15 Best Plants for Drought-Tolerant Gardens

drought-tolerant landscaping

David Madison / Getty Images

In dry regions, such as the southwestern United States, choosing plants for your landscape might seem like a challenge. But there are several trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that can continue to thrive and look great, even if your area goes through a stretch without rainfall. These plants will help you to minimize the time and money you spend on watering your garden. And some of them even prefer growing in poor soil, which usually means you won't have to use fertilizer.

Tip

Many plants from the sunny, sandy Mediterranean region have low water requirements. These plants include some herbs, such as thyme and oregano, so you can add an edible component to your drought-tolerant garden.

Here are 15 of the best drought-tolerant plants.

  • 01 of 15

    Aloe (Aloe spp.)

    Aloe Vera Plant growth in farm
    dangdumrong / Getty Images

    There are hundreds of species of aloe, flowering succulents that grow in large rosettes and thrive in hot, dry climates. Many people are familiar with the aloe vera species. But jewel aloe, soap aloe, coral aloe, and tiger aloe also make good drought-tolerant landscaping plants. Depending on the species, aloe plants typically have gray to bright green leaves, sometimes with a striped or mottled appearance. 

    During the summer months, most aloe plants require watering roughly every other week unless you’ve had rainfall. And during the winter, the combination of cooler temperatures and rainfall usually provides enough water for them to survive without supplemental watering. If you have a potted aloe plant, allow the soil to completely dry out in between waterings. Aloe will begin to shrivel and rot if it’s sitting in soggy soil, so make sure to use a well-draining potting mix and a pot with adequate drainage holes.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 12 (Aloe vera)
    • Color Varieties: Yellow blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, dry, well-draining
  • 02 of 15

    Artemisia (Artemisia spp.)

    Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)
    AYImages / Getty Images

    Artemisia is a genus of plants with hundreds of species that include hardy herbs and shrubs. For instance, the culinary herb tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is part of this genus. These plants commonly feature intricate leaf patterns and silvery gray or white foliage that is aromatic. They work well in mixed borders with ornamental grasses, succulents, and other drought-tolerant specimens. Some popular landscaping species include southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), and white mugwort (Artemisia lactiflora).

    Water seedlings whenever the soil starts to dry out. But once established, these plants generally have good tolerance for drought and heat, so you won’t have to water unless you have a prolonged period without rain. Moreover, while most of these species like full sun, they often need a planting location that is sheltered from strong winds due to their delicate foliage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8 (Artemisia abrotanum)
    • Color Varieties: Yellow-white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 03 of 15

    Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)

    Field of Artichokes plant grow
    proxyminder / Getty Images

    Yes, this is that same artichoke that you eat. Artichoke plants have an upright growth habit, reaching heights of 3 to 6 feet. Their leaves are deeply lobed with prickly spines, ranging from a green to a gray-green color. And their stems are quite thick. It’s artichoke’s large flower buds that are sold in the produce aisle of grocery stores. When they’re not harvested and instead allowed to bloom, these buds open into showy purple flowers. 

    If you live in a climate that has temperatures similar to the artichoke's native land of the southern Mediterranean, it can be a good-looking ornamental plant that produces edible artichokes from fall until spring. In this type of climate, it's a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennial that only needs light watering after it's established. Just make sure you grow the plant in well-draining soil, and shelter it from strong winds.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Violet-blue blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 04 of 15

    Beardtongue (Penstemon spp.)

    Close-up of a purple beardtongue - Penstemon - flower plant pollinated by a bee.
    Alena Buckthorn / Getty Images

    This genus contains around 250 species of flowering plants commonly found in North America. They grow in various climates, including deserts, mountains, and plains. Beardtongue plants typically have tube-shaped flowers that grow in clusters on rigid stems. They're excellent at attracting hummingbirds and bees to your garden.

    These plants are low-maintenance and drought-tolerant once established. They might need water every couple of weeks if you haven't had rainfall. But they do require fast drainage to avoid root rot. Also, under ideal conditions they can spread a bit aggressively, so be prepared to pull up new shoots if you wish to limit their spread.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8 (Penstemon digitalis)
    • Color Varieties: White blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15

    Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum')

    Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    This popular ornamental grass is fast-growing, forming clumps of narrow, arching, purplish-red leaves around 3 feet tall. In the summertime, flower spikes extend above the leaves, providing even more ornamental value. 

    Fountain grass will be darker and shinier with full sun and medium soil moisture, but it's also tolerant to some drought. Still, if your area has gone a couple weeks without rainfall, it's ideal to water your plant. Also, some fountain grass might need to be staked for support depending on its growth habit. And it should be in a site protected from strong winds. The 'Rubrum' cultivar is usually not a problematic spreader in the garden because it rarely sets seed.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Burgundy blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 06 of 15

    Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)

    Martha Washington geranium with pink blooms
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Geraniums in the genus Pelargonium are truly hardy plants. Most species begin blooming in the late spring. And some—especially the new varieties, such as the 'Rozanne' hybrid—continue to bloom until the first frost of the fall. Geraniums are generally low-growing, mound-forming plants that can take on the appearance of a small shrub. They're also a long-living plant that can thrive for decades. And they're one of the easiest plants to propagate via cuttings.

    Most varieties are tolerant of heat and drought. And once established, they can go for long stretches without watering, but it's best to give them some water during the growing season if you've gone a couple weeks without rainfall. Also, pinch off spent flowers to promote additional blooming throughout the season.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11 (Pelargonium × hortorum)
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, purple, orange, or white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average to rich, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 07 of 15

    Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos spp.)

    Red kangaroo paw flowers
    alexbruce / Getty Images

    Anigozanthos is a genus of plants native to Australia with only 11 species (and multiple subspecies). The red-and-green kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos manglesii) is actually the floral emblem of Western Australia. The plants generally form a rosette of long green to gray-green leaves at their base. And tall, leafless flower stalks emerge from this rosette. 

    Kangaroo paw plants grow naturally in dry, sandy areas and can survive prolonged dry spells thanks to the sap that’s stored in their roots. However, they grow and flower best with a moderate amount of soil moisture, so water your plant if you haven’t gotten any rain in roughly two weeks during the growing season. In the winter, you likely won’t have to water at all. Also, protect your plant from frost and strong winds. Gardeners who live outside of kangaroo paw’s growing zone often have success overwintering their plants in greenhouses or indoors. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11 (Anigozanthos flavidus)
    • Color Varieties: Yellow-green, red, or pink blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, sandy, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 08 of 15

    Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

    Lavender flowers - Sunset over a summer purple lavender field.
    Natalia Spiridonova / Getty Images

    Lavender plants produce stunning spikes of bluish-purple flowers that bloom throughout the growing season. The appearance of lavender plants varies across the genus. For instance, some have simple narrow oval leaves while others have more intricate foliage. And some are compact plants while others grow into shrubs that can reach a few feet tall. Lavender is also known for its calming fragrance, and both its flowers and silvery-green foliage are commonly harvested for their oils or dried and used in potpourris and sachets.

    Found naturally in dry, sandy soil of the Mediterranean, lavender has evolved to subsist on little water. Keep the soil evenly moist during your plant's first year of growth. But after that you generally only have to water if the first few inches of soil are dry. Also, regularly pinch off spent blooms to promote additional flowering throughout the growing season.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8 (Lavandula angustifolia)
    • Color Varieties: Purple blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    New Zealand Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium)

    white manuka tree flowers against blue sky with copy space above
    PatrikStedrak / Getty Images

    New Zealand tea tree is an evergreen shrub with small, prickly, aromatic leaves. Essential oil from its leaves, as well as various preparations of its bark, are used in alternative medicine. The plant produces showy white, pink, or red flowers in the early summer, which are excellent at attracting bees and other pollinators to your garden. 

    Water your plant regularly in its first year, so the soil is consistently moist. Established plants only need a moderate amount of moisture and have some drought tolerance, though you should water them if you haven’t had rainfall in around two weeks. Also, make sure your soil is loose and has good drainage, as this plant isn’t tolerant of heavy soil. If you wish, you can prune this shrub to look like a small tree, though it generally doesn’t need much in the way of pruning if you want it to grow naturally.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, or red blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 10 of 15

    Palo Verde (Parkinsonia spp.)

    PARKINSONIA ACULEATA 29 PALMS
    Jared Quentin / Getty Images

    Parkinsonia is a small genus of flowering plants that are part of the pea family. Plants within this genus are generally large shrubs or small trees with sparse foliage and light green bark. The plants are dry season deciduous, meaning they lose their foliage during the dry season and leaf out only for a short time during the rainiest part of the year. Thus, it’s actually their branches that carry out most of the photosynthesis for the plant.

    The plants are native to semi-desert regions of the Americas and Africa. As such, they have established excellent drought tolerance. Water new trees weekly during hot weather to help with their growth. Then, you generally won’t have to water an established plant unless you have an unusually long stretch of dry weather. Also, prune your tree to maintain the shape of its canopy only in warm weather, as cold-weather pruning can cause limbs to die.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10 (Parkinsonia florida)
    • Color Varieties: Yellow or white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry, well-draining
  • 11 of 15

    Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)

    pride of madeira shrub

    loridambrosio / Getty Images

    Pride of Madeira is a species of evergreen flowering plant that’s native to the island of Madeira. It has a mounding growth habit, reaching around 5 to 6 feet tall with a 6- to 10-foot spread. In the plant’s first year it will produce a rosette of long, narrow, gray-green leaves. And in its second year tall flower spikes that are covered in leaves and clusters of blooms will form. 

    Because this plant naturally grows on rocky cliffs, it can survive in dry soil. It’s particularly suitable for rocky coastal soil and needs excellent drainage. Water your plant regularly during its first year but then back off to watering only when you have a prolonged dry spell. Also, prune spent flower spikes in the fall to encourage healthy new growth in the spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Blue-violet or white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 12 of 15

    Sticks on Fire (Euphorbia tirucalli)

    Milk bush (pencil Tree)
    Linjerry / Getty Images

    Also known as a pencil tree or Indian tree spurge, this Euphorbia species is a striking drought-tolerant shrub or tree that can grow 20 to 30 feet tall. It has slender stems with small, oval leaves that can appear in shades of green, red, orange, and yellow. The colors are more brilliant if the plant receives full sun.

    This plant is native to semi-arid tropical climates, which makes it tolerant to drought. It prefers dry weather and fast-draining soil. It’s important to avoid overwatering your plant, which can cause bacterial and fungal diseases. Water a new plant weekly, but limit watering only to prolonged dry spells for an established plant. Also, the plant likes soil that isn’t rich in organic matter, so you likely won’t have to fertilize. 

    Warning

    Wear gloves when handling this plant. It produces a poisonous sap that can irritate skin, cause temporary blindness if it gets in your eyes, and bring on other allergic reactions.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 11 to 12
    • Color Varieties: Yellow blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomea batatas)

    sweet potato vine
    Diane Macdonald/Getty Images

    Sweet potato vines are commonly grown for their foliage rather than their tubers. These vines feature heart-shaped leaves that trail from containers, over garden walls, and on other support structures. They also make a gorgeous ground cover. There are multiple varieties with different color foliage, including green, chartreuse, purple, and bronze. Full sun brings out the best color. 

    These vines are low-maintenance once established. Water a new plant weekly but then taper off only to watering during hot spells and long stretches without rain. Moreover, as these vines are vigorous growers, lightly prune them as needed to maintain their shape.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Pink or violet blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 14 of 15

    Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

    Summer flower series, Campsis grandiflora.
    yanjf / Getty Images

    Trumpet vines are drought-tolerant flowering vines that can grow in a variety of conditions, though they prefer lean to average soil with average moisture. The vigorously growing vines feature bright green leaves on new plants that mature to a deep green. And they sport showy orange or red blooms in the summer that attract hummingbirds. 

    These plants can live for decades, dying back each winter and producing new growth in the spring. They flower best in full sun but appreciate a little shade in hot climates. You typically won’t have to water established vines unless you have a long stretch without rainfall or a period of particularly hot weather. The most maintenance gardeners often have to do for trumpet vines is pruning to limit their spread. The vines produce new plants from underground stems and self-seed, which can cause them to choke out other plants in the area.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Orange or red blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Lean to average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 15 of 15

    Wild Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)

    Closeup of a beautiful blue flower from a ceanothus
    Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Wild lilac species are fragrant and colorful shrubs. They're evergreen and drought tolerant, and they can be used in the landscape as screens, hedges, ground covers, borders, and more. While most wild lilac species are native to California, some grow in the eastern U.S., the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and Mexico. Some grow upright; some are compact and bushy; and some are low-growing and spreading.

    Water a new plant weekly to promote healthy growth. After that, your shrub typically won't require water except for during prolonged dry spells. You also typically won't need fertilizer unless you have very poor soil. Prune no more than a third of the shrub each year to help maintain its shape. An average shrub can live for 10 to 25 years.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 10 (Ceanothus 'Concha')
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple, or white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
Article Sources
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  1. Aloe (Aloe). North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  2. Artemisia. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  3. Cynara cardunculus (Scolymus Group). North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  4. Penstemon Australis. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  5. Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum'. Missouri Botanical Garden, Plant Finder

  6. Pelargonium. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  7. Anigozanthos Flavidus. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  8. Lavandula Angustifolia. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  9. Leptospermum Scoparium. Missouri Botanical Garden, Plant Finder

  10. Parkinsonia Florida Blue Palo Verde. University of California, Berkeley, The Jepson Herbarium

  11. Echium Candicans. Missouri Botanical Garden, Plant Finder

  12. Euphorbia Tirucalli. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

  13. Ipomea Batatas. Missouri Botanical Garden, Plant Finder

  14. Campsis Radicans. Missouri Botanical Garden, Plant Finder

  15. Ceanothus 'Concha'. Missouri Botanical Garden, Plant Finder