With major droughts hitting the news on a regular basis and water restrictions popping up in many parts of the country, many homeowners are looking to compliment portions of their landscapes with water sipping plants that thrive in low water conditions.
Planting a drought tolerant landscape is a smart move. In a normal year, it will allow you to reduce your water bill while still enjoying the beauty of a well-planned landscape. And if (or when) drought strikes, your plants will weather the dry spell with little or no lasting damage.
Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Wilton, CT, a member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals
Tips for Choosing Drought Tolerant Plants
Look for plants with adaptations that help them conserve water. These include:
Fleshy or wiry stems
Small or finely divided leaves
Hairy or furry leaves, and/or
Leaves with waxy coatings that retain moisture.
Most drought tolerant plants also have deep or extensive root systems, and/or fleshy roots that serve as a reservoir for the plant to draw on in dry weather.
Plant Picks for Your Region
A drought tolerant plant that thrives in one region might not be suitable for another. Here are some top picks by U.S. region:
Climate conditions in the American west are variable, but typically somewhat dry and temperate. Temperatures can range from hot to quite cold in the mountainous regions.
Perennial plants: Yarrow, sage, ice plant (Choose the non-invasive Delosperma cooperi rather than the notorious highway iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis), Mexican feather grass, Blue Avena grass
Shrubs: Apache plume, Western sand cherry, wax currant
Trees: Douglas fir, American plum, Ponderosa pine
The southwestern landscape is famous for being very hot and dry. Gardeners here can achieve beautiful effects by combining well-chosen plants with hardscaping, rocks, and interesting mulches. Succulents rule in this arid region. Many species of cacti, euphorbs and other fleshy plants lend interest to the Southwest landscape. Grasses, like pink muhly and deer grass, are a good choice, too.
Our northwest region boasts North America’s only temperate rainforest. The area between the Cascades and the Pacific coast gets plentiful rain most years. However, dry spells can happen anywhere, so it’s good to be prepared!
Trees: Smoke tree, golden chain tree, strawberry tree
Plants in America’s heartland must endure extremes of temperature and rainfall. In summer, the Midwestern climate is prone to dry spells alternating with thunderstorms. High winds can also prove challenging to plants.
Perennial plants: St. John’s wort, coneflower, Jerusalem artichoke, daylily, and grasses like little bluestem, switchgrass, and pampas grass
Shrubs: Lilac, forsythia, serviceberry
Trees: Green ash, hackberry, gingko, bur oak
The southeast region boasts a warm climate that is typically wet and humid. Prolonged drought is unusual here, but going with drought-tolerant plants can save the Southern gardener a bundle on irrigation costs.
Perennial plants: Butterfly weed, Joe Pye weed, baby’s breath
Shrubs: American holly, chaste tree, hydrangea,
Trees: American smoke tree, mimosa, loblolly pine, live oak
Here you will find a temperate climate with warm summers and cool to extreme winters. Top picks for this region are cold hardy as well as drought tolerant.
Shrubs: Mapleleaf viburnum, bayberry, juniper
Trees: Crabapple, Northern red oak, white fir, Norway spruce
Perennial plants: Amsonia, aster, goldenrod
Drought Tolerant Plants for All Regions
There are a few kinds of low-water landscape plants that seem to do well almost anywhere. Some of these include:
Versatile Low-Water Perennial Plants
Ornamental grasses (ask your landscape professional for specific suggestions for your area)
Many popular herbs, such as oregano, thyme, sage, and catmint, also thrive in low water conditions and look great in the landscape
Low Water Annuals That Do Well Throughout the Country
Typically, drought tolerant plants enjoy well-drained soil. If you have heavy clay soil you might consider adding raised beds and/or talking to your landscape professional about soil amendments and/or drainage solutions.
Of course, these suggestions are just a starting point. There are many, many more beautiful, water-efficient plant selections available that could do wonderfully in your landscape. It’s also important to remember that within each region there are many variations of climate and soil type. Your own property may even contain more than one microclimate. Speaking with a local landscape expert is your best bet for finding the drought tolerant plants that will be best suited to your unique tastes and property.