35 Best Drought-Tolerant Shrubs for Warmer Zones

Beauty bush branches with small pink and white blooms

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

If you live in a relatively dry climate or want to develop an easy-to-maintain landscape, consider shrubs that are highly tolerant to drought; there are many to choose from, like Indian hawthorn, tea tree, and blue beard. You might even be surprised to learn that two plants in the hydrangea family—panicle hydrangea and littleleaf mockorange—are drought-resistant.

Warmer USDA zones are usually any zone 8 to 13, although we've included a few zone 7 plants, like rock cotoneaster, mountain spray, and shrubby cinquefoil, in this list since they are on the borderline. You will find several stunners, most have year-round seasonal interest, flower beautifully, or yield berries. Many are fragrant.

Some of the hardiest shrubs are those that can take neglect and don't need much water, such as lantana, Russian sage, and glossy abelia—these plants grow well in dry soil and can survive months without much rainfall. Read on, and you will see you have many options for the most drought-tolerant shrubs.

  • 01 of 35

    Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)

    Drooping branches of beauty bush with small pink bloom clusters

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This gorgeous shrub is a member of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family and is the only species in its genus. Kolkwitzia is in honor of a German botanist (Richard Kolkwitz), and amabilis is Latin for "lovely" or "beautiful," inspiring the common name. The beauty bush natively grows in central China, living up to its name, putting on a show in late spring by producing an abundance of bell-shaped pink flowers.

    Prune after flowering is complete, using the rule of 1/3 for shrubs to remove old wood. It tends to sucker, so place it where you do not mind if it spreads. You can also remove the suckers each year as needed.

    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 6-10 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Grows in most soil well-draining soils; acidic-alkaline
  • 02 of 35

    Boxwood (Buxus spp.)

    Garden path with parallel borders of mounded boxwood shrubs
    Francois De Heel/Getty Images

    Boxwoods are a staple in the topiary world. They are used as hedges and bonsai. There are several species, such as common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), native to Europe, and Japanese or little leaf boxwood (B. microphylla), indigenous to Asia.

    These shrubs will grow slowly, making it easier to maintain the desired shape with regular pruning after the spring frosts are finished. The branches and evergreen leaves are close together, lending the plant a solid appearance. While boxwood can grow in full sun, it is best to plant this type of shrub in a location that receives some shade if your area is prone to drought.

    • USDA Zones: 4-10
    • Height: 2-15 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-draining, neutral-alkaline
  • 03 of 35

    Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

    Butterfly on blue butterfly bush blooms in closeup
    Ed Reschke/Getty Images

    If you love butterflies, this shrub lives up to its name. The long clusters of red, pink, white, or purple flowers are a favorite of these insects. Bees and hummingbirds will also visit the butterfly bushes in your yard. Check with your local nursery or extension office if you are considering planting this shrub, as this Asian native is considered invasive in some locations.

    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 4-12 ft. tall, depending on the cultivar
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained; acidic-neutral
  • 04 of 35

    Cliffrose (Purshia stansburyana)

    Cliffrose blooms in closeup

    Use the cliffrose in a rock garden that is prone to drought. This hardy shrub is usually found on the sides of cliffs and is native to western North America. It is classified in the Rosaceae (rose) family and was named in honor of Howard Stansbury, a major with the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers.

    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 1-25 ft., depending on conditions
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained; not rich; coarse
    Continue to 5 of 35 below.
  • 05 of 35

    Curl Leaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)

    Curl leaf mountain mahogany branches in closeup

    This shrub is unique because it is the only broadleaf evergreen found in the Intermountain West area of the western U.S. It is long-lived and is one of the contenders for the oldest flowering plant, with some specimens recorded to have lived over 1,350 years. It features feathery plumes and curling leaves (inspiring the name).

    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: Anywhere from 3-35 ft. tall, depending on location and conditions
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining; rocky or coarse; neutral (slightly acidic or alkaline)
  • 06 of 35

    Currants and Gooseberries (Ribes spp.)

    Branch with dangling clusters of red currant fruit

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Even fruit shrubs can tolerate some drought, but they need a constant water supply when the fruits form. They will also perform poorly if too much sand is in the soil. Mostly thornless cultivars include 'Pixwell,' 'Tixia' and 'Lady Sun.' The main difference between currants and gooseberries is that you will find spines on the canes of most gooseberries. Jostaberry is a result of crossing gooseberries and black currants.

    • USDA Zones: 3-8
    • Height: 3-5 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, well-drained; slightly acidic
  • 07 of 35

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica')

    Dwarf Alberta spruce closeup
    Dwarf Alberta Spruce/Getty Images

    The dwarf Alberta spruce grows natively in Canada and is an evergreen conifer in the spruce or Picea genus. It naturally forms a conical shape and is often used in formal gardens, topiary, and as a living Christmas tree. This plant does best in low-humidity environments and can't tolerate soggy soil.

    • USDA Zones: 2-8
    • Height: 3-12 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 08 of 35

    Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)

    Orange and red leaves of fragrant sumac closeup

    The leaves and twigs of the fragrant sumac smell like citrus if you crush them. This eastern North American native is also called lemon sumac. You can use the berries to make a lemonade-like drink. The leaves shift to become purple, orange, or red in autumn.

    Fragrant sumac looks like its relative, poison ivy (Rhus radicans or Toxicodendron radicans), but this sumac species contains no toxins. You can use it to cover an area as it will spread throughout by suckers.

    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 2-8 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained; grows well in most soil types.
    Continue to 9 of 35 below.
  • 09 of 35

    Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica)

    Branches of Indian hawthorn with pink blooms

    These plants native to southern China reward you with an abundance of beautiful pink or white starry flowers each year. Birds will also visit since they like to eat the pome fruits.

    • USDA Zones: 7-11
    • Height: 2-5 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil needs: Well-drained
  • 10 of 35

    Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

    Japanese barberry branch with yellow-red blooms closeup
    Chris Burrows/Getty Images

    This Asia-native shrub is a member of the Berberidaceae (barberry) family and was named in honor of Carl Peter Thunberg, a Dutch botanist. Barberries have become a popular staple for many gardens, with leaves in many shades, including yellow, orange, red, purple, and green. Plant in full sun for best results, as some colored varieties change to green in shadier locations. Most cultivars have thorns, so consider that if you have pets or children. Barberries work well as a barrier to keep out unwanted visitors.

    In some places, this shrub has become invasive as it spreads through rhizomes, so ask about its status for your area at your local nursery.

    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 2-8 ft. tall, depending on the cultivar
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, acid
  • 11 of 35

    Japanese Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica)

    Japanese beautyberry stems covered in clusters of brilliant purple berries
    Mizuki/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    This Japanese native is an excellent choice if you want a shrub that offers color in the fall and winter. The stems are covered in clusters of brilliant purple berries. The leaves contain chemicals like callicarpenal that have proven to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, and fire ants. This plant is native to Asia, while a similar species, Callicarpa americana, grows naturally in the U.S.

    • USDA Zones: 5-8
    • Height: 4-6 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil needs: Well-draining clay, sand, loam; acidic-neutral
  • 12 of 35

    Leatherleaf Viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum)

    Leatherleaf viburnum with clusters of tiny yellow-white blooms

    This central and western China native is a member of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family and features viburnum's characteristic opposite branching. The undersides of the thick, long (up to 8 inches) leaves are hairy and dark green on their topside. They frame the large clusters of tiny yellow-white flowers that form red berries. They turn black upon maturity.

    • USDA Zones: 5-8
    • Height: 6-15 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, acidic
    Continue to 13 of 35 below.
  • 13 of 35

    Littleleaf Mockorange (Philadelphus microphyllus)

    White Littleleaf Mock Orange flower on a white plate
    ZenShui/Laurence Mouton/Getty Images

    The name for this genus is in honor of Ptolemy Philadelphus, an Egyptian king. This species is native to North America and belongs to the Hydrangeaceae (hydrangea) family. Like other shrubs with this common name, the blossoms of the little leaf mock orange are shaped and scented much like those of oranges.

    • USDA Zones: 6-11
    • Height: 2-6 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained; rocky
  • 14 of 35

    Mountain Lover (Pachistima myrsinites)

    Reddish-purple Mountain Lover flower closeup

    This small shrub western North American species features small reddish-purple flowers that appear in clusters at the bases of the leaves. They produce tiny capsules that contain one or two seeds. Despite the common names including Oregon boxwood or myrtle box leaf, this is not a true boxwood (Buxus). It belongs to the Celastraceae (bittersweet) family.

    • USDA Zones: 3-7
    • Height: 1-3 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 15 of 35

    Mountain Spray (Holodiscus dumosus)

    Mountain spray bush in rocky terrain

    The common name of rock spirea evokes its flower sprays much like those of the Spiraea genus. Also called bush ocean spray, its start off white and change to gold or brown as the summer progresses. The reddish-brown bark also adds interest as it peels off, complementing the reddish-orange leaves in fall. The bush is native to the western U.S. and Mexico.

    • USDA Zones: 3-7
    • Height: 1-20 ft. tall, depending on location
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 16 of 35

    Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

    Ninebark five-petaled flower cluster closeup

    Choose ninebark if you need a carefree native North American shrub for your urban landscape. In addition to handling drought, it can also tolerate cold temperatures and acidic or alkaline soils. It has few problems; the only significant ones are browsing deer, powdery mildew, and aphids.

    • USDA Zones: 2-8
    • Height: 5-10 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Clay, loam
    Continue to 17 of 35 below.
  • 17 of 35

    Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria)

    Purple smoke bush with pink-purple flowers and purple leaves
    Paul Viant/Getty Images

    Airy clusters of unfertilized pink-purple flowers inspired the common name of the purple smoke bush. Leaves can be either purple or green, depending on the cultivar. They provide an autumn show when they transform into shades of orange, purple, and red. This Eurasian shrub belongs to the Anacardiaceae (sumac) family. Besides sumac trees and shrubs, other relatives include poison ivy, mango, cashew apple, and pistachios.

    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 12-15 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained loam
  • 18 of 35

    Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)

    Shrubby Cinquefoil with yellow blooms

    This shrub's blooms are similar to strawberry blossoms, which makes sense since they are both a part of the Rosaceae (rose) family. Its flowers come in hues of yellow, peach, orange, pink, and white. As the species and common names suggest, these are decidedly shrubby in appearance. Cinquefoil refers to the fact that the leaves may have five leaflets. Other possible combinations include sets of three, seven, or nine.

    • USDA Zones: 2-7
    • Height: 1-4 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining
  • 19 of 35

    Silver Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea)

    Red berry clusters on silver buffaloberry branch

    This member of the Elaeagnaceae (oleaster) family was named for British botanist John Shepherd. This North American shrub is dioecious, so you will need several plants if you want fruit. The silver in the common name refers to the coloring of the leaves. Its stems bear thorns, making this a good choice for creating a private area. It can also be used in windbreaks. It prefers alkaline soils, but it can be planted in various soils. These plants also handle cold temperatures well.

    You can turn the buffaloberries into jelly, best preserved before frost (the berries have more pectin). Freezing will mellow the tartness of the fruits so that they become sweeter.

    • USDA Zones: 3-9
    • Height: Anywhere from 2-18 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining
  • 20 of 35

    Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

    Yellow witch hazel flowers closeup

    Plant witch hazel for a drought-tolerant shrub that suffers from few pest or disease problems. This eastern North American member of the Hamamelidaceae (witch hazel) family flowers late and changes leaf color from green to orange or yellow. Other species in this family include American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), and Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica).

    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 10-30 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained; silt or loam
    Continue to 21 of 35 below.
  • 21 of 35

    New Zealand Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium)

    New Zealand tea tree branches with small white blossoms

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    The New Zealand tea tree, also called manuka, is an evergreen shrub with needle-shaped leaves and pink, white, or red flowers that attract pollinators. Its aroma is pleasant for humans and deters pests. Its essential oil is used for hair and beauty products. Established plants are usually drought tolerant.

    • USDA Zones: 9-10
    • Height: 6– 10 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, acidic
  • 22 of 35

    Tree Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

    Tree hydrangeas with white blooms

    The Spruce / Ariel Visci 

    Tree hydrangeas, also called panicle hydrangeas, are perennial shrubs native to Asia that produce aromatic clusters of hydrangea flower heads. This shrub grows tall and wide with oval leaves and can withstand a dry spell late into the summer.

    As long as this plant has well-draining soil, it can handle sandy, loamy, and clay soil. It prefers organically rich soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH, although it can also tolerate slightly alkaline soil. Hydrangeas are toxic to pets and humans.

    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 8–15 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, loam
  • 23 of 35

    Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

    Flowering quince shrub

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Drought will make this flowering shrub defoliate, but come fall, if it gets water, it will develop new leaves and will rebloom. This rose relative produces beautiful red, orange, white, or pink flowers that last two weeks, with shiny, dark green foliage. Its branches have thorns, which make for a good border plant and natural barrier. This fall-harvested fruit from this plant is used as a sweet jelly during the fall and winter holidays.

    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 3-10 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, acidic-neutral
  • 24 of 35

    Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

    Winterberry holly shrub with red berries

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    This deciduous shrub is native to the eastern U.S., producing red berries throughout winter. It has dark green, elliptical leaves with greenish-white flowers in the spring. In drought conditions, it will get its fall colors sooner and drop leaves but still produce its berries. This plant is often associated with the winter holidays. It is toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses.

    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 3-15 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, acidic
    Continue to 25 of 35 below.
  • 25 of 35

    Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

    Heavenly bamboo shrubs along a wall

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    Despite its common name, heavenly bamboo is not a bamboo plant; it's an evergreen shrub in the barberry or buttercup family (Berberidaceae). It resembles bamboo with cane-like stems and wispy, delicate oval leaves. In spring, it produces white sprays of blossoms, followed by red berry clusters in winter. It handles drought well.

    • USDA Zones: 6-9
    • Height: 7 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, acidic
  • 26 of 35

    Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

    Chaste tree shrub with purple flowers

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    This deer-resistant, drought-tolerant deciduous shrub has fragrant clusters of purple flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Its leaves appear palmate, with five fingers. It produces black fruit that looks like peppercorns. It grows aggressively fast, with the ability to grow up to 7 feet in a single growing season.

    • USDA Zones: 6-9
    • Height: 3-20 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Loose, well-draining
  • 27 of 35

    Glossy Abelia (Abelia × grandiflora)

    Dense Abelia shrubs with pink flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Glossy abelia is in the honeysuckle family and produces abundant, small, fragrant pale pink flowers, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds from spring up through the first frost. This plant thrives in heat and can handle drought and neglect.

    • USDA Zones: 6-9
    • Height: 3-6 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, acidic
  • 28 of 35

    Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

    Winter jasmine vines with yellow flowers and buds

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This Chinese-native winter bloomer features non-fragrant yellow flowers from midwinter to early spring, with leaves coming in the spring. It usually reblooms in late summer. This olive family member can weather periods of drought. Deer also tend to leave it alone.

    • USDA Zones: 6-9
    • Height: Up to 15 ft.
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, chalk, loam, sand, clay
    Continue to 29 of 35 below.
  • 29 of 35

    Blue Beard (Caryopteris)

    Flowering blue mist shrubs

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Blue beard or blue mist shrub has sage-green foliage with fragrant blue-colored blooms from midsummer to fall. This drought-resistant shrub takes a while to grow its leaves in the spring. These plants are deciduous shrubs or woody perennials that die back each winter. They prefer full sun but will tolerate shade.

    • USDA Zones: 6-9
    • Height: 2-4 ft. tall 
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, neutral pH
  • 30 of 35

    Blue Sun Juniper (Juniperus Squamata 'Blue Star')

    Blue star juniper evergreen shrub branches with silvery-blue needles closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Blue star juniper gets its name for its clusters of silvery-blue needles that look like stars. These drought-tolerant shrubs require minimal care. A member of the cypress family, this evergreen shrub is a dwarf conifer. This plant only needs water when it looks dry or during periods of extreme heat. Blue star juniper does not like overly wet or humid conditions.

    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 1-3 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, sandy
  • 31 of 35

    Burning Bush (Euonymus Alatus)

    Burning bush with fiery red leaves

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Burning bush is a dense, rounded shrub with vibrant red leaves drooping in clusters. It produces red berries that are a food source for birds. This Asian native produces tiny, insignificant yellow-green flowers that bloom in late spring. Due to its aggressive growth, some states have banned its sale. It grows about a foot a year.

    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 9-15 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full, partial
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 32 of 35

    Rock Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)

    Cotoneaster stems with small round leaves and bright red berries

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    This drought-tolerant evergreen shrub thrives in different regions. Its stems form a herringbone pattern, and its shiny leaves are small and round, with beautiful fall colors from red-orange to deep red. It has blush pink blooms in spring that lead to bright red berries that help feed birds in early winter.

    • USDA Zones: 5-7
    • Height: Up to 3 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, neutral-alkaline
    Continue to 33 of 35 below.
  • 33 of 35

    Lantana (Lantana camara)

    Lantana shrubs with mix of yellow, orange, and purple flowers

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 

    These easy-to-maintain perennial evergreen shrubs have a vine-like growing pattern and produce little fragrant flowers that come in many colors, such as white, yellow, orange, purple, pink, red, or blue. They attract butterflies but are toxic to pets. This plant is also considered invasive in warmer climate areas in Florida, Arizona, and Hawaii.

    • USDA Zones: 7-11
    • Height: Up to 6 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 34 of 35

    Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

    Red bird of paradise shrub branch with small red-orange flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    The red bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is in the legume (pea) family and is much different than the common bird of paradise in the Strelitzia genus. It is a fast-growing, broad-leaf, evergreen shrub native to arid regions, preferring a desert-like environment. It repeatedly blooms with red-orange flowers. It can be deciduous at the northern end of its range (zone 9).

    • USDA Zones: 9-11
    • Height: 10–20 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 35 of 35

    Russian Sage (Salvia yangii)

    Russian sage with silver-gray leaves and lavender blooms

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Russian sage is a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant sub-shrub with beautiful silver-gray leaves and lavender blooms from summer to the first frost. It is tolerant of dry conditions and is a great choice for xeriscaping. This mint family plant also has a pleasant aroma.

    • USDA Zones: 3-9
    • Height: 3-5 ft. tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, prefers alkaline soil
Article Sources
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  1. Rhus aromatica. Missouri Botanical Garden.