If you live somewhere dry, you probably know the struggle of gardening with non-drought tolerant plants.
Maintaining a thriving garden (or landscaping) in a climate with little rainfall can be difficult.
In this blog, we’ll discuss all the drought tolerant plants (other than succulents) that you can use around your home.
1. What are drought tolerant plants?
Drought tolerant plants are those with existing features to minimize water loss and maximize water uptake.
Some examples of these features include reduced leaf areas, small leaves, or needles (evergreens).
If drought-tolerant plants have large leaves, then these leaves will have deep indentations (sinuses) between lobes to reduce their leaf area.
Leaves covered with a heavy accumulation of wax are another indication of drought tolerance.
An example of this wax can be seen on a white fir.
The wax helps to conserve water within a plant.
Another adaption that traps moisture at the leaf surface is the presence of fine hairs.
An example of a plant with this adaptation is silver safe.
One final adaptation is plants that have deep roots that pull in moisture well below the soil.
An example of this is seen in false blue indigo.
2. How do you care for a drought tolerant plant?
Caring for a drought tolerant plant is fairly straightforward.
This is because these plants can withstand long periods of dry conditions after they are established.
This means they can go weeks or months without deep watering.
The factors that enable the drought tolerant plant to survive include soil conditions, mulch, and weed control.
We recommend planting a drought tolerant plant in the late fall or early spring.
This allows the plant to take before the ground becomes too hot in the summertime.
During this time, you’ll need to water the plant deeply.
This is confusing for most caretakers.
Why would you need to water a drought tolerant plant?
Providing your plant with drought resistant water in the first two seasons allows the roots to condition themselves.
They will grow deep instead of wide.
This helps to secure the plant and set it up for success.
During this time, you’ll also need to observe the soil condition as well.
If weeds are growing, you’ll need to pull them, so they don’t detract from the nutrients the plant is receiving.
If the soil is hot, then try putting mulch around the base of the plant to help reduce the temperature.
Eventually, you’ll end up with a low-maintenance garden that’s very little effort!
3. Are native plants and drought tolerant plants the same?
No, this is a common mistake.
People assume that just because a plant is native to a region that it can survive in any conditions the region brings (including a drought).
While some native plants can survive, it really depends on where the plant evolved as well as the site conditions where the plants are placed.
We recommend doing some research about your native plants before assuming they’ll be fine in a drought.
4. What are some trees that are drought tolerant?
Here are a few trees that are considered drought tolerant plants.
White fir: The white fir is one of the most drought-tolerant of its kind.
A slow-growing and stately evergreen with soft, bluish-green needles, it’s a great alternative to the Colorado blue spruce which is generally overused.
Bur oak: This large, hardy tree is ideal for extreme droughts.
It also has a good growth rate when young.
This tree is typically around 90 feet tall.
Japanese tree lilac: Considered one of the toughest lilacs, this is a single or multi-stemmed tree with huge clusters of white flowers in the early summer.
This tree is typically between 20 and 30 feet.
5. What are some shrubs that are drought tolerant?
Here are a couple of shrubs that are considered drought tolerant plants.
Bearberry: This shrub provides evergreen groundcover with glossy, green leaves that turn bronze in the fall.
You’ll see beautiful white or pink flowers in the spring and then small red fruit in the mid to late summer and winter.
It requires sun or partial shade, but it tolerates a variety of soil types (sandy, dry, gravely, or acid) and is even salt-tolerant.
This shrub typically grows to 6 to 10 inches.
Bottlebrush buckeye: This deciduous shrub has a mounded, multi-stemmed habit and white flowers on bottlebrush clusters in the summer.
It tolerates both sun and shade while being deer and rabbit resistant.
The shrub typically grows to 8 to 12 inches.
6. What are some perennials to choose from?
Here are a few perennials that are drought tolerant plants.
Yarrow: This fern-like perennial has large, flat blooms in late spring to mid-summer.
Yarrow is available in shades of pink, yellow, or red.
They require full sunlight but are both salt-tolerant and deer and rabbit resistant.
They typically grow to 18 to 36 inches.
Blue false indigo: This perennial stands upright with purple flowers in erect, 12-inch clusters above bluish-green leaves.
Blue false indigo is rabbit-resistant and thrives in full sun to partial shade.
It typically grows between 36 to 48 inches.
Barrenwort: Barrenwort is a tough flowering plant that’s ideal groundcover.
It’s good for dry, shady areas (even under large trees).
Its flowers could be white, yellow, red, and purple and rise on little stems above its foliage.
It is a deer and rabbit-resistant plant.
Stonecrop: stonecrops are both groundcover species and upright plants.
They do best in full sun; although, the lower-growing species is tolerant of partial shade.
You’ll love this perennial for its pink, red, and yellow flowers and seed heads that attract birds.
It’s also salt-tolerant and rabbit-resistant.
7. What are some annuals that are drought tolerant?
Here are some annuals that are drought tolerant if you want some plants that only grow for one season.
Wax begonia: Pick this annual if you have dry shade in your yard (although it also grows in full sun).
This bushy plant has shiny, heart-shaped leaves of green and bronze-red or mahogany.
It also has flowers of white, pink, or red that bloom constantly throughout the summer.
Many people use this annual (typically growing 6 to 10 inches) as a drought tolerant plant for a garden.
Madagascar periwinkle: This annual is drought tolerant once it’s established.
It thrives in full sun to partial shade and in intense heat as well.
You can identify it by its glossy green leaves and five-petaled flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, and lavender.
It typically grows 6 to 12 inches.
Moss ross: This is a low-growing succulent that covers the ground.
It thrives in full sun and has flowers that are semi-double to double in a variety of colors.
It typically grows 2 to 8 inches.
Nasturtium: This annual thrives in infertile, dry clay soil, which is unusual.
If you have this type of soil, start planting!
It also blooms in partial shade or morning sun with yellow, orange, red, and mahogany flowers that rise above clumps of trailing leaves.
The flowers and leaves are also edible.
Verbena: These are small pretty flowers that bloom from spring until frost.
They come in colors of mauve, purple, white, pink, apricot, or red.
They require full sunlight and typically grow up to 6 to 10 inches.
8. What are some landscape plants that are drought tolerant?
Are you looking for drought tolerant plants to improve the landscaping in your yard?
Here are various plants you should test out.
- Common hackberry
- Hop hornbeam
- American hornbeam
- Kentucky coffee tree
- Eastern redcedar
- White spruce
- Red pine
- Serbian spruce
- Eastern white pine
- Common lilac
- Salt spray rose
- Northern bayberry
- Common ninebark
- Russian arborvitae
- Shrubby St. Johnswort
- Butterfly bush
- Northern bush-honeysuckle
- Butterfly bush
- White fringe tree
- Common witch hazel
- Ornamental onion
- Perennial bachelor’s button
- Blue fescue
- Black-eyed Susan
- Prairie dropseed
- Adam’s needle
- Purple coneflower
- True lilies
- Russian sage
- Garden thyme
- Globe amaranth
- Dusty miller
9. What are some tips for drought resistant plants?
Below are a few expert tips when it comes to investing in drought resistant plants.
Look at nursery tags. They often indicate the plants that are drought resistant, which means you’ll know how much they need water-wise before you get them home.
We’ve listed a lot of the drought-resistant plants above.
However, if you don’t want to go into the nursery with a long list, then you can also check when you get there to make sure you’re buying the right kind.
Plant in the late fall to early spring. This time frame is the optimal period to get the roots into the ground before the temperatures get too hot.
If the ground is too warm when you’re planting, then it can be difficult to ensure drought resistance.
Train your roots. You want your roots to grow deep down into the ground instead of remaining shallow.
This means watering them copiously once a week instead of many short, shallow watering sessions.
You want the soil to get wet many inches into the ground, so make this a priority when you water.
Once your plants are mature, they will hopefully be “drought resistant.”
This means they will have little to no watering needs beyond winter rains.
Too much summer watering can kill many native plants.
We recommend reducing your plants’ water usage down to a monthly drink if there’s no rain.
Use mulch around new plants. Mulch helps to discourage weeds and keeps your soil cooler.
Regulating your soil’s temperature will help it retain moisture.
Water container plants more. Drought tolerant plants in pots require more water because the soil in a container dries out faster than the soil in the ground.
This is because the root depth is limited by the size of your pot.
10. How can you train a plant to become drought tolerant?
Some plants are simply declared as “drought tolerant” while others are relatively drought tolerant.
They can thrive on less water, but they need some training to get there.
But how do you train a plant to need less water?
Here are some tips and tricks you can use if you’re interested in a lower-maintenance garden.
Use organic materials and/or water-holding polymers at the time of planting
Install drip or soaker hose irrigation systems
Use organic mulch on top of the ground where plants are growing
Control water-robbing weeds adjacent to landscape plants
In general, most people with gardens or plants in their yard over water.
You’ve been conditioned to think that you need to water your plants constantly for them to survive and thrive.
People with automatic sprinkler systems are particularly guilty of this.
While your grass may go brown if it isn’t watered on a specific schedule, your shrubs, trees, and bushes don’t need constant water.
So, if you’re heading outside to spray down your plants with your hose every day or you have an automatic sprinkler system doing the job for you, take a look at your watering schedule.
There’s a good chance that your landscape could still thrive on less water.
We challenge you to start by decreasing the number of days by two and increasing the length of watering time by 5 minutes.
This method — fewer days but deeper water — is a good way to start training drought tolerant plants.
If everything looks good after a couple of weeks, you can continue to push your plants.
Stay on the same watering schedule but reduce the water used even more.
11. What are the easiest ways to save water when landscaping?
Are you wondering what other ways you could be saving water?
More water is wasted through overwatering than any other reason.
Here are 10 ways you could invest in lowering your water bill and saving the environment.
Install an automatic-rain-shutoff device. This is an inexpensive device that tells your sprinkler system not to water after a certain amount of rain has fallen.
Update your irrigation system with a smart controller. This is a more expensive device with a weather-based irrigation controller that helps you improve your watering efficiency by up to 40 percent.
Upgrade to water-efficient emitters. Ask your local irrigation expert to inspect your sprinkler system and see if there are more efficient alternatives available (heads, rotors, drip irrigation emitters).
Eliminate leaks. You can waste up to 6,000 gallons of water in a year if you have outdoor leaks…get these fixed as soon as possible!
Install a rain barrel. Collect rainwater in a barrel and use it for other purposes. It’s perfect for plants because it’s salt and chemical-free.
Put down a thick layer of mulch. As noted above, mulch helps keep the soil cool and protects the roots of your plants.
Choose drought-tolerant plants. Covered above! It really makes a difference in how much water is necessary.
Water the soil instead of the leaves. This keeps water from evaporating and going to waste.
Mow high. Keep your grass at about 2 inches to help shade the soil and prevent excessive evaporation.
Don’t overwater. This can contribute to root rot and fungal and bacterial disease.
Whether you’re looking for a list of drought tolerant plants to fill your yard or you want to begin transitioning your existing plants to a lower maintenance watering schedule, use the information above!
Most people don’t realize how much water they use unnecessarily.
You can still have a beautiful yard without paying big bucks for your water bill.
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4 thoughts on “Drought Tolerant Plants: 11 Things (2023) You Should Know”
Erika, Great information! I am forwarding this to my younger brother who bought 51 acres in west Texas with sparse plant growth. I keep telling him to plant drought resistant plants so there is a footing there for other plants to grow. He has plenty of water as there is an aquifer below his ranch. Dell City is an agricultural town that has an abundance of underground water. Only problem is that El Paso plans to harvest the water there. So I say PLAN AHEAD!
Thank you, Norbert!
Consider Drought tolerant bamboo as well. Bamboo grows fast as well as tall. It is a good addition to a Micro-Forest by allowing shaded areas faster than usual in drought laden areas.
Thank you, Norbert! I will look into creating a blog post on drought tolerant bamboo.