Shrubs For Arid Conditions: Learn About Drought Resistant Shrubs For Landscapes

One of the best ways a gardener can cut down water usage is to replace thirsty bushes and hedges with drought resistant shrubs. Don’t think that shrubs for arid conditions are limited to spikes and thorns. You can find lots of species to choose from, including drought tolerant flowering shrubs and drought tolerant evergreen shrubs.

Choosing the Best Drought Tolerant Shrubs

The best drought tolerant shrubs vary from region to region. The trick is to find drought resistant shrubs that grow well in your area. Select shrubs on a site-by-site basis, taking soil, climate and exposure into account.

When you are selecting shrubs for arid conditions, remember that all shrubs need irrigation while they are establishing a root system. Even the best drought tolerant shrubs – including drought tolerant evergreen shrubs – only develop the ability to use water efficiently after the initial planting and establishment period is over.

Drought Tolerant Evergreen Shrubs

Many people think of drought tolerant evergreen shrubs as a Christmas tree species. However, you can find both needled and broadleaf trees that hold onto their leaves through winter.

Since plants with small leaves suffer less water stress than those with big leaves, it is no surprise that some of the best drought tolerant plants are needled evergreens.

Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) makes a great hedge and needs little water after establishment. Other needled water savers include Sawara false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera) and most species of juniper (Juniperus spp.).

If you want broadleaf evergreen shrubs, you can pretty much select any species of holly (Ilex spp.) and be certain you have drought resistant shrubs. Japanese, inkberry and American holly are all excellent choices.

Drought Tolerant Flowering Shrubs

You don’t have to give up bushes with blossoms to lower water use. Just be selective. Some of your old favorites might actually be just what you require.

If you have a couple of bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parvifolia) in the garden, you’ve already found shrubs for arid conditions. Ditto with the following:

  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
  • Forsythia (Forsythia spp.)
  • Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles x superba)
  • Lilac (Syringa spp.)
  • Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

Other great drought tolerant flowering shrubs may be less familiar. Look at these, for instance:

  • Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
  • Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
  • Bush cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)

To replace those thirsty heirloom roses, try saltspray rose (Rosa rugosa) or Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana).

Drought-tolerant plants to grow

In our unpredictable summers, it pays to include some drought-tolerant plants in our borders and pots – even if we don’t have a drought, they mean that you’ll have to do less watering.

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Find out how to save water in the garden so that you can cope with a drought or hosepipe ban – or save water if you have a water meter.

Drought-resistant plants are naturally adapted for dry conditions, but it’s very important to water plants in well initially, to help them establish a good root system. Be sure not to over fertilise them.

Drainage is very important, so if you have heavy clay soil, consider building a raised bed in order to give plants the right conditions – it only needs to be 15cm (6in) high. They’re generally sun-loving plants – if planted in shade, they may flower less or lose their silver leaves.

Here are some beautiful drought-tolerant plants you can grow, spotted at a recent RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The violet blue flowers of catmint (Nepeta) are much loved by bees. 1

Agapanthus ‘Silver Baby’

This compact agapanthus reaches about 60cm tall, so is ideal for the front of the border or a pot. It has white flowers that have just a hint of blue and combines well with ornamental grasses such as Nassella tenuissima. It’s a hardy, deciduous variety.

Blue-tinged, white flowers of agapanthus ‘Silver Baby’ 2

Anchusa azurea

A short-lived perennial, Anchusa azurea has bright, true blue flowers from late spring to early summer. Cut back after flowering for a second flush of smaller blooms. It loves a well-drained but moisture-retentive soil in full sun.

Small blue flowers of Anchusa azurea 3

Cotyledon orbiculata

A stunning, unusual succulent, Cotyledon orbiculata has large, fleshy leaves and spikes of bell-shaped flowers. It’s best grown in a pot as it will need winter protection in colder parts of the UK. Take care not to touch the leaves as they will lose their powdery bloom.

Bell-shaped, orange flowers of Cotyledon orbiculata 4

Geums

Geums are hardy perennials that flower from May to August – cut them back after flowering and they should reward you with another flush later in the season. Geums look especially good with blue flowers and lime greens. Grow in sun or part shade.

A bright orange Geum ‘Prinses Juliana’ bloom 5

Hardy geraniums

Hardy geraniums (cranesbills) are low-maintenance, long-flowering perennials that can flower for months from spring, and need very little care. They thrive in sun or partial shade and are good for the front of the border. Cut back after flowering to encourage a second flush.

Mauve Geranium ‘Stephanie’ flowers 6

Bearded irises

Give bearded irises a sunny spot and when planting, point the rhizome south so that the fan of leaves don’t shade it. Split the plant every three to four years after flowering, as it will bulk up quickly. Here are 10 bearded irises to grow.

Rust colured, frilly Iris ‘Carnival Time’ 7

Stipa tenuissima

Stipa tenuissima (or Mexican feathergrass, now often sold as Nassella tenuissima) is a compact, evergreen grass is ideal for a gravel garden or a spot towards the front of a border. It combines well with perennials and other grasses, and moves beautifully in a breeze.

Fine, arching Mexican feathergrass 8

Nepeta

The violet blue flowers of catmint (Nepeta) are much loved by bees. When crushed, the grey-green, velvety foliage produces an aromatic scent. Plant in the centre of a border or in a gravel garden. Cut back after flowering for more blooms.

Violet-blue catmint flowers 9

Pittosporum

Pittosporums are evergreen shrubs that will give structure and interest all year round in a border. Position pittosporums away from cold, drying winds. Prune lightly in spring if needed. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’, shown here, has attractive dark foliage.

Dark foliage of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ 10

Trachelospermum jasminoides

This beautiful, waxy-leafed, evergreen climber has white, jasmine-like flowers that are beautifully scented. Give star jasmine a sheltered, sunny spot. It’s drought tolerant, but be sure to water well initially to help the plant establish.

Shiny leaves and white flowers of Trachelospermum jasminoides 11

Sea hollies

Beautiful and long-lasting, sea hollies such as Erygnium x zabelii have tough, silvery leaves that never suffer in drought. Many species come from mountainous regions, where their long tap roots venture deep into the soil in search of water.

Spiky, blue sea holly flowers 12

Verbascums

This statuesque mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum, sends up tall branching spires of yellow flowers, enclosed in woolly down. Rosettes of large furry leaves resist water loss and are soft to the touch.

Tall spears of yellow mullein flowers 13

Artemisia

Artemisias such as ‘Powis Castle’ and ‘Silver Queen’ use two strategies against water loss – its leaves are both silvery and very finely cut. It forms a resilient, aromatic woody sub-shrub that adds a feathery dash of silver to borders.

Feathery, silver artemisia foliage 14

Sedums

Sedums are drought-resistant succulents that produce domes of starry pink, ruby or white flowers in late summer and autumn. Taller sedums may flop, but ‘Matrona’, shown here, stands well, with the glaucous foliage turning a rich purple when water is scarce.

Glaucous, purple foliage and deep pink flowers of Sedum ‘Matrona’ Advertisement

Many thanks to Todd’s Botanics for their help with this feature.

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