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10 Drought-Tolerant Plants

By: Garden Gate staff
Looking for a water-wise garden? Hot, dry days don't stop the lush foliage and colorful flowers of these tough but gorgeous drought-tolerant plants.

Whether you live in a dry area with watering restrictions, or even if you live in an area with plenty of natural rainfall, a garden needs plants that won't wilt when the weather gets hot and dry. If you choose plants that take heat and dry weather in stride and design your garden with low water-use in mind, you’ll spend less time dragging a hose around the garden when you could be relaxing in the shade. Don’t stop watering these plants just because they can tolerate some drought. But rest easy knowing that when the temperature spikes, your water bill doesn’t have to spike, too!

Traits of drought-tolerant plants

Most of these plants have colorful flowers and some even have beautiful foliage, but all have features that allow them to survive, and even thrive, in drought. They may have very deep roots to reach moisture or fleshy ones that store water. Or they may have leaves reflect light or store moisture. These traits help the plant retain as much water as possible in drought, so if you see them it usually means a plant is drought-tolerant.

  • Waxy
  • Fuzzy
  • Gray-colored
  • Thick

More on watering

Cutting back on watering doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a garden full of lush foliage and colorful flowers! Make sure to give these annuals and perennials regular moisture until they get established, and then they’ll bloom right through hot, dry conditions with ease. A moisture-conserving layer of organic mulch like pine straw is also a good idea for any of these plants. But once established, they’re easy to grow and enjoy, even when rain is hard to come by. Scroll on to learn more about each plant.

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More Drought-Tolerant Perennials

Celosia (Celosia spp. and hybrids)

Spikes, clusters and plumes like the ones here — you can find hot-colored celosia in a variety of flower shapes. If you want more side branches, pinch the growing tips off young plants before they begin flowering in summer. They don’t need any trimming or deadheading otherwise.

Type Annual Blooms Red, yellow and magenta from summer to frost Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 10 to 36 in. tall, 8 to 24 in. wide

Artemisia (Artemisia spp. and hybrids)

Along a sunny sidewalk or driveway or at the top of a retaining wall are great locations for artemisia, where it can enjoy reflected heat and good drainage. Leave the dead tops in place to protect the crowns over winter, and cut them back only when you start to see new growth in the spring.

Type Perennial Blooms Feathery silver foliage all summer Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 8 to 60 in. tall, 10 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 10

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Low maintenance, deer resistant, a butterfly magnet and drought-tolerant — this plant has it all! Deadheading will keep flowers coming until fall, but be patient if it doesn’t take off right away. Butterfly weed takes a year or two to get established, and if you need to move it, take care not to disturb its long taproot too much.

Type Perennial Blooms Clusters of orange and yellow flowers in summer Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 12 to 36 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 9

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)

If you deadhead Jerusalem sage’s faded flowers, you may be rewarded with a sporadic repeat bloom in fall. Even if the plant doesn’t flower again, the soft, fuzzy foliage looks handsome on its own.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow or white flowers in summer Light Full sun to light shade Soil Lean, very well-drained; tolerates heavy or clay, too Size 2 to 6 ft. tall, 2 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11

Alpine sea holly (Eryngium alpinum)

Though this prickly plant is easy to grow and tolerant of many soils and conditions, there’s one hitch: It doesn’t live long. Sea holly usually grows for only three to four years. Luckily, it self-seeds around the garden, so you’ll find it sprouting in lots of unexpected places. Simply dig and replant the seedlings in spring.

Type Perennial Blooms Silver-blue flowers from summer to fall Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 5 to 9

Gazania (Gazania hybrids)

Bright and showy, gazanias prefer dry, hot conditions. In humid parts of the country, they can crash in midsummer. If that’s the case for you, grow gazanias as cool-weather annuals and replace them for the summer.

Type Tender perennial Blooms Multicolored, daisylike flowers in summer Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 8 to 12 in. tall, 6 to 10 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 10 to 11

Lantana (Lantana camara)

Once new lantana plants are established, they’re quite drought-tolerant. But until then, make sure to keep the young plants moist so their roots can anchor them deep into the soil. And for many, pinching the stems back a few times before the flowers bloom will make the plants denser with more blossoms. Lantanas grow in any soil that drains quickly.This plant is so tough it’ll even tolerate salty sea breezes.

Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Blooms Yellow, orange, red, purple and white blooms as well as bicolors summer through frost Size 1 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 3 ft. wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11

Rock rose (Cistus spp. and hybrids)

Each rock rose flower lasts just one day, but so many buds cover the plant that it can bloom for up to three weeks in summer. Flowers of different rock roses range from 2 to 4 in. across; many have a small dark blotch on each petal. Plant in late spring to summer and to create sharp drainage, add a layer of grit to the planting hole.

Type Perennial Blooms White to dark pink flowers in summer Light Full sun Soil Gravelly, sharply drained Size 2 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 8 to 10

Spike speedwell (Veronica spicata)

This rugged little plant makes an attractive, carefree addition to the drought-tolerant garden. Known for blue spikes that bloom most all season, newer cultivars sport flowers in colors from light blue to rosy red. Whatever the color, add the spikes to jazz up a boring border. Deadhead to keep the plant blooming and looking tidy.

Type Perennial Blooms Blue, pink or red flowers in summer Size 12 to 24 in. tall by 18 in. wide Soil Well-drained soil Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA 3 to 8

Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)

With its attractive mounding habit, cushion spurge grabs atrracts attention, especially in spring when it’s covered with bright-gold bracts. But it’s also showy in fall, as it takes on a red cast. Grow it in full sun for the best color. Sometimes plants will flop in late summer. To prevent this, cut the plant back to 4 or 5 inches high after blooming. Be sure to wear gloves when you do this, as many people are allergic to the white sap.

Type Perennial Blooms Bright yellow bracts in late spring to summer Size 16 in. tall by 24 in. wide Soil Well-drained soil Light Full sun to light shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA 4 to 8

Celosia (Celosia spp. and hybrids)

Spikes, clusters and plumes like the ones here — you can find hot-colored celosia in a variety of flower shapes. If you want more side branches, pinch the growing tips off young plants before they begin flowering in summer. They don’t need any trimming or deadheading otherwise.

Type Annual Blooms Red, yellow and magenta from summer to frost Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 10 to 36 in. tall, 8 to 24 in. wide

Gazania (Gazania hybrids)

Bright and showy, gazanias prefer dry, hot conditions. In humid parts of the country, they can crash in midsummer. If that’s the case for you, grow gazanias as cool-weather annuals and replace them for the summer.

Type Tender perennial Blooms Multicolored, daisylike flowers in summer Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 8 to 12 in. tall, 6 to 10 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 10 to 11

Artemisia (Artemisia spp. and hybrids)

Along a sunny sidewalk or driveway or at the top of a retaining wall are great locations for artemisia, where it can enjoy reflected heat and good drainage. Leave the dead tops in place to protect the crowns over winter, and cut them back only when you start to see new growth in the spring.

Type Perennial Blooms Feathery silver foliage all summer Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 8 to 60 in. tall, 10 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 10

Lantana (Lantana camara)

Once new lantana plants are established, they’re quite drought-tolerant. But until then, make sure to keep the young plants moist so their roots can anchor them deep into the soil. And for many, pinching the stems back a few times before the flowers bloom will make the plants denser with more blossoms. Lantanas grow in any soil that drains quickly.This plant is so tough it’ll even tolerate salty sea breezes.

Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Blooms Yellow, orange, red, purple and white blooms as well as bicolors summer through frost Size 1 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 3 ft. wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Low maintenance, deer resistant, a butterfly magnet and drought-tolerant — this plant has it all! Deadheading will keep flowers coming until fall, but be patient if it doesn’t take off right away. Butterfly weed takes a year or two to get established, and if you need to move it, take care not to disturb its long taproot too much.

Type Perennial Blooms Clusters of orange and yellow flowers in summer Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 12 to 36 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 9

Rock rose (Cistus spp. and hybrids)

Each rock rose flower lasts just one day, but so many buds cover the plant that it can bloom for up to three weeks in summer. Flowers of different rock roses range from 2 to 4 in. across; many have a small dark blotch on each petal. Plant in late spring to summer and to create sharp drainage, add a layer of grit to the planting hole.

Type Perennial Blooms White to dark pink flowers in summer Light Full sun Soil Gravelly, sharply drained Size 2 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 8 to 10

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)

If you deadhead Jerusalem sage’s faded flowers, you may be rewarded with a sporadic repeat bloom in fall. Even if the plant doesn’t flower again, the soft, fuzzy foliage looks handsome on its own.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow or white flowers in summer Light Full sun to light shade Soil Lean, very well-drained; tolerates heavy or clay, too Size 2 to 6 ft. tall, 2 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11

Spike speedwell (Veronica spicata)

This rugged little plant makes an attractive, carefree addition to the drought-tolerant garden. Known for blue spikes that bloom most all season, newer cultivars sport flowers in colors from light blue to rosy red. Whatever the color, add the spikes to jazz up a boring border. Deadhead to keep the plant blooming and looking tidy.

Type Perennial Blooms Blue, pink or red flowers in summer Size 12 to 24 in. tall by 18 in. wide Soil Well-drained soil Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA 3 to 8

Alpine sea holly (Eryngium alpinum)

Though this prickly plant is easy to grow and tolerant of many soils and conditions, there’s one hitch: It doesn’t live long. Sea holly usually grows for only three to four years. Luckily, it self-seeds around the garden, so you’ll find it sprouting in lots of unexpected places. Simply dig and replant the seedlings in spring.

Type Perennial Blooms Silver-blue flowers from summer to fall Light Full sun Soil Well-drained Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 5 to 9

Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma)

With its attractive mounding habit, cushion spurge grabs atrracts attention, especially in spring when it’s covered with bright-gold bracts. But it’s also showy in fall, as it takes on a red cast. Grow it in full sun for the best color. Sometimes plants will flop in late summer. To prevent this, cut the plant back to 4 or 5 inches high after blooming. Be sure to wear gloves when you do this, as many people are allergic to the white sap.

Type Perennial Blooms Bright yellow bracts in late spring to summer Size 16 in. tall by 24 in. wide Soil Well-drained soil Light Full sun to light shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA 4 to 8

Published: Aug. 14, 2018
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