Plants that Thrive with Little Water
Posted on: Saturday, April 8, 2023
If you are looking to create a landscape that's well suited to our local environment, here’s a list of plants that need little water to thrive, once established...
Low-Water-Use Outdoor Plants
People think that in order to have a beautiful and enviable garden they need to have their sprinklers and water hoses running all day. However, you can enjoy a flourishing front and back yard with low-water-use plants. Check out these outdoor plants that require little water and maintenance once established. Remember, these plants need to become established and acclimated to your garden before they become drought tolerant.
(Vauquelinia californica) – This large, evergreen shrub can grow into a small tree 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Can be single or multiple trunked. Moderate to fast growing, depending on water; drought tolerant and cold hardy. Prefers sandy soil and half sun but can tolerate full sun. Boasts clusters of small white flowers that bloom late spring. Excellent as a screen hedge or small shade tree, or for use in an entry area.
Blue Bells (Eremophila hygrophana) – This low-maintenance, heat-loving shrub is drought-tolerant once established, and boasts lavendar-blue, tubular flowers atop upright, fuzzy, silver-colored foliage. Prefers full sun, occassional watering (more in extreme heat), and well-drained soils. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Brittlebush (Encelia farinose) – This medium-sized rounded shrub has long, oval, silver-gray leaves that are somewhat fuzzy. The branches are brittle and woody, and contain a fragrant resin. In the late winter and early spring, small yellow flowers form on long stalks well about the leafy stems. Brittlebush is frost sensitive and should be protected from the cold; it does best in the warmer areas of the desert and grows to 2 to 5 feet high.
Chuparosa (Justicia californica) – Spanish for hummingbird, the name Chuparosa gives testimony to this shrub’s attraction to hummingbirds and is wonderfully adapted to Xeriscape gardens for color and wildlife. Grows up to 6 feet tall and wide and can therefore easily fill a large space. During its fall through spring bloom period it produces intense red flowers, or lemon yellow in some forms. The Chuparosa is summer deciduous and can survive on rainfall alone in the natural desert areas. However, it maintains a more evergreen appearance with supplemental watering during extended, hot, dry periods.
(Leucophyllum laevigatum) – The Chihuahuan Sage has a loose, open growth habit with a unique angular branching pattern and small, dark leaves. It produces masses of fragrant flowers that attract hummingbirds. Commonly grows 6 feet tall and wide. For other characteristics, see Texas Sage (below).
Photo of Chihuahuan Sage bush in desert landscape: https://mswn.com/plants/leucophyllum-laevigatum-chihuahuan-sage/#gallery-3
(Larrea tridentata See L. d. tridentate) – Also known as Greasewood, this slow-growing evergreen shrub grows 4 to 8 feet tall with bright green, glossy foliage. It is extremely drought tolerant and enjoys minimal water, half-sun and sandy soil. Its fragrant yellow blooms attract honey bees in the springtime, following by white fleshy fruit in the summer. Excellent as a foundation plant.
Green Feathery Senna
(Senna artemisiodes v. filifolia) – Also sold as Desert Cassia (Cassia nemophila or Senna nemophila), this plant has deep green, needle-like foliage that provides a lush alternative in the desert landscape. Especially nice as a background plant when paired with plants with gray or silver foliage. Its yellow flowers attract bees. Excellent in mass plantings and as a privacy screen. Can be used in arid or transitional plantings to add color. Blooms late winter through spring and has fine textured foliage. At maturity, can reach 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Requires full sun and prefers good drainage. Extremely drought-tolerant and requires little to no supplemental fertilization or irrigation, once established.
(Simmondsia chinensis) – This extremely tough, durable evergreen shrub tolerates exposures to full sun, and heat to part shade. Slow to moderate grower to 8 to 10 feet tall, possibly larger. Very drought tolerant with densely branched dark gray-green, leathery leaves. Accepts pruning and is tolerant of adversity. Prefers sandy soil. Yellow springtime blooms followed by brown summer fruit. Excellent for use in a foundation and hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Little Leaf Cordia
(Cordia parvifolia) – This medium-sized desert shrub produces showy, small pure white flowers in the spring. This fast-growing shrub enjoys full sun and is drought-tolerant once established. Its leaves are usually evergreen (except with hard freezes) and the Little Leaf Cordia grows up to 8 feet tall with open, sprawling bray branches and grayish olive small leaves. Provide adequate room so that pruning will not destroy its character.
Mexican Bird of Paradise
(Caesalpinia Mexicana) – This moderate-fast growing water-wise plant is an excellent addition to a desert landscape. It produces bright yellow flower clusters throughout the warm season and is evergreen in warm protected areas of the landscape. It can easily be pruned into a small accent tree. At its mature height, it can reach 8 to 10 feet with a similar spread. Enjoys full sun to keep it full and dense. Water every 2 weeks while blooming (spring to fall) with little or no supplemental watering required during other times. Prune in early spring to shape and control growth.
Red Bird of Paradise
(Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – This fast growing and vibrant shrub produces blooms of orange and yellow flower clusters throughout the summer. Vase-shaped, the Red Bird of Paradise thrives in the hottest areas of the landscape, blooming throughout the warm season. Once the roots are established, cut the stems back to the ground in the winter. Foliage turns red in the cold and stems can remain on the plant until early spring when they can be trimmed. Established, untrimmed plants can reach a height of over 6 feet. The flower clusters are followed by 3 to 6 inch seed pods. Requires good drainage to perform at its best.
(Rhus ovata) – This rugged, evergreen southwestern native is ideal for low-water, easy-care landscapes. Boasts glossy, aromatic foliage on a large, wide-branching form with showy spring flower clusters that produce fuzzy red berries. Enjoys full sun and, once established, needs only occasional watering (drought tolerant). Hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit once established. Grows to 8 to 12 feet tall and wide. Excellent as a specimen or small tree, or massed as an easy, informal hedge or privacy screen; fire wise.
Photo of Sugar Bush near building: https://mswn.com/plants/rhus-ovata-sugar-bush/#gallery-1:
Texas Mountain Laurel
(Sophora secundiflora) – This fragrant and showy, multi-stemmed evergreen shrub can grow into a small tree. It boasts fragrant violet-blue flowers that grow in terminal clusters for a beautiful display of springtime color. Enjoys full sun and, once established, needs only occasional watering. Slow growing to 10 to 15 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide; slightly taller with age. Excellent for use as a patio container tree, in a border, as an Espalier or as a windbreak.
(Leucophyllum frutescens) – Texas Sages are among the most reliable and fool-proof of the low water use plants available in Arizona. These evergreen shrubs perform well in the Arizona desert with very little maintenance. Texas Sage requires full sun and good drainage. It is available in a wide range of mature sizes, and when the proper Texas Sage is selected, no pruning is required. Texas Sage tolerates temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and thrive in Arizona’s summer heat. They are excellent for use as focal points, visual and wind screening, accents and wildlife habitats. Texas Sage bursts into color with the onset of summer monsoons and can survive with little to no supplemental watering except during periods of extreme drought. They can die if they are over watered.
(Ericameria laricifolia Aguirre™) – This small, dense, evergreen shrub grows rather quickly to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It is dark green in color and produces spectacular, showy bright yellow clusters of flowers from August through early December that are especially enjoyable to butterflies. Prefers full sun to light shade; blooms best in full sun. Low water use; can be weaned from irrigation but performs best with regular water. Feed after growth starts in springtime. Requires good drainage. Pruning is rarely necessary; avoid any pruning after August to preserve flower buds. Great as a foundation or low, unclipped hedge, in rock gardens and for desert revegetation.
Visit your local SummerWinds Nursery to explore a wide variety of plants that grow well in our desert environment. Our Trusted Garden Advisors are happy to answer any questions and help you find the perfect addition to your garden! Selection varies by season and location.