What is Drought-Tolerant Landscaping?

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping - Succulents, mulch

Whether you live in an arid climate or you’re committed to water conservation, drought-tolerant landscaping may be for you. In this article, you will learn what drought-tolerant landscaping is, why it is beneficial, and what plants you should consider for such landscaping.

What Is Drought-Tolerant Landscaping?

Drought-tolerant landscaping allows a yard to thrive with low water through the use of native and drought-tolerant plants and grasses. Drought-tolerant plants have evolved to maximize how much water they absorb and minimize how much they lose. 

It’s important to note, however, that even drought-tolerant plants will still need extra care and supplemental water while they’re acclimating to your yard.

xeriscaped front yard
Photo Credit: Downtowngal / Wikipedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping vs Xeriscaping

If you live out west, you’ve probably heard of xeriscaping – a term that combines the Greek prefix “xero,” meaning “dry,” with landscaping. LawnStarter has an excellent beginner’s guide to xeriscaping, but in short, xeriscaping is popular in many arid regions and is a type of drought-tolerant landscaping that often involves replacing lawn grass with rocks, mulch, walkways, and drought-tolerant species.

Drought-tolerant landscaping isn’t just for dry areas, though. From Mediterranean climates in California to the lush Blue Ridge Mountains, many homeowners are using drought-tolerant landscaping to reduce water use and adapt their yard to its native climate.

Why Drought-Tolerant Landscaping Makes Sense

Drought-tolerant landscaping is a smart idea for your yard for many reasons.

You’ll save money. Reducing the need for water in your yard means you won’t have to spend as much to keep it green.

You’ll save time. Imagine the hours you’ll get back that you otherwise would have spent standing outside with a hose!

You’ll stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A well-planned drought-tolerant landscape will increase shade in hot weather, and in the winter it’ll shield your home from cold winds.

Your front yard will stay fresh. Drought-tolerant landscaping increases curb appeal during drought conditions, particularly in severe drought when local ordinances are limiting water use.

It’s good for the environment. Your ecosystem will thank you for drought-prone landscaping. It can reduce soil erosion and stormwater runoff, and it removes pollutants and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What You’ll Need for Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

To set up a drought-tolerant landscape, you’ll need two things: landscaping supplies and plants. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to craft a drought-tolerant landscape.

sprinkler system watering lawn near gravel bed
Photo Credit: Aqua Mechanical / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Landscaping Supplies

Before you stock your garden with plants, make sure you have what you need to maintain your drought-tolerant landscape. These supplies will take your yard to the next level.

A smart sprinkler system. This water-wise sprinkler system will adjust automatically to local weather conditions to water your yard as needed.

A drip irrigation system. If you don’t prefer sprinklers, this is another irrigation option for a drought-tolerant yard. Unlike sprinklers, drip irrigation uses a network of tubes and valves to “drip” water into your yard for a high-efficiency and largely unnoticeable watering system.

Rocks. Big or small rocks can be used along with sand in place of lawn grass, or in garden beds or rock gardens as a decorative element.

Mulch. Another turfgrass replacement option, mulch keeps your yard tidy and will make weeds stay away.

Drought-Tolerant Plants

From ground covers and garden flowers to bushes and trees, there are plenty of water-wise plants to choose from for a drought-tolerant landscape.

Native Plants

The native plants in your region are often naturally water-smart for a few reasons:

Native plants can grow deeper roots than non-native plants. This allows plants to retain more water.

They’ve adapted to thrive in the typical conditions of your hometown. There are all kinds of drought-tolerant garden designs out there, but native species have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to your yard. This also means they’re often perennials!

They won’t require much watering aside from rainfall once they’re established in your yard.

Looking for good native plants for your drought-tolerant landscape? Search for your ZIP code in Audubon Society’s native plants database for ideas.

Sedum acre
Sedum acre
Photo credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0


Succulents are having a major moment in gardening and landscaping, and for good reason – their fleshy leaves and stems store plenty of water, meaning they often don’t need much more than rainfall. Succulents can be grown in outdoor containers, rock gardens, and well-draining sandy soil.

Here are a few popular succulent plant families for drought-tolerant landscaping:

Echeveria, including Black Prince and Blue Rose

Sedums, such as the broadleaf stonecrop and creeping sedum

Semperviva, cold-hardy plants including Green Wheel and Royal Ruby

Kalanchoe, such as the panda bear plant and desert rose paddle plant

Virginia sweetspire
Photo credit: Puddin Tain / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0


If you’re looking for something a little bigger than a succulent, there are plenty of drought-tolerant bushes available. Many of these species are native to the US and hardy throughout the year.

These drought-tolerant bushes may be right for you:

Shrubby St. John’s wort (Hyperium prolificum)

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

California Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum)

Hollyleaf cherry
Hollyleaf Cherry
Photo credit: Derell Licht / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0


Want to escape the summer heat and bask in the shade? Drought-tolerant trees are your friend. These low-maintenance species have developed to take the heat no matter the weather.

Hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia)

American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus)

Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum)

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Zoysiagrass lawn in front of house
Zoysiagrass lawn
Photo credit: Bill Wilson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Drought-Tolerant Grasses

Lawns can require a lot of extra watering, particularly because many homeowners don’t have native grass species in their yards. These drought-tolerant grasses make lawn care easy.

Lawn Grasses

Sandberg’s bluegrass (Poa secunda)

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)

Zoysiagrass  (Zoysia tenuifolia)

Blue fescue
Blue fescue
Photo credit: daryl_mitchell / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Ornamental Grasses

Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora)

Big squirreltail (Elymus multisetus)

FAQ About Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

What Is the Difference Between Drought-Resistant and Drought-Tolerant?

“Drought-resistant” and “drought-tolerant” are often used interchangeably, but they are separate categories. Drought-resistant plants can survive without any water for a long time, while drought-tolerant species can get along and thrive with minimal water.

What Is Dry Landscape?

Xeriscaping, a word that combines the Greek prefix for “dry” with “landscape,” is another word for dry landscaping. Xeriscaping creates drought-tolerant yards in arid regions or places prone to drought.

What Is the Best Drought-Tolerant Ground Cover?

Sedum succulents make for an excellent drought-tolerant ground cover, as well as drought-tolerant lawn grasses like Sandberg’s bluegrass and bermudagrass. Staying away from plants? Try mulch or sand and rocks.

When to Call a Landscaping Pro

If you’re envisioning a drought-tolerant landscape for your yard, a professional can give guidance on the best species and setup to fit your needs. Whether you’re searching for switchgrass or eliminating your lawn altogether, our LawnStarter pros are just a call or click away.

Main photo credit: My little succulent garden / Flickr / Public Domain

Annie Parnell

Annie Parnell

Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Annie Parnell is a freelance writer and audio producer based in Richmond, Virginia. She is passionate about gardening, outdoor recreation, sustainability, and all things music and pop culture.