in your garden.
  • Check if your climate can support the water needs of the santolina. If not, plan to water in extreme drought and heat.

If you follow these steps, you will find the right plant for your garden.

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