Drought-resistant plants

As climate change presents us with the challenge of gardening with less water, choosing plants to suit our growing conditions becomes paramount.

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Drought-resistant planting. Credit: RHS Advisory


With some conditioning of the soil and careful watering, there is a considerable range of plants that can tolerate dry conditions once they are established.

Practical considerations

  • Plant any silver leaved, less hardy, sun lovers in April so they establish their roots well before winter arrives
  • Try to plant small specimens so that they get used to their growing environment gradually as they develop
  • Adding organic matter to the soil before planting can help to improve both water availability and drainage, but do not add fertiliser, as this can encourage too much lush growth which may flop in summer, require extra watering, and be affected by frost in the winter
  • Use mulches to retain moisture in the soil

Suitable plants

Many drought tolerant plants have silver or grey-green leaves, their light leaf colour reflecting the harsh rays of the sun. Some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems, helping to trap moisture around the plant tissues.

Below is a selection of plants with good drought-tolerant properties.


Acacia dealbata (mimosa) AGM: Height 15-30m (50-100ft); spread 15m (50ft)
Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) AGM: Height and spread 10m (30ft)
Koelreuteria paniculata (golden rain tree) AGM: Height and spread 10m (30ft)
Ptelea trifoliata ‘Aurea’ (hop tree) AGM: Height: 5m (15ft)


Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson cypress): Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Cupressus arizonica var. glabra: 10-15m x 4-5m (30-50ft x 12-15ft)
Juniperus: Height and spread variable according to species and cultivar
Pinus: Height and spread variable according to species and cultivar


Cordyline australis AGM: 3-10m x 1-4m (10-30ft x 3-13ft)
Trachycarpus fortunei AGM: (20m x 2.5m (70ft x 8ft)

Small shrubs

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ AGM: 60cm x 90cm (2ft x 3ft)
Halimium: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Hebe: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Lavandula (lavender): Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Nandina domestica (sacred bamboo) AGM: 2m x 1.5m (6ft x 5ft)
Ozothamnus ledifolius AGM: 1m x 1m (3ft x 3ft)
Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ AGM: 1.2m x 1m (4ft x 3ft)
Santolina chamaecyparissus AGM: 50cm x 50cm (20in x 3ft)

Medium-large shrubs

Abelia × grandiflora AGM: 3m x 4m (10ft x 12ft)
Arbutus unedo AGM: 8m x 8m (25ft x 25ft)
Callistemon citrinus: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Elaeagnus angustifolia AGM: 6m x 6m (20ft x 20ft)
Olearia macrodonta AGM: 6m x 5m (20ft x 15ft)
Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius  ‘Silver Jubilee’ AGM: 2-3m x 1.5m (6-10ft x 5ft)
Vitex agnus-castus: 2-8m x 2-8m (6-25ft x 6-25ft)


Campsis: 10m (30ft)
Eccremocarpus scaber AGM: 3-5m (10-15ft)
Jasminum officinale: 12m (40ft)
Passiflora caerulea (e.g. ‘Constance Elliott’ AGM): 10m (30ft)
Solanum crispum: 6m (20ft)


Baptisia australis AGM: 1.5m x 60cm (5ft x 2ft)
Bergenia: 30-60cm (1-2ft) x 45-60cm (18in-2ft)
Euphorbia: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Eryngium: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Echinops: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Heuchera: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Osteospermum jucundum AGM: Height 10-50cm (4-20in) Spread 50-90cm (20in-3ft)
Verbena including V. rigida AGM and V. bonariensis AGM:  Height and spread variable according to cultivar


Cortaderia selloana: 2.5 -3m x 1.5m (8-10ft x 5ft)
Panicum virgatum: 1m x 75cm (3ft x 30in)
Pennisetum alopecuroides: 0.6-1.5 x 0.6-1.2m (2-5ft x 2-4ft)
Stipa gigantea: AGM 2.5m x 1.2m (8ft x 4ft)
Briza media
Pennisetum rubrum

Containers and borders

Calendula officinalis
(pot marigold)
Cerinthe major
Convolvulus sabatius
Cosmos bipinnatus
Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy)
Gomphrena globosa
Helichrysum petiolare
Helipterum roseum (syn.
Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)
Ipomoea purpurea
Lantana camara
Lavandula multifida, L. dentata
Limnanthes douglasii
Limonium sinuatum
Mirabilis jalapa
Nigella damascena
Papaver somniferum
Portulaca grandiflora
Senecio maritima
Silybum marianum
Tithonia rotundifolia
Tropaeolum majus
Zaluzianskya ovata
(night phlox)

Half-hardy succulents

Delosperma cooperi

Hanging basket plants

Convolvulus sabatius
- trailing and zonal
Tropaeolum majus


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