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What are Drought-Tolerant Plants?

What are Drought-Tolerant Plants?

Plants that are “tolerant” of drought do not necessarily “thrive” during periods of drought. This designation simply refers to certain plants that can survive periods of low (or no) rainfall. It doesn’t mean that plants can survive extended periods of drought, but they are able to handle short-term, periodic dry spells.

Here’s the Fine Print

When you purchase a new plant, you can’t simply “plant it and forget it.” Even drought-tolerant plants must have sufficient water during their first year after planting so they can develop a strong root system. In plant terms, this is called “becoming established.” However, once established, drought-tolerant plants live up to their reputation.


  • You may not want to plant ivy near your flower garden or vegetable garden because of its tendency to spread. But this is the perfect plant to use where you want a groundcover or a vine to scramble up lattice and shade you from the sun. Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and English Ivy (Hedera helix) are reliably drought-tolerant.
  • Equally beautiful in your herb garden or flower garden, lavender (Lavendula spp.) is a Mediterranean plant, which means it’s adapted to periods of low rainfall. Whether you choose an English lavender, such as Hidcote Purple Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’), or the heat-tolerant Phenomenal Lavender (Lavandula intermedia ‘Phenomenal,’ don’t give these plants too much water to keep them healthy.

Ornamental grasses

  • Pink Muhly Grass. Billowy pink flower plumes rise above this ornamental grass to color your yard in summer. As a native plant, Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is adaptable to harsh conditions, including low rainfall.
  • Purple Fountain Grass. Unlike many annual plants that need a lot of water, Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) really stands up to hot and dry weather. Deep purple, arching foliage contrasts beautifully with the vertical bottlebrush-like flower spikes.


  • Butterfly Bush. Awash with color from its flower clusters, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.) is a must-have for your hummingbird and butterfly garden. Not only does it attract these tiny winged visitors to your garden, but the blossoms from this drought-tolerant plant are long-lasting cut flowers for your home. Plant different types for multicolor bouquets, such as Pink Delight (Buddleia davidii ‘Pink Delight’) and White Profusion (Buddleia davidii ‘White Profusion’).
  • Tiny, nodding, bell-shaped flowers give this plant its common name — yellow bells (or golden bells). Lynwood Gold Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood’) is an exceptional cultivar, because it’s not picky about soils and it performs well even in hot and dry climates.


  • A drought-tolerant evergreen garden staple is Juniper. Species of this plant cover a color spectrum from Skyrocket Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’), with gray-green foliage, to Wichita Blue Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue’), with stunning silvery-blue foliage.
  • If you have a small yard, the Vitex Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) may be the perfect fit. It grows only 10 to 15 feet tall, and it’s covered in lilac-covered flowers in summer. This tough little tree easily handles heat, humidity and drought.

Other Water-Saving Tips

Other than adding drought-tolerant plants to your yard and garden, you can save money and time on watering with these xeriscaping tips (xeriscaping = efficient use of water in the landscape): 

  • Amend the soil. By simply spreading a few inches of compost or well-aged animal manures on the ground and mixing it into the existing soil, you’ll improve the growing conditions of your plants.
  • Apply mulch. Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around your plants to help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay. Use finely shredded pine bark, hardwood bark or another mulch of your choice to complement your landscape design. Pull mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs to keep moisture and pesky bugs at bay.
  • Soaker Hoses. Install soaker hoses on top of the ground (but underneath the mulch) around your plants. This will channel the water directly to plant roots instead of spraying it into the air.

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