20 Drought Tolerant Shrubs

Beauty bush with small white and pink flowers clustered over extending branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

If you live in a relatively dry climate, or you want to develop an easy-to-maintain landscape, choose tough drought-tolerant shrubs. And don't think that these shrubs somehow lack in beauty or fragrance — in this group are several stunners. So get out your shovel, and get ready for a landscape makeover.

  • 01 of 20

    Beauty Bush

    Beauty bush with small pink flowers clustered over drooping branches with trees in background

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    • Latin Name: Kolkwitzia amabilis
    • Other Common Names: Beautybush
    • Native to: Central China
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 6-10' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun

    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 lives up to its name, putting on a show in late spring by producing an abundance of bell-shaped pink flowers.

    It does tend to sucker, so place it in a location where you do not mind if it spreads. You can also remove the suckers each year as needed.

    Prune after flowering is complete, using the rule of 1/3 for shrubs to remove old wood.

  • 02 of 20


    Francois De Heel/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Buxus sempervirens and Buxus microphylla
    • Other Common Names: Buxus sempervirens: Common boxwood, box, common box, European box; Buxus microphylla: little leaf boxwood, Japanese box
    • Native to: Europe (B. sempervirens) and Asia (B. microphylla)
    • USDA Zones: 4-10 depending on variety chosen
    • Height: 2-15' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Shrubs for part shade

    The boxwoods are a staple in the topiary world. Hedges are also a common application, as are bonsai.

    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.

  • 03 of 20

    Butterfly Bush

    Ed Reschke/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Buddleja davidii or Buddleia davidii
    • Other Common Names: Orange eye, summer lilac, buddleia
    • Native to: China and Japan
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 4-12' tall, depending on cultivar
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    If you love butterflies, this shrub lives up to its name. The long clusters of red, pink, white or purple flowers are a favorite for 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 it is considered invasive in some locations.

  • 04 of 20


    • Latin Name: Purshia stansburyana. You may also see it spelled as P. stansburiana
    • Other Common Names: Stansbury's cliffrose, quinine bush, buckbrush, bitterbrush
    • Native to: Western North America
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 1-25', depending on conditions
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Use the cliffrose in a rock garden that is prone to drought. This hardy shrub is usually found on the sides of cliffs. 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.

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Curl Leaf Mountain Mahogany

    • Latin Name: Cercocarpus ledifolius
    • Other Common Names: Curlleaf mountain mahogany, desert mountain mahogany, curlleaf mahogany
    • Native to: The Western United States and Baja California
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: Anywhere from 3-35' tall depending on location and conditions
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    This shrub is unique in that it is the only broadleaf evergreen found in the Intermountain West area. It is extremely long-lived and is one of the contenders for the oldest flowering plant, with some specimens recorded to have lived over 1350 years.

    Features of note include its feathery plumes and curling leaves (inspiring the name).

  • 06 of 20

    Currants and Gooseberries

    Red currant shrub with extending branch with red currant fruit dangling in clusters

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    • Latin Name: Ribes spp.
    • Other Common Names: White currant, black currant, golden currant, red currant
    • Native to: Northern Hemisphere
    • USDA Zones: 3-8, with optimum growth in 3-5
    • Height: 3-5' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for currants

    Even fruit shrubs can tolerate some drought although they do need a constant supply of water when the fruits are forming. They will also perform poorly if there is too much sand in the soil.

    The main difference between currants and gooseberries is that you will find spines on the canes of most gooseberries. Mostly thornless cultivars include 'Pixwell', 'Tixia' and 'Lady Sun.' The jostaberry is a result of crossing gooseberries and black currants.

  • 07 of 20

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Picea glauca 'Conica'
    • Native to: This cultivar comes from Alberta, Canada
    • USDA Zones: 2-8
    • Height: 3-12' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • 12 Spruce Trees and Shrubs

    The dwarf Alberta spruce naturally forms into a conical shape and finds uses in formal gardens, topiary and as a living Christmas tree.

  • 08 of 20

    Fragrant Sumac

    • Latin Name: Rhus aromatica
    • Other Common Names: Lemon sumac, sweet-scented sumac, polecat bush, aromatic sumac, skunkbush sumac, three-leaf sumac
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 2-8' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • 12 Sumac Trees and Shrubs

    The leaves and twigs of the fragrant sumac smell like citrus if you crush them. The berries can be used to make a lemonade-like drink.

    Fragrant sumac looks a lot like its relative, poison ivy (Rhus radicans or Toxicodendron radicans), but this species does not contain any poisons. You can use it to cover an area as it will spread throughout by suckers. The leaves shift to become purple, orange or red in autumn.

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Indian Hawthorn

    • Latin Name: Rhaphiolepis indica
    • Other Common Names: India hawthorn
    • Native to: Southern China
    • USDA Zones: 7-11
    • Height: 2-5' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for the Indian hawthorn

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

  • 10 of 20

    Japanese Barberry

    Chris Burrows/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Berberis thunbergii
    • Other Common Names: Barberry, Thunberg's Barberry
    • Native to: Asia
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 2-8' tall depending on cultivar
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Trees and shrubs with purple leaves

    With leaves in a multitude of shades including yellow, orange, red, purple and green, barberries have become a popular staple for many gardens. Plant in full sun for best results, as some colored varieties, change to green in shadier locations.

    Most cultivars do have thorns, so consider that if you have pets or children. Conversely, barberries work well as a barrier to keep out unwanted visitors.

    This shrub is a member of the Berberidaceae (barberry) family and was named in honor of Carl Peter Thunberg, a Dutch botanist.

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

  • 11 of 20

    Japanese Beautyberry

    Mizuki/a.collectionRF/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Callicarpa japonica
    • Other Common Names: Purple beautyberry, Japanese callicarpa, Murasakishikibu, beauty berry, beauty bush
    • Native to: Japan
    • USDA Zones: 5-8
    • Height: 4-6' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    This 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.

  • 12 of 20

    Leatherleaf Viburnum

    • Latin Name: Viburnum rhytidophyllum
    • Native to: Central and western China
    • USDA Zones: 5-8
    • Height: 6-15' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • 12 Species of Viburnum Shrubs

    This is a member of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family and features the characteristic opposite branching.

    The long (up to 8") thick leaves are hairy underneath and dark green on top. They frame the large clusters of tiny yellow-white flowers that form into red berries. They turn black upon maturity.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Littleleaf Mockorange

    ZenShui/Laurence Mouton/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Philadelphus microphyllus
    • Other Common Names: Mock orange, desert mock orange, little leaf mock orange, Indian arrowwood, June bride, wild mock orange, small-leaved mock orange
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 6-11
    • Height: 2-6' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    The name for this genus is in honor of Ptolemy Philadelphus, an Egyptian king. It 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.

  • 14 of 20

    Mountain Lover

    • Latin Name: Pachistima myrsinites
    • Other Common Names: Myrtle box leaf, Oregon boxwood, false box, Oregon box leaf, mountain box, mountain boxwood, Montana-box, myrtle-bush
    • Native to: Western North America
    • USDA Zones: 3-7
    • Height: 1-3' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    This small shrub features diminutive 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 boxwood or box, this is not a true boxwood (Buxus). It belongs to the Celastraceae (bittersweet) family.

  • 15 of 20

    Mountain Spray

    • Latin Name: Holodiscus dumosus
    • Other Common Names: Glandular ocean spray, rock spires, bush rock spirea, bush ocean spray, rock spirea, rock spiraea, cliff spiraea, creambush, dwarf ocean spray, desert ocean spray, desert spray
    • Native to: The Western United States and Mexico
    • USDA Zones: 3-7
    • Height: Anywhere from 1-20' tall depending on location
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    The common name of rock spirea evokes its flower sprays which are much like those of the Spiraea genus. They 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.

  • 16 of 20


    • Latin Name: Physocarpus opulifolius
    • Other Common Names: Eastern ninebark, common ninebark, Atlantic ninebark
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 2-8
    • Height: 5-10' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for the ninebark

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

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    Purple Smoke Bush

    Paul Viant/Getty Images
    • Latin Name: Cotinus coggygria
    • Other Common Names: Purple smoke tree, smokebush, smoke tree, European smoke tree, Eurasian smoke tree
    • Native to: Asia and Europe
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 12-15' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Growing profile for the purple smoke bush

    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 shrub belongs to the Anacardiaceae (sumac) family. Besides sumac trees and shrubs, other relatives include poison ivy, mango, cashew apple, and pistachios.

  • 18 of 20

    Shrubby Cinquefoil

    • Latin Name: Potentilla fruticosa
    • Other Common Names: Yellow rose, potentilla, shrubby potentilla, golden hardhack, bush cinquefoil, widdy, bush potentilla
    • Native to: Asia, Europe, and North America
    • USDA Zones: 2-7
    • Height: 1-4' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for the shrubby cinquefoil

    This shrub's blooms are very similar to strawberry blossoms, which is natural 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.

  • 19 of 20

    Silver Buffaloberry

    • Latin Name: Shepherdia argentea
    • Other Common Names: Thorny buffaloberry, bull berry, buffaloberry
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 3-9. May grow in Zone 2.
    • Height: Anywhere from 2-18' depending on the planting site
    • Exposure: Full sun

    This member of the Elaeagnaceae (oleaster) family was named for British botanist John Shepherd. It 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.

    The stems bear thorns and make this a good choice for creating a private area. It can also be used in windbreaks. Best growth occurs in alkaline soils, but it can be planted in a variety of soils. These plants also handle cold temperatures well.

    With just a few ingredients (water, sugar, butter and berries), you can turn the buffaloberries into a jelly. While they are best for preserving before frost (the berries have more pectin), some freezing is actually beneficial and will mellow the tartness of the fruits so that they become sweeter.

  • 20 of 20

    Witch Hazel

    • Latin Name: Hamamelis virginiana
    • Other Common Names: Common witch hazel, American witch hazel
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 10-30' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for witch hazel

    For a drought tolerant shrub that suffers from few pest or disease problems, plant the witch hazel. This 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).

Article Sources
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  1. Rhus aromatica. Missouri Botanical Garden.