Nature's Path Blog

3 Types of Plants for Drought Tolerant Landscaping

Posted by Nan Fischer on August 05, 2016 under Home Gardens & Growing

3 Types of Plants for Drought Tolerant Landscaping | Nature's Path

Now more than ever, we need to be aware of and implement drought tolerant landscaping. Rain cycles aren’t predictable anymore (unusual droughts and flooding), and neither are temperatures. Creating a yard with hardy, drought tolerant, and native plants will provide a buffer against climate irregularities.


California and parts of the southwest are in severe drought. I have been reading about dry conditions in the eastern US and Canada, too. To prevent your garden from shriveling up, try planting these drought tolerant plants:


3 Types of Plants for Drought Tolerant Landscaping | Nature's Path

1. Native Plants

Here in northern New Mexico, it has been in the 90s with very little rain for almost two months. This is our rainy season! The ongoing drought is now coupled with an unusual and lengthy heat wave.


The greenest plants in my yard (aside from the vegetable gardens!) are the native and adaptable trees, shrubs, and perennials. That says a lot to me, and the choice is obvious for a lush yard in harsh conditions.

  • Native plants need very little water once established. As in all landscape plantings, daily watering is necessary to develop strong and deep root systems, but once plants are settled into their new digs, they don’t ask for much.

  • They don't need fertilizer, and are generally pest free.

  • They offer food and shelter to native pollinators and other wildlife. Like a true ecosystem, a native landscape maintains itself.

To learn more about the native plants of your area, get involved with your local Native Plant Society. Check this list of native plant societies in the US and Canada.

  3 Types of Plants for Drought Tolerant Landscaping | Nature's Path

2. Adaptable Plants

Plants that are not native yet grow well in an area without being invasive are called adaptable plants. Lilacs, for instance, thrive in the US, but are native to Eastern Europe. They have adapted to our conditions.

  • There is a wide variety of adaptable, drought tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials you can use in conjunction with native plants for a lush garden that blooms all summer. Look at this comprehensive list of drought tolerant perennials!

  • Apply the same design principles as in any landscape – color, texture, size, shape, line, and winter interest. Consider light needs, bloom time, and fall color, too.

  • Take advantage of the physical features of drought tolerant plants for your design. They have smaller leaves to reduce evaporation, and some have fuzzy leaves to hold water close to the surface of the leaf. Succulents and cacti hold water in their thick leaves. Alpine plants hug the ground for protection.


3 Types of Plants for Drought Tolerant Landscaping | Nature's Path

3. Alpine Plants

The native plants of the Alps are found above tree line in shallow, rocky soil, watered only by snowmelt. The sun is bright, and winters are cold, windy, and dry. It’s a harsh environment!

Alpine plants have been adapted to home rock gardens, needing little in the way of soil or water. They are hardy and drought tolerant, and provide a showy display at bloom time!

  • A rock garden can dress up a sunny slope.
    1. Add native boulders if necessary, burying them halfway into the hill for stability.
    2. Create planting pockets above and around each one where rainwater can collect.
    3. Add well-draining soil, and plant!
  • If you don’t have a slope, you can easily create a rock garden.
    1. Dig down about a foot, and add fill and sand, and top with well draining soil.
    2. Place native rocks and boulders for a naturalized look, again creating planting pockets. This can be as tall or low as you like. You can even build a stone wall, fill in behind it with rocks, fill, sand, and well draining soil, making a planting bed on top. Natural planting pockets are also between the rocks on the face of the wall.

True alpine plants can be combined with other low-water and low-growing plants. The Royal Horticultural Society in London, where rockeries are common, has compiled a detailed plant list.


3 Types of Plants for Drought Tolerant Landscaping | Nature's Path

Learn More About Drought Tolerant Landscaping

Visit local botanical gardens and native plant nurseries with demonstration gardens at various times of the year. Observe when plants bloom, what they look like in winter, and how they are grouped with other plants. Read about your local native plants, and go to Native Plant Society events.


Consult with landscape contractors specializing in native plants. Hire one if you are not confident designing and planting yourself. But just talking to these folks is an education in itself! Fall is a great time to plant, so don’t delay.


If you have watched your beautiful gardens wither away this summer, replace them with native and adaptable plants. You will conserve water (good for the planet) and save on your water bill (good for the wallet). You will have a shorter list of yard maintenance chores, which will free up your time. You can also set an example for neighbors, friends, and family with your beautiful, water-wise, and environmentally friendly yard.


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Written by Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer is the founder of the Taos NM Seed Exchange, a free community service for home gardeners to trade seed. She has been working with plants for 40 years as farmer, landscaper, home gardener, and nursery owner. She holds a degree in Plant Science from the University of New Hampshire, and shares her knowledge by teaching others how to grow their own food. She is a home and garden writer who takes time out for reading, hiking, gardening, and experimenting in the kitchen.