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The Best Drought Tolerant Plants

The Best Drought Tolerant Plants

Keep in mind that all plants require water, light, and nutrients to grow. And yet, there are some plants that need little water or can go for extended periods without watering (once established). These are what we call “drought tolerant” plants. There is a relatively new concept in gardening called “Xeriscaping”. This is choosing plants that will survive on only the natural water that is available to them. These plants should be grouped together in a dry sunny area of your garden.

Here are some popular Xeriscaping plants:


  • Junipers – grow naturally in many dry environments ranging from rock outcrops to sand dunes.
  • Yuccas – do best if they aren’t watered (once established). They grow a long taproot and will be able to find all the water they need on their own. Yuccas look like a desert plant with their spiky, pointed leaves. They also have very showy 150 cm – 175 cm (5′ – 6′) tall flowers that appear in July.

    yucca palm

    Yucca Plant

Trees & Shrubs

  • Honey-locust – is a shade tree that can withstand drier summers and a wide range of soil conditions.
  • Turkish Hazel – not as well-known, these are an excellent choice for drier sites. It grows 12 m (40′) tall, has a broad, pyramidal shape with interesting corky bark, and dark green foliage that turns yellow in October.
  • Larger shrubs like the Russian Olive (mature height 7 m (23′)), Devil’s Walkingstick 5 m (16′), Sea Buckthorn 4 m (13′), and Sumac 5 m (6′) are suitable choices.
  • Smaller shrubs like Bayberry, Honeysuckle, Butterflybush, and Caryopteris are also good choices for a dry garden.


For continuous summer colour, plant:

  • Celosia
  • Amaranth
  • Gomphrena
  • Sunflower
  • Zinnia
  • Portulaca


  • Gazania
  • Dusty Miller (mix in to provide contrast with its grey leaves)


The perennial category can be divided into “moderately” drought-tolerant and “very” drought-tolerant. The first group includes:

  • Artemisia
  • Red Valerian
  • False Indigo
  • Daylilies
  • Lavender
  • Red-Hot Poker
  • Russian Sage
Red Valerian

Red Valerian

  • Thyme
  • Marguerite Daisy
  • Sea Lavender
  • Wall Cress
  • Basket-of-Gold
  • Rock Rose
  • Creeping Baby’s Breath

Some very drought-tolerant perennials with succulent, fleshy foliage are:

  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Sedum
  • Hens & Chicks (sempervivum)
  • Purple and Yellow Ice Plant
  • Donkey-tail Spurge
hens and chicks succulent

Hens & Chicks

Other drought-tolerant perennials suitable for xeriscape include:

  • Sea Thrift
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Gloriosa Daisy
  • Blue Flax
  • Liatris
  • Edelweiss
  • Blanket Flower
  • Sea Holly
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Thread-leaved Coreopsis
  • Blue Seakale
  • Yarrow
  • Perennial Bachelor’s Button
Lambs Ears

Lamb’s Ears

Perennial Ground Covers

Perennial Ground Covers may be a practical solution if you are interested in replacing your lawn grass.

  • Crown Vetch and Goutweed – will cover a large area very quickly but proceed with caution as these two ground covers are virtually unstoppable.
  • Lamb’s Ears, Creeping Phlox, New Zealand Burr, Pussytoes, and Snow-in-Summer are suitable for smaller areas.
  • Ornamental Grasses – are deep-rooted and suitable for xeriscaping. These include Mosquito Grass, Lyme Grass, Fescue, Blue Oat Grass, Oriental Fountain Grass, and Feather Grass.
  • Big and little Bluestem, and Switch Grass (Panicum) are beautiful North American natives that get by on very little water.

Establishing Drought Tolerant Plants

To lessen the frequency of watering any part of your garden you need to:

  • Incorporate a lot of organic matter like peat moss, manure, and compost into the planting bed. This will create a more fertile soil and the organic matter holds onto moisture making it available to plants for a long period of time after rain or watering.
  • Cover the soil with 5 cm – 10 cm (2″ – 4″) of mulch such as bark chips, cedar mulch, or cocoa bean mulch to minimize moisture loss through evaporation. The mulch also makes it more difficult for weeds to get established.
  • For the first year, your xeriscape plants will need supplemental watering during dry periods.
  • After 5 to 7 days without water, use a trowel to check the soil. If it is dry four inches down, water deeply.
  • In the second year and subsequent you can let your plants go for 10 days to 2 weeks between deep watering (i.e. water needs to penetrate the soil to a depth of 10 cm (4″) to do any good).
  • Water in the morning before 10 a.m. or in the evening after 6 p.m. This will prevent the water from evaporating during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Keep the leaves of your xeriscape plants dry when you water them. Watch for signs of wilting or leaf burn to determine if you need to water more frequently.

However, keep in mind that even your “drought tolerant plants” may need a bit more care during the extreme conditions of long dry summers.