It’s tough to beat rugged succulents for drought tolerant good looks. Echeveria blends beauty with strong textural appeal. Rosettes of leaves sparkle in silvery-gray and contrast artfully with the bead-like leaves of pork and beans sedum (Sedum x rubrotinctum). Plant both of these water-wise plants in a spot that’s well-drained.
Star of Madeira (Echium fastuosum variegata ‘Star of Madeira’)
Native to the Madeira Islands off the coast of Morocco, this lovely plant brings eye-catching leaves to the garden, but the show doesn’t stop there. From spring to early summer, vibrant purple flower spikes appear atop stems. These plants are drought-tolerant once established and do best with no irrigation in summer.
Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
Bright orange or red blossoms steal the spotlight when this beauty blooms. Native to tropical America, bird of paradise is typically seen in frost-free zones, where it grows as a shrub or small tree. Plant several together to form a loose, informal hedge, or use it as part of a wildlife garden. This is a thorny plant, so avoid placing it too close to walkways or patios.
Emu Bush (Eremophila glabra ‘Kalgoorlie’)
Also known as fuchsia bush, the emu bush is a must-have in a hummingbird or wildlife garden. Pollinators can’t resist the brightly tinted blooms that blanket the plant in spring and summer. Gray leaves are a dead giveaway that this plant doesn’t need extra water. This is an Aussie native that makes a great drought-tolerant groundcover.
‘Hot Lips’ Salvia microphylla
Heat-loving and drought-tolerant, sage is a must-have for a water-wise garden. For bright color, it’s tough to beat the red and white bicolor blooms of ‘Hot Lips.’ Plants throw open flowers all summer long that hummingbirds can’t resist. Give plants a light yearly pruning before new growth begins in early spring. Expect flowers all season long, heaviest during summer heat. Plants form a clump roughly 3 feet tall and wide.
Papery blooms blanket this drought-tolerant beauty all summer long. Quarter-size pink flowers pop against the silvery leaves. ‘Balboa’ can take the heat, showing strong heat tolerance in places like Dallas, where summer really sizzles. It’s a butterfly favorite, and blossoms also dry very easily. Just pick flowers as they’re opening and hang upside in a dark place.
Miss Molly Butterfly Bush (Buddleia ‘Miss Molly’)
Butterfly bush brings on twice the color with its pollinator beckoning blooms. These sweetly fragrant flowers lure butterflies, hummingbirds and a host of other flitting and zipping insects to the garden. Not only drought-tolerant, butterfly bush is also deer-resistant. You’ll welcome the flowers from summer through fall.
California Wild Lilac (Ceanothus)
Ceanothus paints California springs in shades of blue. Dense flower clusters make this shrub a stand out in the landscape, beckoning butterflies and pollinators and filling the air with fragrance (some say overpoweringly so). It’s native to Chaparral areas along the coastal mountain ranges. The secret to success is not watering established plants in summer.
Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa)
You’ll like the look of this sage in the garden. Silvery stems and felt-backed leaves contrast nicely with yellow flowers, which are arranged in circles around the stem. Plants are woody and evergreen in Zones 8 and 9, and perform like a perennial in Zone 7, dying to the ground. This is a Mediterranean native and boasts drought tolerance like many plants from this region. Excellent drainage is vital for success, especially in winter.
Count on thyme for a groundcover that doesn’t need daily watering once it’s established. Thyme is a Mediterranean herb, where it blankets hillsides in Greece, covering them with pink shades in spring. Choose from silver thyme (Thymus × citriodorus ‘Argenteus’; back left) with white edged green leaves, traditional upright thyme (back center) or mat-forming woolly thyme (Thymus serpyllum).
Rose Cone Flower (Isopogon formosus)
You’ll want this Australian shrub in your garden for its deer-proof and drought-tolerant personality — not to mention the beautiful blossoms. Rose coneflower is a relative of the exotic protea. Blooms appear in late winter and spring, clustering at the ends of stems. When flowers fade, woody, knobby fruits form, giving rise to another common name: drumsticks.
‘Neon’ Showy Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile ‘Neon’)
Showy stonecrop is a crowd-pleaser and a reliable favorite for drought-tolerant color. ‘Neon’ pumps up the pink with magenta infused blooms atop sturdy 2-foot stems. Leaves turn a bright gold in fall as plants near the end of their flowering cycle. Allow flower heads to fade to mahogany brown and remain in place to add winter interest.
Ceanothus griseus horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’
The common name on this ceanothus is a real mouthful: 'Diamond Heights' Variegated Carmel Creeper. This groundcover unfurls bright yellow leaves with a splash of dark green. The yellow tints glow brightest in warm weather on plants in full sun. Green dominates in winter or heavily shaded plantings. 'Diamond Heights' can withstand full sun in coastal areas, but needs shade in hotter locales.