Ohio Landscape Association

Plant Recommendations for Special Conditions

Drought Tolerant Plants

Drought tolerant is a relative term. The plants will vary in their tolerance, and all plants need water at planting time and have a greater need during the first year of root establishment. Thereafter, many of these listed plants are quite able to withstand some pretty challenging conditions, for they, or their grandparents usually originated in naturally dryer areas of the world.

What gives them this toughness? There are many botanical reasons, some of which involve the plants’ appearances. The plants’ leaves may conserve water by exposing less surface to drying winds, or being lightly colored or downy to reflect the sun’s heat, or have a waxy coating that withholds precious moisture. Underground, their root system may be structured to better seek water or to take advantage of surface moisture.

When landscaping with these plants, it is important to group them together as opposed to mixing them in a bed that contains plants that need lots of water. Mother nature seems to put a generous distance between her dry Mediterranean hillsides and her damp Virginia lowlands. Perhaps, she also hates to spot water everything. We should think likewise with our gardens.

The plants mentioned here are not meant to be an all-encompassing list of drought tolerant plants, but a demonstration of some good ones. They are available locally, so contact a contracting or garden center member company of the Ohio Landscape Association for further information or assistance in installing some of these plants.


Acer ginnala (Flame Maple): A useful, small tree with glossy foliage displaying good fall color. Nice as a small specimen or in groupings.

Aralia spinosa (Devil’s Club): A tough shrub-tree with large compound leaves and thorns on clubby stems. Billowy clusters of white flowers appear in late summer at the top of the plant. Multiplies.

Catalpa bignoniodes ‘Nana’ (Dwarf Southern Catalpa): Densely-branched tree with rounded form. Top grafted for best effect. Useful as a small tree (15 ft.) or specimen. The very large leaves make it an unusual focal point. Plant in sun or partial shade. Can withstand extremely hot and dry environments.

Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry): A large and durable deep-rooted tree with rough, corky bark. Bears small fruit favored by birds. Tolerant of harsh climatic conditions and almost any soil.

Gingko biloba (Gingko Tree): A tall growing tree with very unique fan shaped leaves. Wonderful clear yellow fall color that might occasionally drop quickly to make a surrounding golden carpet. Male cultivars are recommended, for the females can bear malodorous fruit.

Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ (Sunburst Honey locust): Useful as street or shade tree. New foliage bursts forth in bright chartreuse. Grows 35 to 45 ft.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’ (Arnold’s Promise Witch Hazel): Deciduous shrub; arching, vase-like; grows to 10 to 15 ft.; lightly fragrant yellow-fringed flowers in early spring; yellow-orange fall foliage.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ (Diane Witch Hazel): Copper-red flowers with slight fragrance. Dark flowered Witch Hazels may show brighter fall colored leaves.

Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Raintree)
Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Raintree): Bold yellow flowers are borne on this medium sized tree in July. Does well in drought or heat.

Pinus aristata (Bristle-Cone Pine): A specimen evergreen tree that develops its proportions slowly and uniquely. Dark green needles; tolerates heat and drought; oldest living organism upon this planet.

Pinus bungeana (Lacebark Pine): Evergreen tree; deep green needles; open canopy; exfoliating bark in color range of greens to reddish-tan; usually multiple-trunked to 40 ft. tall; broader than tall; disease-resistant; with good drainage, amazing environmental tolerance. Slow grower.

Pinus mugo (Mugo Pine): Hardy and rugged dwarf mushroom-shaped evergreen shrub tree. Grows 2 to 6 ft. in height with a spread of 6 to 8 ft.

Pinus flexilis ‘Glauca Pendula’ (Weeping Limber Pine): Strongly weeping form of a pine from the Rockies with undulating branching and blue-green needles.

Prunus x cistena (Purple Leaf Sand Cherry): Tough little shrub tree (7 ft.) with dark maroon foliage and pale pink single flowers in spring.

Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’ (Staghorn Sumac): The deeply divided leaflets of this native variety create a delicate, textured appearance. The dull red fruit drupes are held high throughout the winter. As with other sumac, this variety wants to naturalize into a grove, so plan for siblings.

Syringa reticulata (Japanese Tree Lilac): Marvelous multi-purpose small tree (22 ft.) with rounded shape, cherry-like bark, and large panicles of creamy white flowers that bear a musky fragrance in June.


Acanthopanox sieboldiana ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Five-leaf Aralia): A tough shrub capable of lighting up a dry, shady area with creamy mottled foliage. Can grow to 9 ft.

Berberis x mentorenis (Mentor Barberry): Dark green, semi-evergreen foliage has an outstanding ability to withstand heat and drought. Sun or partial shade.

Buxus ‘Green Mountain’ (Green Mountain Boxwood): Evergreen shrub; upright, 5 ft. high and 3 ft. wide; exceptionally winter hardy; full sun; will not tolerate poor drainage or clay soils.

Chaenomeles specios ‘Texas Scarlet’ (Texas Scarlet Quince): Small shrub (3 ft.) that adapts to a wide range of soils. Fiery scarlet flowers appear in early May before the shiny green foliage.

Juniperus chinensis ‘Saybrook Gold’ (Saybrook Gold Chinese Juniper): Bright gold to yellow-green evergreen; upright spreader, 3 to 4 ft. high, 5 ft. wide; full sun.

Juniperus chinensis 'Sea Green' (Sea Green Juniper): Evergreen shrub; height of 3 ft. with a spread of 5 to 6 ft; excellent mint-green foliage with arching branches create a fountain-like effect. Moist soils are acceptable as long as they are well drained.

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ (Nana Trailing Juniper): Cushion–like form that makes a ground-covering mat of green foliage.

Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue’ (Wichita Blue Juniper)
Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue’ (Wichita Blue Juniper): Effective blue foliage is maintained year round on this pyramidal grower (15 ft.). Good as a screen or specimen.

Juniperus conferta. ‘Blue Pacific’ (Blue Pacific Juniper): Vigorous ground covering Juniper with softly textured blue-green foliage. Salt tolerant.

Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Pink Cloud’ (Pink Cloud Beauty Bush): This deciduous shrub grows to a height of 6 to 9 ft. and makes a nice large specimen or is useful at the rear of a shrub border. It boasts upright, arching branches laden with pink flowers in mid-spring.

Myrica pensylvanica (Northern Bayberry): Deciduous shrub; rounded upright form; 8 to 12 ft. tall with 10 to 12 ft. spread; small, aromatic blue-gray berries on female plants will remain on plant long into winter; deep red-brown fall foliage; grows in poor, dry, sandy soils; full sun; salt tolerant.

Rhamnus frangula ‘Asplenifolia’ (Cut leaf Glossy Buckhorn): Deciduous shrub; 10 to 15 ft.; slow grower; upright, spreading; thread-like, dark green leaves to 2 in. long; 1/4 in. black berries; sun or partial shade; trouble-free; adaptable to wide climate and soil range; Can be considered a “poor man’s Cut Leaf Japanese Maple.”

Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ (Gro-Low Fragrant Sumac): Low growing, spreading habit (to 2 ft. with 6 to 8 ft. spread) makes this an excellent plant for mass plantings and bank control. Small aromatic flowers bloom in the spring. Prefers dry, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.

Rosa ‘Sea Foam’ (Sea Foam Shrub Rose): Adaptable long-caned rose. Clusters of medium-sized (2 to 3 in.) creamy white blooms may show a pink blush when opening. Some fragrance, much recurrence, quite hardy. Grows to 2 or 3 ft. Can be used as ground cover.

Rosa rugosa (Rugosa Rose) A very tough rose with fragrant single flowers in summer. Its dark green foliage is disease resistant and salt tolerant.

Rosa 'The Fairy' (Fairy Rose): Graceful clusters of soft pink rosette blossoms from June until frost. The glossy green foliage and mounding habit of this 3-4 ft. rose are ideal for massing.

Spiraea x vanhouttei (Van Houtte Spiraea): Pure white flowers in May on a 5-6 ft. plant with an open graceful habit of growth.

Symphoricarpos x chenaultii ‘Hancock’ (Prostrate Chenault Coralberry): A low (2 ft.) spreading deciduous shrub that is excellent for a groundcover, bank retention, or a low shrub border. It has pink flowers and clusters of rose-pink berries in the fall. Does well in sun or shade.

Syringa laciniata (Cut leaf Lilac): Deeply serrated, mildew resistant leaves give this 5-6 ft. plant a delicate appearance very unlike other lilacs. The fragrant lilac flowers form in loose panicles.

Perennials & Groundcovers

Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Bishop’s Weed): Aggressive groundcover that can brighten up a dry, shady spot; withstands dry conditions, but don’t even think of not containing it!

Amsonia heubrechtii (Arkansas Bluestar) This 3 ft. perennial makes a feathery textured statement the entire year, with the bright green foliage turning a bold gold in fall. The light blue flowers in May are a bonus.

Armeria maritime (Sea Thrift) Round clusters of striking pink flowers rise up in May from the grass like clumps of low foliage. Very salt tolerant plant that prefers a drier soil in full sun.

Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ (Powis Castle Wormwood)
Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ (Powis Castle Wormwood) Forms a globe of striking gray-green feathery foliage that is a wonderful foil for other plants. Requires excellent drainage and full sun. Treat as a tender perennial.

Artemesia ‘Valerie Finnis’ (Valerie Finnis Wormwood) Shrub-like perennial with wide silver-gray leaves. Useful for massing.

Gaillardia ‘Goblin’ (Mexican Blanket Flower) Flamboyant colors of red and yellow are mixed on this long blooming perennial that is less than a foot tall and likes it dry.

Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff): Fragrant small white flowers in May ride above the bright green, fine-textured foliage; tolerates some dryness

Sedum ‘Fulda Glow’ A low growing sedum with deep reddish bronze foliage and scarlet flowers. Considered an improved ‘Dragon’s Blood.’

Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ (Frosty Morn Sedum) This newer import from Japan forms a foot tall clump of nicely variegated leaves and an autumnal show of white changing to pink flowers.

Stachys ‘Big Ears’ (Lamb's Ear) This wooly lamb’s ear has huge leaves, twice the size of its little cousin. Seldom flowers. Fine groundcover or border-fronting plant for full sun. Likes it hot and on the dry side.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’ (Variegated Adam’s Needle) Stiff sword-like leaves are edged with a gold band. The colorful evergreen foliage is effective year round. White flower spikes arise in June.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Hofer's Blue’ (Adam’s Needle) The leaves of this Yucca are an outstanding blue-green color. Large flowers on 4-6 foot spikes appear in June and July. Yuccas are one tough hombre.

Article written by Bill Healy of William Healy Design, Akron, Ohio.

Photos by David Emmitt, Program Manager—Plant Science and Landscape Technology, Cuyahoga Community College, Eastern Campus

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