17 Drought Tolerant Shrubs For Dry Climates

Looking for some shrubs that can survive with minimal access to water? Finding the best drought tolerant shrubs for your garden can be a challenge if you don't know what to look for. In this article, we take a look at our favorite bushes that can actually thrive with less moisture in dry climates!

drought tolerant shrubs

Growing a garden in a dry environment can be a little tricky, as not all plants are made to survive in dry conditions. If you are planting some shrubs in your garden this season and live in a dry climate, finding a drought tolerant shrub that can withstand these conditions is essential for the life of your plant.

Depending on your goals, there are a many different species of shrubs that can withstand dry conditions, and some that even thrive with less water. Many of these shrubs have beautiful flowers, and some are non-flowering species that have striking deciduous or evergreen foliage.

So, where do you start? We’ve put together a list of our favorite drought tolerant shrubs that can add some life to just about any garden space. You’ll even find some surprising shrubs on our list (hint, hydrangea) that you may not be expecting to see. Let’s take a deeper look!

Beauty Bush

Kolkwitzia amabilis
Beauty Bush has five-lobed graceful bell-shaped flowers that are pink in color with a yellow interior.
Scientific Name: Kolkwitzia amabilis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Central China
  • Plant Size: 6-10 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9 (USDA)

Beauty Bush is a large shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall and wide, so make sure to choose a location that allows for expansion. Aptly named, this stunning shrub from the Caprifoliaceae family will have a flood of bell-shaped pale pink flowers during the spring.

Since this plant is a suckering shrub, it can produce new shoots nearby the mother plant. To remedy this, simply remove the suckers as they pop up. Young Beauty Bushes require about an inch of water weekly to thrive. Once established, they can withstand periods of drought.

Boxwood

Buxus spp
Boxwood is a densely leafy shrub or tree with glossy, dark green, ovate-oblong leaves.
Scientific Name: Buxus spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial evergreen shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Europe, Asia
  • Plant Size: 2-8 feet tall with similar width
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9 (USDA)

Some gardeners don’t expect to see Boxwood as a drought-tolerant shrub, though they don’t require supplemental watering once established. There are roughly 70 species within the Buxus genus, most of which are shrubs or small trees.

For example, English Boxwood (Suffruticosa) is a dwarf Buxus variety that makes for eye-catching hedges or topiaries. Dwarf varieties like the English Boxwood are famous for their densely-packed bright foliage with a rounded growth habit.

Plant them in a partially shaded area in locations where your Boxwood may be prone to drought. It’s important to note that all parts of this shrub are toxic to pets, including horses.

Butterfly Bush

Buddleja davidii
Butterfly Bush is a tall deciduous shrub, with large blooms in a variety of colors.
Scientific Name: Buddleja davidii
  • Plant Type: Hardy perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 3-12 feet tall and 3-8 feet wide (depending on variety)
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9 (USDA)

The Butterfly Bush is a hardy perennial shrub with an arching habit and a honey-like fragrance. Its relatively coarse leaves and flashy flower spikes attract pollinating insects, hence its common name.

You can find cultivars of Butterfly Bush in various colors. This shrub flowers in purple, white, pink, and orange. These fast-growing shrubs are easy-to-car-for and don’t need much attention to thrive. It’s important to note that the self-seeding nature of this plant has caused it to be considered invasive in some areas.

Cliffrose

Purshia
Cliffrose produces creamy white flowers that have a sweet fragrance.
Scientific Name: Purshia
  • Plant Type: Evergreen perennial shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and Asia
  • Plant Size: 2-15 inches tall
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Plant Zone: 4-10 (USDA)

Sometimes referred to as Bitterbrush, Cliffrose is a plant within the Rose family, Rosaceae. This evergreen perennial will fill your garden with a sweet fragrance that attracts insects. Native Americans commonly used Cliffrose to create various items, including rope, clothing, and arrow shafts.

Cliffrose can be toxic, so it’s best to avoid ingesting it or putting it in reach of kids or pets. Instead, enjoy this shrub with it’s white tubular flowers and unique foliage. Mature Cliffrose can withstand drought, and some varieties are relatively shade-tolerant.

Fragrant Sumac

Rhus aromatica
Fragrant Sumac flowers attract butterflies and bees, and doesn’t need much water to survive.
Scientific Name: Rhus aromatica
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • Plant Size: 2-8 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial
  • Plant Zone: 4-8 (USDA)

As the name suggests, Fragrant Sumac is a perennial shrub with a citrus scent when you break the leaves or stems. In the late summer to early fall, Rhus aromatica produces berries, which attract some wildlife. You can harvest the berries in late summer to early fall and use them to create a citrusy drink.

Although Fragrant Sumac resembles Poison Ivy (which is a close family member), this plant doesn’t have any poisons. Rhus aromatica is fast-growing, mostly pest-free, disease-free, and drought-tolerant (once established).

Indian Hawthorn

Rhaphiolepis indica
Indian Hawthorn from southern China, grown for its decorative pink flowers and popular in bonsai culture.
Scientific Name: Rhaphiolepis indica
  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 4-6 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 8-10 (USDA)

Indian Hawthorn is a small-to-medium-sized evergreen shrub with a snug, round growing pattern. Because of its shape, this plant makes an excellent option for hedges, foundations, and even as a container plant.

Its foliage has somewhat of a bronze hue before it grows into a dark green color. Indian Hawthorn features 2-4 inch long leathery leaves and striking, fragrant flower clusters. This shrub’s flower clusters are light pink in color, and in late summer, tiny bluish-black berries will appear and stick around throughout the winter.

Although young Indian Hawthorn plants prefer moist soil, established shrubs can withstand short periods of droughts. However, if the leaves begin to wilt, give your plant a good watering.

Japanese Barberry

Berberis thunbergii
Japanese Barberry is a beautiful shrub that needs minimal water to survive.
Scientific Name: Berberis thunbergii
  • Plant Type: Deciduous, woody perennial shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Japan
  • Plant Size: 3-6 feet tall and 4-7 feet. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-8 (USDA)

Japanese Barberry is a perennial shrub that provides stunning foliage year-round. The leaves will be green during the spring before shifting to hues of yellow, orange, red, and purple in autumn.

In some areas, this shrub is invasive because it spreads by self-seeding and creeping roots. Its berries attract various birds that spread the seeds after having their snack. Before choosing this plant for your garden, make sure it’s not considered a noxious weed in your area.

During its first growing season, ensure it has consistently moist soil. Once established, it’s a drought-tolerant plant that only needs watering during extended periods of drought. Berberis thunbergii is mildly toxic to humans, and the thorns may injure pets that enjoy chewing on its stems.

Leatherleaf Viburnum

Viburnum rhytidophyllum
Leatherleaf Viburnum is an evergreen, drought-resistant shrub with a rough texture and long, ovate-oblong leaves.
Scientific Name: Viburnum rhytidophyllum
  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Central and western China
  • Plant Size: 6-10 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 5-8 (USDA)

Leatherleaf Viburnum is a member of the Honeysuckle family and shares the same opposite branching habit. It features long, thick green leaves with a hairy texture on the bottom. The leaves frame the bunches of little creamy yellowish-white flowers.

This shrub does well in most garden conditions and can withstand extended periods of drought once it matures.

Littleleaf Mock-orange

Philadelphus microphyllus
The aroma of the Littleleaf Mock-orange flowers during the summer and is very drought tolerant.
Scientific Name: Philadelphus microphyllus
  • Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 3-10 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-10 (USDA)

Littleleaf Mock-orange, sometimes referred to as Appalachian Mock Orange, is a deciduous shrub with an upright, arching growth habit. As a native to areas from mountains to forests, this plant does well in most areas as long as its basic needs are met.

Philadelphus microphyllus features light brown coarse bark that turns to an orangish-brown as it ages. It produces small 4-petaled flowers that are creamy-white and have a pleasant aroma. Because of its appealing shape and attractive flowers, it makes an ideal choice as a border plant. This shrub can withstand dry spells and is heat and humidity tolerant.

New Zealand Tea Tree

Leptospermum scoparium
New Zealand Tea Tree is a shrub with profuse branching stems.
Scientific Name: Leptospermum scoparium
  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub
  • Geographic Origin: New Zealand, Australia
  • Plant Size: 6-10 feet in height and spread
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 9-10 (USDA)

The New Zealand Tea Tree, sometimes referred to as Manuka or simply Tea Tree is an evergreen shrub with needle-shaped leaves that have an earthy scent when crushed. At the beginning of summer, Leptospermum scoparium produces flashy pink, white, or red flowers that attract pollinating insects at the beginning of summers.

The essential oil from the Tea Tree’s leaves is believed to be antibacterial, and many individuals enjoy its scent for its calming effect. Its powerful aroma is attractive to humans, though it makes an excellent deterrent for most pests.

Established plants develop some drought tolerance; you typically only have to water them if the ground becomes dry due to a lack of natural rainfall.

Ninebark

Physocarpus opulifolius
When grown in the garden, the Ninebark has a long blooming time, and a very unique look.
Scientific Name: Physocarpus opulifolius
  • Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 3-10 feet tall and 3-8 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 2-8 (USDA)

Ninebark is a deciduous shrub that many gardeners use for landscaping. Its coarse green, yellow, or red-hued foliage forms a pretty cascading mound. Add lilac with Ninebark for an eye-catching mixed border.

Its flowers bloom toward the end of spring, featuring pink or white clusters of flowers followed by red fruit at the beginning of autumn. Choose placement for your Ninebark shrub carefully as it needs plenty of space as its branch pattern develops.

You can grow Ninebark in wet or dry locations, so you won’t need to worry about overwatering even if you get some sudden rainfall.

Oregon Box Leaf

In Countryside an Oregon Box Leaf Bush
The Oregon Box Leaf is an evergreen perennial shrub.
Scientific Name: Paxistima myrsinites
  • Plant Type: Perennial Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 1-3 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-7 (USDA)

Oregon Box Leaf is an evergreen perennial shrub that many gardeners employ as a ground cover or low-growing hedge. Its foliage is the main attraction for this shrub with its tiny, glossy, dark-green leaves. The leaves fade to a purplish color for an attractive fall look during the winter.

The small maroon flowers bloom at the base of the leaves from late spring to early fall, offering an appealing scent for your garden. Despite its common name, it’s not a part of the Boxwood genus but rather is a member of the Celastraceae family. Once established, this shrub can withstand periods of drought.

Image Credit: Walter Siegmund via Creative Commons (Image Use Allowed With Attribution)

Panicle hydrangea

Hydrangea paniculata
The Panicle hydrangea is the best hydrangea variety for climates with less moisture.
Scientific Name: Hydrangea paniculata
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 8-15 feet tall and 6-12 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-8 (USDA)

Panicle Hydrangeas, also called Tree Hydrangeas, are perennial shrubs that produce aromatic blooms late into the summer months. Aptly named, this plant has an upright growth pattern that develops into an oval tree-like shape.

Similar to other Hydrangeas, this variety produces large, round flower heads made up of clusters of tiny blooms. While most Hydrangeas require somewhat regular watering, Tree Hydrangeas can withstand a dry spell. Hydrangeas are toxic to pets and humans, so choose the location carefully.

Purple Smoke Bush

Cotinus coggygria
Purple Smoke Bush has purple blooms, and can be grown in desert climates.
Scientific Name: Cotinus coggygria
  • Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Southern Europe to central China
  • Plant Size: 10-15 feet tall with a similar spread
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-9 (USDA)

Purple Smoke Bush is a deciduous shrub that makes a beautiful stand-alone plant. It features wispy pinkish-purple plumes. As the name suggests, the blooms have a cloudy or smoky appearance due to the billowy hairs connected to the clusters.

Although it grows to be quite large at upwards of 15 feet tall and wide, it has a medium growth rate and will grow a foot or two each year. Water Cotinus coggygria thoroughly weekly when you can, though it will survive through periods of drought. This shrub is mildly toxic to humans, and its sap can irritate the skin.

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Dasiphora fruticosa
Shrubby Cinquefoil blooms very colorfully and profusely, from June to October, and requires minimal water.
Scientific Name: Dasiphora fruticosa
  • Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Northern Europe, Northern Asia, North America
  • Plant Size: 1 to 4 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-7 (USDA)

Shrubby Cinquefoils are shrubby deciduous shrubs that have become increasingly popular among gardeners all over the United States. Its blooms appear from mid-summer to mid-fall, featuring bright yellow flowers among its dark green foliage. Other cultivars feature other bloom colors, including pink, white, or orange flowers.

Once established, Dasiphora fruticosa can go through a dry spell without any issues. Additionally, it’s a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require much intervention in its maturity. Though natural rainfall should be plenty for adult plants, young plants should sit in moist soil until their root system is established.

Silver Buffaloberry

Shepherdia argentea
Silver Buffaloberry is a drought-resistant plant that reacts negatively to fluid stagnation in the roots.
Scientific Name: Shepherdia argentea
  • Plant Type: Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 2-18 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 2-9 (USDA)

Silver Buffaloberry gets its name from the tiny hairs among the foliage, giving the greenery a shiny silver appearance. This plant reveals bright yellow flowers in the spring, followed by small red fruits. Though its common name includes the word “berry,” it’s actually a stone fruit.

This shrub is thorny, which can make harvesting the fruit a challenge. However, you can use the thorns to your advantage by using them as a barrier plant. It’s a low-maintenance shrub that is drought and cold-tolerant once established.

Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana
A hardy plant, witch hazel can be grown in a variety of climates, and can tolerate less frequent waterings.
Scientific Name: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant Type: Perennial shrub
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 10-20 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9 (USDA)

You may have heard of Witch Hazel before, as it has many different uses. However, it also makes a stunning, fragrant addition to your winter garden. During the fall and winter, it produces vibrant yellow spider-like flowers.

This hardy plant thrives in cold temperatures, ensuring that it produces its unique blooms. While the flowers aren’t as flashy as others, it offers a one-of-a-kind winter. As the summer months fade to fall, so does Witch Hazel’s foliage as it transitions from bright green to shades of yellow and orange.

Once established, Hamamelis virginiana is low-maintenance and will just need watering during extended periods of droughts. However, yearly rainfall should be enough to keep this shrub happy for the most part. Not only is witch hazel drought tolerant, but this shrub can also thrive in shady areas.

Final Thoughts

Even if your area doesn’t get a lot of rain, there are plenty of drought-tolerant shrubs for gardens in dry climates. Each of the shrub’s we’ve hand picked in this list can quickly add an aesthetic appeal to any garden. Whether you’re looking for a shrub to add as a specimen plant, create a hedge, or set up a natural barrier, there’s an ideal option for your outdoor space, even without access to a lot of water.

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