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In regions that are experiencing drought or are just naturally dry—like the Southwestern United States—choosing plants for your landscape can be a challenge. For those unfamiliar with water-wise landscaping, there are several different plants, trees, shrubs, vines, and even flowers that do not require lots of water. Take a look at this photo gallery of drought-tolerant plants for your outdoor living spaces, including patios, pool areas, pathways and lawn substitutes.
The following water-smart plants are presented in alphabetical order. Check with your local nursery, botanical garden or master gardeners for more information and to learn if a particular plant would be a good choice for your region.Continue to 2 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Aloe
Height: 1 to 12 feet or taller
Width: 3 to 15 feet or more
While aloes thrive in hot and dry climates (hence, their drought tolerance), they can be found growing in a variety of climates including coastal regions, grasslands, and alpine locations. During the summer months, most aloes require irrigation about every other week. In the winter, the combination of cooler temperatures (not freezing) and rainfall usually provides ample water for them to survive.
Native of South America, aloes are succulents that are very easy to grow in the garden. Once a cluster or large clump forms, cuttings or pups can be made and simply positioned in the new spot; they will eventually take root. How easy is that?
Popular species for drought tolerant landscapes include:
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- Aloe arborescens
- Jewel Aloe (Aloe distans)
- Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)
- Coral Aloe (Aloe striata)
- Partridge Breast Aloe or Tiger Aloe (Aloe variegata)
- Medicinal Aloe or Barbados Aloe (Aloe vera)
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Also known as Wormwood
Botanical name: Artemisia
Height: 1 to 6 feet
Width: 1 to 6 feet
These perennials and evergreen shrubs enhance a drought tolerant garden with their intricate leaf patterns and silvery gray or white foliage that is aromatic. Not perfumy, like roses or gardenias, but pleasing and kind of herbal. Artemisias work well in mixed borders, with ornamental grasses, succulents and other water-wise specimens, where their silver leaves soften dark or bright reds, oranges, greens and purples. Not surprisingly, they require little to moderate water.
Popular varieties to look for include:
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- Common Wormwood (Artemisia arbrotanum)
- Artemisia arborescens
- California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
- Silver Spreader (Artemisia caucasica)
- French Tarragon, True Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
- White Mugwort (Artemisia lactiflora)
- Silver King Artemisia (Artemisia ludoviciana albula)
- Artemisia 'Powis Castle'
- Dusty Miller, Beach Wormwood, Old Woman (Artemisia stelleriana)
- Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) (Seriphidium tridentatum)
- Artemisia vulagaris 'Oriental Limelight'
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Botanical name: Asteracea
Height: 4 to 5 feet
Width: 6 to 8 feet
Yes, that artichoke—the same one you love to steam and serve with butter and lemon. If you live in a climate that has temperatures similar to the artichoke's native land of the southern Mediterranean (like the West Coast), it can be a good-looking ornamental plant that produces edible artichokes from fall until spring. In this type of climate, it is a perennial that can go with light watering after it is established, and if the edible part is left on its stalks, gorgeous purplish-blue flowers will electrify your garden for several weeks. The artichoke is part of the thistle family.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Penstemon
Height: 1 to 4 feet
Width: to 6 feet or more
This Western native boasts more than 250 species that grow in deserts, on mountains and plains. Identifiable by narrow, bell-shaped, lipped flowers in bright reds, soft pink, peach, rose, lilac, salmon, dark purple, and white. They attract hummingbirds and bees. While considered drought tolerant, they require fast drainage, and thrive in rock gardens.Continue to 6 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
Height: to 5 feet
Width: to 5 feet
This popular ornamental grass originates from tropical Africa, southwestern Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Easily identifiable by its dense clump of medium green to dark purple foliate and long plumes of coppery pink or purplish "flowers" (that look like feathers). Fountain Grass will be darker and shinier with irrigation, although it doesn't need any -- hence, its popularity in dry climates. To discourage seeding, cut off blooms before seeds mature. Plus, the plant looks more tidy and healthy.Continue to 7 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Pelargonium
The most common types are:
- Martha Washington
Most varieties are tolerant of heat and drought and, once established, can go for periods without regular watering. Geraniums are also a long-living shrub that can thrive for decades. It's also one of the easiest plants to cultivate with a cutting from new growth.Continue to 8 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Anigozanthos manglesii
Height: 1 to 20 feet
Width: 1 to 3 feet
This water-wise exotic hails from Western Australia and only requires an inch of water per week to maintain its good looks. Popular kangaroo paw varieties include:
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- Big Red Kangaroo Paw
- Bush Dawn Kangaroo Paw
- Bush Lantern Kangaroo Paw
- Bush Pearl Kangaroo Paw
- Bush Ranger Kangaroo Paw
- Bush Sunset Kangaroo Paw
- Coral Pink Kangaroo Paw
- Harmony Kangaroo Paw
- Manglesi Kangaroo Paw
- Pink Joey Kangaroo Paw
- Pink Kangaroo Paw
- Red Cross Kangaroo Paw
- Regal Claw Kangaroo Paw
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Botanical term: Lavendula
Height: 1 to 4 feet
Width: 2 to 6 feet
In mass plantings, lavender produces stunning spikes of bluish/purple (hence, the name, lavender) that bloom throughout the year, depending on where you live. Regular deadheading produces more frequent blooms, but flowers peak in the spring. Hailing from the Mediterranean, lavender is also known for its fragrance, which is said to promote sleep.
Lavender has evolved to subsist on little water. Like other Mediterranean plants, a lavender shrub should be watered enough during its first year to keep its roots moist. Once it is established, you can gradually cut back on watering so that the top few inches of soil are dry before irrigating again.Continue to 10 of 16 below.
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New Zealand Tea Tree
Botanical name: Leptospermum scoparium
Height: 3 to 8 feet
Width: 3 to 8 feet
Flowers on this shrub or tree are white, pink or a magenta-red and look like tiny wild roses. Be sure to plant New Zealand tea tree in a quick-draining spot with slightly acidic soil—it should last for many years. Depending on the desired look, it can be a shrub or, if pruned correctly, can look like a small tree.Continue to 11 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Cercidium
- 'Desert Museum'
- Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum)
- Littleleaf Palo Verde or Foothills Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum)
Palo Verdes are attractive, sculptural trees that can get by with little water. The trunk and branches are a light green color.Continue to 12 of 16 below.
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Pride of Madeira
Botanical name: Echium candicans
Height: 4 to 6 feet
Width: 4 to 6 feet or more
This striking grey-leaved shrub with 20-inch bluish-purple flower spikes often grows on slopes and hillsides, spread by seed via birds. In fact, if a shrub gets its start this way, it may be hardier than one bought at a nursery. In dry coastal regions (like Southern California), Pride of Madeira thrives with little or no irrigation once it's established.
Prune spent spikes in fall to encourage new growth in spring and a healthier and more attractive shrub.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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Sticks on Fire
Botanical name: Euphorbia tirucalli
Height: 4 to 25 feet
Width: 3 to 10 feet
Also known as Red Pencil Tree, this euphorbia is a striking succulent shrub in shades of green, red, orange and gold or yellow. Colors are more brilliant if the succulent receives full sun. Use caution when handling the plant; if "sticks" or branches break, a white milky substance that oozes out can irritate skin or cause an allergic reaction.Continue to 14 of 16 below.
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Sweet Potato Vine
Botanical name: Ipomea batatas
Height: About 2 feet
Width: More like spread, or trail, is several feet; 10 feet or more.
Another plant-it-and-forget it beauty is sweet potato vine, which produces heart-shaped leaves and trails from containers, over walls, and makes a gorgeous ground cover. The more popular varieties are lime and a dark-purple, which happen to make a smashing combination in container arrangements. Once established, sweet potato vine requires little water and loves attention from the sun.Continue to 15 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Campsis radicans
Height: To 20 feet
Width: To 30 feet
Trumpet vines are drought tolerant flowering vines that attract hummingbirds. Bloom time depends on region, but can be anywhere from early spring (warmer climates) to mid fall. Colors include orange, red, salmon, coral, yellow-orange, orange and yellow. Plants can live for decades, dying back each winter and blooming in early spring.Continue to 16 of 16 below.
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Botanical name: Ceanothus
Height: 1 to 36 feet
Width: 1 to 36 feet
Ceanothus are fragrant and colorful shrubs that are evergreen, drought tolerant, and can be used in the landscape as screens, hedges, ground covers, next to wall, and in shrub borders. Except for its first summer when it needs irrigation to get started, Wild Lilac can survive with very little water and does not need soil amendments. An average shrub can last for 10 to 25 years.
While most Wild Lilac are native to California, some species grow in the eastern United States, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest and Mexico. Flower colors range from white to all shades of blue to deep violet. Some Ceanothus grow upright, others are compact and bushy, while others are grow low and spreading, like ground covers.