Drought-Tolerant Shrubs

Examples of Some Popular Types

Drought-tolerant shrubs come in mighty handy for people with busy lifestyles. When you are busy with a career, plant care may go on the back burner now and then. Likewise, when you are busy raising children, caring for elderly parents, etc., you may not always get around to watering as much as you should.

Then there is your precious vacation time, invaluable for relieving stress. If you leave your landscaping unattended for a trip during the summer, you can't always count on rainfall for...MORE irrigation. As a consequence, while you may come home stress-free, you may find that the plants in your yard have experienced quite a bit of stress in your absence -- except for the drought-tolerant shrubs and other tough plants. Below are some examples (although I do not recommend all of them for all growers, so read carefully):

  • 01 of 15
    Russian sage (image) supplies diffuse color in a planting bed. It's a shrubby perennial.
    Russian sage furnished diffuse color in a flower bed. David Beaulieu

    You might not think of Russian sage as a shrub. While it is, indeed, technically a sub-shrub, many folks treat it as they would a perennial flower. Call it what you will, but there is little disagreement that Russian sage's silver stems and leaves invest it with great potential for use in a variety of striking color combinations. This drought-tolerant shrub also blooms for a long time, resists marauding deer and is fragrant.

  • 02 of 15
    Picture of butterfly bush.
    Picture of butterfly bush. David Beaulieu

    I know some of you, upon seeing butterfly bush listed, will immediately think "invasive." Many invasive plants are, indeed, drought-tolerant, a fact that helps account for their success in surviving and spreading. But first of all, whether the species plant is or is not invasive will depend on where you live (conduct local research before planting).

    Secondly, plant developers have been working hard to produce cultivars of this shrub that are non-invasive. One such cultivar that I have...MORE grown and reviewed, myself is 'Blue Chip' butterfly bush.

  • 03 of 15
    Blue Star juniper picture. An evergreen shrub, Blue Star juniper is a compact plant.
    Blue Star juniper picture. An evergreen shrub, Blue Star juniper is a compact plant. David Beaulieu

    I would categorize 'Blue Star' juniper as more of a useful plant than a drop-dead gorgeous plant, per se. Its blue needles will generate ideas for some nice color combinations, and as a compact bush it will appeal to those landscaping in small spaces. Here is another feature about Blue Star that you may find useful: like many junipers, it is a drought-tolerant shrub.

  • 04 of 15
    Photo of windowbox planted with lantanas and petunias.
    Photo of windowbox planted with lantanas and petunias. David Beaulieu

    The plant with the orange flowers in the picture on your left is lantana. Like butterfly bush (see above), lantana can be invasive, but it depends on where you live. In Florida, it grows like a weed. As a Northerner, I am more familiar with it in containers (be it in window boxes, deck pots, hanging baskets, or whiskey barrels).

    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15
    This barberry bush picture shows a red version of the shrub.
    Picture: barberry. David Beaulieu

    In the case of the species plant for barberry, we can unequivocally state that it is an invasive plant. Last I checked, the jury is still out on some of the cultivars. This prickly bush with red berries is truly one of the tough customers of the landscaping world. Not only does it hold up well in dry conditions, but its thorns also render this deer-resistant shrub unpalatable to Bambi.

  • 06 of 15
    Virginia sweetspire turns red in fall, as this image shows. The shrub is native to North America.
    Image of Virginia sweetspire bush. David Beaulieu

    Once established, Virginia sweetspire is a reasonably drought-tolerant shrub. Although this bush is named for the "spire" of white flowers it produces in spring, I grow it solely for its fall foliage color. As such, consider it as an alternative to burning bush, an invasive which I mention below.

  • 07 of 15
    My photo of nandina comes from
    Picture: nandina. David Beaulieu

    This plant may be heavenly, but it is certainly not a true bamboo. The latter part of its nickname derives from the resemblance of its stems to those of real bamboo. Use the scientific name of the plant, Nandina domestica to avoid confusion. Bamboo or not, it is a popular bush in the American Southeast.

  • 08 of 15
    Bayberry bush has green leaves in summer and develops gray berries in autumn.
    Photo: bayberry bush. David Beaulieu

    Not to be confused with the invasive, red-berried bush mentioned above (barberry), bayberry bears gray berries. Crafts aficionados may know the berries for their traditional use in making candles. I am most familiar with this drought-tolerant shrub as a bush that populates the sand dunes of Plum Island in Massachusetts.

    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15
    Cotoneaster picture. Cotoneaster flowers but is better known for its berries, shown in photo.
    Cotoneaster picture. David Beaulieu

    Cotoneaster is another bush that produces red berries. As if the berries were not colorful enough in fall, the leaves also turn reddish. One thing I like about Cotoneaster horizontalis is that it can function as a ground cover, as its species name would indicate. That horizontal growth habit can be promoted through targeted pruning.

  • 10 of 15
    Picture of burning bush.
    Picture of burning bush. David Beaulieu

    Like barberry, burning bush is a drought-tolerant shrub that is, nonetheless, problematic due to its invasiveness in North America. Reports suggest that the University of Connecticut has developed a seedless variety, however, so help may be on the way. In the meantime, fall-foliage enthusiasts may wish to use Virginia sweetspire (see above) as a substitute (albeit a poor substitute, from an aesthetic vantage point).

  • 11 of 15
    Privet hedge photo.
    Privet hedge photo. David Beaulieu

    Privet enjoys quite the legacy as a hedge plant. Commonly used as such in England, the bush was brought over to America to serve in the same role. Unfortunately, it is invasive in North America, so its popularity is slipping as many homeowners now seek substitutes.

  • 12 of 15
    As my picture shows, blue mist spirea shrub has blue, airy flowers.
    This picture demonstrates how "blue mist" spirea shrub gets its name. Its flowers are blue and airy. The shrub is not a true spirea. David Beaulieu

    I barely water my own blue mist shrub at all here in New England (United States), yet, year after year, it performs well for me. Sure, it would flower even more if I could remember to provide it with a bit more water, but I am content to grow it as a low-maintenance bush that I simply prune a bit in spring. After that, I can pretty much forget about it. But in late summer, when most other bushes have stopped blooming, blue mist does not, fortunately, forget me, reliably putting on that misty...MORE floral display for which it is named.

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15
    Arid-region standout variegated bougainvillea has nice leaves, as my picture shows.
    Picture: variegated bougainvillea. David Beaulieu

    It is no surprise that this plant qualifies as a drought-tolerant shrub. Many of you who live in or have traveled to arid regions know bougainvillea well. The image that comes to my mind is one of a Mediterranean courtyard, its stucco walls scaled by a lovely bougainvillea (it can be grown as either a vine or a shrub). I occasionally see them in the North as container-grown plants, which gives growers the needed flexibility to move these heat-lovers out of harm's way when cold gusts sweep...MORE through the landscape.

  • 14 of 15
    Mexican bird of paradise
    Kenneth Hagemeyer/ Flickr/ CC BY-ND 2.0

    Mexican bird of paradise is another drought-tolerant shrub that is more of a desert plant than a specimen suited to colder climes. I took the photograph you see on your left in Needles, California, near the Mojave Desert. The common name notwithstanding, this plant and the "bird of paradise" you may be used to seeing at your local florist shop are not birds of a feather: they are two entirely different plants.

  • 15 of 15
    Winter jasmine blooms
    Winter jasmine blooms in yellow, but the buds start out red. David Beaulieu

    Like bougainvillea (see above), winter jasmine can act either as a vine or a shrub. You, as the grower, are the one who controls how this native Chinese plant acts. That is welcome news, is it not, considering how many things are not in the gardener's control? An indication of this plants' drought tolerance is that it has naturalized in some of the regions to which it has been transplanted.

    Return to Drought-Resistant Plants index.