17 Best Xeriscaping Plants for Your Landscape

xeriscaped front yard

Xeriscaping your property reduces the amount of water you use on your lawn and landscape and the number of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.) needed to keep them healthy. A big part of xeriscaping is filling your yard with drought-tolerant, water-wise plants, and we’ve got some great suggestions. Check out our top picks for the absolute best plants for xeriscaping, including wildflowers, ground covers, shrubs, and more.

Nearly 50 percent of water used by homeowners goes to lawn and garden care. A xeriscape landscape design can reduce water use by 60% or more. It does so by utilizing drought-tolerant plants and other materials that have zero or low water needs beyond what the environment naturally provides.

Xeriscaping your property goes beyond planting water-wise vegetation like the plants on this list, though. It also includes replacing grass with things like mulch, rocks, soil, and other hardscape materials.

You can fill your entire front and back yard with xeriscape plants and materials that are low maintenance and contribute to water conservation. Without further ado, let’s jump into the many plants that can give you a beautiful, diverse display of textures and colors while conserving water and giving back to the environment in multiple ways.

Our 17 favorite plants for xeriscaping

1. Shore juniper (Juniperus conferta

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Although your home and garden are in the United States, planting shore juniper allows you to bring a little of the European and Asian continents into your landscape. This evergreen is native to Sakhalin Island in Russia and the coasts of Japan. Winter turns the blue-green needles to a magnificent bronze-green to yellow-greenish color.

This ground cover bears a berry-like, dark-colored fruit cone that becomes bluish-black with a silver bloom as it ages.

If you need a plant for erosion control, shore juniper is the perennial for you. In addition to being drought-tolerant, it is deer-resistant and air pollution-resistant. Plant it on slopes and in rock gardens. It is also excellent for use over retaining walls.

  • Growth habit: Ground cover or shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-9
  • Mature size: 6-12 inches tall; 6-8 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun; tolerates partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Well-drained sandy soil; adapts to poor soil 
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Potential hazards: None known

2. Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium)

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If you’re looking for a water-wise ground cover that blossoms bright petals, look no further. Broadleaf stonecrop boasts yellow flowers in mid-spring. Its foliage also provides excitement to your landscape. The leaves come in a variety of colors but are usually bluish and turn to a red-purple hue when mature.

Broadleaf stonecrop attracts bees and butterflies and is a host plant for caterpillars. 

If you have a sloped property, this herb will work well. It is natively found on slopes and ledges. For best results as a ground cover, buy several and plant them about 6 to 12 inches apart, as only a few of them will grow and flourish.

  • Growth habit: Herb, ground cover
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9 
  • Mature size:  2 to 6 inches tall
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Soil preferences: Dry, well-drained soil 
  • Water needs: Low
  • Potential hazards: All parts are poisonous; low toxicity if eaten.

3. Germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides)

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Germander sage is another ground cover that diversifies your xeriscape design by adding color and attracting beneficial insects. The shrub has silver-white leaves and blooms brilliant, rich, blue flowers. Germander is native to Mexico. 

The striking blue blossoms attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This evergreen works well on properties that are visited by deer; germander sage is deer-resistant. It also thrives in wall-side borders and small city gardens. 

  • Growth habit: Shrub 
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-11
  • Mature size: 12-18 inches tall; 3-4 feet wide 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen 
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun; tolerates partial shade 
  • Soil preferences: Loam, chalk, sand; well-drained soil
  • Water needs: Low
  • Potential hazards: Generally non-toxic but can be harmful if consumed in large quantities (so keep curious pets and little kids away just to be extra safe)

4. Whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia)

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Whale’s tongue agave is a northeastern Mexican native cactus, and it’s probably no surprise that the plants that thrive best in dry climates are Mexican natives. This plant is a succulent, meaning it stores water in its leaves, stems, and roots, so it needs little water to thrive. It also withstands harsh winters. 

Whale’s tongue sits low to the ground and sprouts full, thick layers of blue-green leaves. Wait long enough – about 10 years – and you can see the greenish-white flowers that bloom only once. 

Plant whale’s tongue in city gardens and rock gardens, but make sure it is not near foot traffic. Take precautions if you have children. Whale’s tongue has teeth along the margins of the leaves that are sharp and can be harmful to humans and pets. The sap produced by the leaves can also be a potential skin irritant. Birds, on the other hand, have no worries. They will flock to your yard, attracted to this Mexican native.

  • Growth habit: Cactus
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-11 
  • Mature size: 3-4 feet tall; 4-6 feet wide 
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Foliage: Evergreen 
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Loam, Chalk, Sandy, Rocky, and Well-drained
  • Water needs: Low 
  • Potential hazards: Not poisonous, but the leaves produce sap that is a potential skin irritant and can cause blisters. Sharp leaves can cause injury.

5. Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)

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Big sagebrush is a shrub that can grow into a tree standing as high as 15 feet tall. It is also called Great Basin sagebrush and is native to the Great Basin region of the Western US. The small, silvery leaves are silky and give off a sweet, pungent smell. If you look close enough, you’ll see the small yellow-green flowers that appear in June and stick around into November.

Plant big sagebrush on slopes for erosion control. It also works well as a hedge. 

  • Growth habit: Shrub or small tree
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Mature height: 3-15 feet
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preferences: Dry, rocky soil
  • Water needs: Medium, drought-tolerant
  • Potential hazards: They are very flammable and are not ideal where fire-resistant landscaping is necessary. 

6. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

eye-level with a purple coneflower
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The purple coneflower is native to most of the continental US (excluding the Northeast). This flower boasts long petals that sit underneath a bushy pom-pom of smaller petals. Its pinkish-purplish color and double flowers are the reason it is also called ‘Pink Double Delight.’ The blossoms sprout in midsummer and bring a blast of color and texture until frost.

Purple coneflower is a great addition to xeriscape designs often visited by deer; the flower is deer-resistant. Give it a home in a wildflower garden or cottage garden that receives a lot of sun and features other water-wise plants. 

  • Growth habit: Flower
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Mature height: 2 to 5 feet
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun, partial shade
  • Soil preference: Sandy
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Potential hazards: None

7. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

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These intensely fragrant flowers attract pollinators but repel deer and rabbits. The beautiful purple petals that gather at the ends of the tall stems attract beneficial insects like butterflies and bees. 

As you probably already know, lavender is used in essential oils and perfumes. But did you also know that the flowers can be a white-pink color and that the plant is used in cooking? It is also important to be mindful that, although lavender has many practical uses, it can be toxic if too much is ingested.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region. The shrub makes a wonderful addition to a water-wise pollinator garden.

  • Growth habit: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet tall; 1-3 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preference: Sand, chalk, or loam; well-drained; tolerates rocky soil
  • Water needs: Low
  • Potential hazards: Can be toxic if a sufficient amount is ingested.

8. Largeflower tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)

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This herb, native to the Southeastern US, has striking bright yellow blossoms and fiery auburn blotches at the base of the petals. It’s no surprise it is also called ‘Sunfire.’ Unfortunately, it only blossoms for a few weeks. But you can enjoy watching the butterflies and bees Sunfire attracts as the flowers bloom from summer to fall.

Let these flowers add a blast of fiery sunshine to borders or city gardens. They even work great as container plants.

  • Growth habit: Herb
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Mature height: 1.5 – 2.5 feet
  • Duration: Perennial, biennial
  • Foliage: Semi-deciduous
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preference: Well-drained, sand, loam, clay
  • Water needs: Drought tolerant, 1 inch per week
  • Potential hazards: Some people have an allergic reaction to tickseed. 

9. Ice plant (Delosperma spp.)

Purple Ice plant (Delosperma spp.)
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This vibrant pink flower, which also comes in yellow, purple, and orange, gets its name from the small hairs on its foliage. These hairs reflect light and look like miniature ice crystals.

Come sun or shade, the ice plant will not give you the cold shoulder. Although it prefers full sun, it will bloom in partial shade, though not quite as much. 

This African native ground cover looks great ascending slopes or spreading across a rock garden. It’s also the perfect addition to a raised flower bed with good drainage. 

  • Growth habit: Ground cover
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9 
  • Mature height: 3-6 inches tall; 2-4 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial in dry regions; annual in wetter regions
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun; tolerates partial shade
  • Soil preference: Sandy, dry  
  • Water needs: Low
  • Potential hazards: None known

10. Showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)

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Showy penstemon is a California native plant that boasts lavender or rose-colored petals. The stems are very leafy and reach up to 4 feet tall. This evergreen perennial attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It requires well-drained soil, as it may develop root rot in wet conditions. Plant it in a mixed border, flower bed, or cottage garden.

  • Growth habit: Sub-shrub, herbaceous perennial
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-11
  • Mature height: 2 to 4 feet
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preference: Well-drained soils
  • Water needs: Low
  • Potential hazards: This plant accumulates selenium, which can be toxic if ingested, so it’s best to keep it away from pets.

11. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

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Common yarrow stands tall for a flower, with the stems growing up to 2 feet. A cluster of flat, small pink or white flowers sit at the top. The foliage is gray-green and resembles the leaves of a fern. Butterflies and bees love to visit this North American native herb. But be sure to keep your fur babies away from it; common yarrow is toxic to dogs and cats.

It works well sitting in a container on your patio or porch. Use it as cut flowers in a bouquet, or let it stand out in a water-wise in-ground flower bed. 

  • Growth habit: Herb
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • Mature height: 3 feet
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full to partial sun
  • Soil preference: Well-drained soil, prefers sandy loams
  • Water needs: Medium, Drought-tolerant
  • Potential hazards: Continuous ingestion may cause a skin rash. Toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.

12. Berlandier’s sundrops (Calylophus berlandieri)

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These yellow cup-shaped flowers share a stem with dark green foliage. Berlandier’s sundrops are natively found in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and parts of Mexico. You can catch it growing along roadsides and woodland edges. 

This herb attracts bees and butterflies. It adds wonderful color to a rock garden as the petals bloom from March to September. If you decide to use it as a container plant, water it deeply about once a week. But do not water it too often, as too much moisture can promote root rot.

  • Growth habit: Herb
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-11
  • Mature height: Up to 30 inches
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil preference: Adaptable but prefers well-drained clay
  • Water needs: Low, drought-tolerant
  • Potential hazards: It is susceptible to leaf spot.

13. Spanish dagger (Yucca aloifolia)

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Take precautions when planting this shrub. Be mindful that it’s called the Spanish dagger for a reason. The foliage tips are sharp and can cause injury, so do not allow children to play around them. Furthermore, some parts of the plant are slightly toxic to humans. Overall, this may be a plant best left for homeowners without children and pets.

That being said, the Spanish dagger, like all members of the Yucca genus, is very drought-tolerant and perfect for xeriscaping. Those hazardous sharp leaves also create a striking, dramatic effect in a landscape. The white flowers that blossom in the spring or summer attract moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies. 

  • Growth habit: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 8-10
  • Mature height: 10-15 feet
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preference: Sandy coastal soil, well-drained; tolerates rocky, shallow soil
  • Water needs: Low to Medium
  • Potential hazards:  Some parts of the plant are mildly toxic to humans; toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. Sharp spines and serrated edges can be dangerous near areas that get lots of foot traffic.

14. Carolina azalea (Rhododendron carolinianum)

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This shrub blooms delicate white flowers with white and pink pistils and stamens emerging from the center. The petals of Carolina azaleas can also be light pink. This North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee native flowering plant looks good in a pollinator garden or as a foundation planting. Watch its glossy green leaves turn purplish in the fall.

Although they are a beautiful sight, Carolina azaleas are toxic if eaten. In addition to causing depression and arm and leg paralysis, eating the flower may lead to a coma or cardiac failure. If you have children or pets, you may want to avoid this flower or be sure to plant it somewhere out of the reach of small children. 

  • Growth habit: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7 to 9
  • Mature height: Up to 6 feet tall
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Well-drained, gravelly loams
  • Water needs: Low; needs moist soil but cannot tolerate soggy soil
  • Potential hazards: Can be fatal if ingested.

15. Golden currant (Ribes aureum)

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Golden currant is one of the best perennials for homes with children. This shrub not only bears yellow flowers that smell of cloves, but it also produces edible fruit. These tasty, black currants appear in the summer. They’re used to make pies and juices, but you can eat them straight from the shrub, too.

Share this perennial with the butterflies and birds it attracts. Plant it in shrub borders and wildlife gardens. 

However, it is important to know that golden currant is banned in some states because the plant hosts pine blister rust. Do your homework before adding this plant to your xeriscape setting. You can contact your local Extension Service to learn of any restrictions.

  • Growth habit: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Mature height: 3-10 feet
  • Sun: Full to partial sun
  • Soil: Well-drained, organically rich
  • Water needs: Low, Drought-tolerant
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic, but some people experience upset stomachs or headaches if they eat too much of the fruit. 

16. Bush’s coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)

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Bush’s coneflower is native to Missouri and the Arkansas Ozarks. It is the only species of the purple coneflower without purple blossoms; thus, it is indeed a paradox. 

It has yellow flowers with a dark center and is commonly known as yellow coneflower. Its deep taproot helps it to survive in drought conditions. Yellow coneflower is a great choice for homeowners with children because not only is it non-toxic, but it is also medicinal. Bush’s coneflower is anti-microbial.

  • Growth habit: Herb
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Deciduous 
  • Mature height: 3 feet
  • Sunlight needs: Full to partial sun
  • Soil preferences: Dry to medium, well-drained soil
  • Water needs: Low, Drought-tolerant but thrives with regular watering (about 1 inch per week)
  • Potential hazards: None known

17. Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis)

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Chinese juniper is native to China, Japan, and other areas in eastern Asia, like the Himalayas. This conical tree is both male and female, meaning it can pollinate itself. The Chinese juniper has dark green leaves and light brown bark. 

The female version has seed cones that develop into brownish or black berries after two years. The immature berries are used to season food, but make sure you are familiar with this plant and how to prepare it before trying it yourself.

In addition to being a great specimen plant in a xeriscape landscape, it also works well in urban areas because it withstands air pollutants.

  • Growth habit: Shrub or tree, depending on how and how often you prune it 
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Mature size: 50 – 60 feet tall and 10 – 20 feet wide 
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun 
  • Soil preferences: Grows best in moist, well-drained soil, but can tolerate most soil conditions
  • Water needs: Drought-tolerant 
  • Potential hazards: Needles are mildly toxic if eaten.

How to choose plants for xeriscaping

Choose plants that thrive in your climate and your yard’s specific conditions. While xeric native plants are best, you can also use vegetation that has adapted to your region. In addition to these practical concerns, you’ll want floras that compliment your garden’s aesthetic and have maintenance requirements you’re comfortable with. Luckily, most xeriscaping plants are low-maintenance by nature. 

If you have pets and children, make sure your water-wise ornamentals are non-toxic, or plant them where they are not easily accessible. 

Here is a short list of considerations for selecting the best plants for your xeriscape garden:

  • Rainfall: Understand how much it rains in your area. If you get a lot of moisture, you can choose plants that have moderate drought tolerance. On the other hand, a drier climate will require the most drought-tolerant plants. 
  • Soil: Different soil types retain and drain water differently, which affects plant growth. Knowing your soil type will help you pick plants that grow well in your yard. It will also help you know if amending your soil is necessary. You can improve the soil by adding organic matter.
  • USDA hardiness zone: Choose plants in your zone. The USDA separates areas of North America into planting zones based on the lowest winter temperatures. Plants in each zone can survive that area’s coldest conditions. If you choose plants not rated for your zone, you risk them dying off in winter. 
  • Non-invasive plants: Make sure the plants are not invasive. Invasive species outcompete native plants for nutrients and can disrupt local ecosystems.
  • Blooming time: Select plants with different blooming times. If their water needs are the same, place plants that bloom in the spring next to those that blossom in the late summer. And mix in plants that continue to bloom later in the season, especially those that survive into the winter. This will keep your garden colorful for as long as possible.

FAQ about xeriscaping plants

1. What is the best way to xeriscape a yard?

Following the seven principles of xeriscaping will help you design a thriving water-wise landscape:

  1. Plan your design and hydrozone your yard
  2. Understand your soil
  3. Use efficient irrigation systems
  4. Reduce or eliminate turfgrass
  5. Use mulch
  6. Choose drought-tolerant plants
  7. Practice proper maintenance habits

And if you need help designing your garden, check out our best xeriscape ideas.

2. Why should you xeriscape your yard?

There are many benefits of xeriscaping your yard, including: 

  • Conserving water
  • Saving money on utility bills and lawn care products 
  • Financial incentives provided by local government programs 
  • Increasing property value 
  • Saving time on lawn and landscape maintenance tasks
  • Promoting biodiversity 

…and more! Xeriscaping is good for your family’s health, your local environment, and your wallet. There’s basically no downside, other than the potentially high upfront cost. But there are ways to xeriscape affordably!

3. How much does xeriscaping cost?

Although xeriscaping can save you money in the long run on your water bill and costs associated with lawn and landscape maintenance, xeriscaping can be costly initially, especially if you hire a landscape designer. Most homeowners spend between $10,000 and $19,000 to xeriscape, depending on variables like project design, size, and where you live. 

However, you can offset that high upfront cost by converting your yard to a xeriscape in small sections. Start by replacing the flowers in one bed with drought-tolerant natives or replacing one section of grass with a water-wise ground cover. Step by step, your landscape will become more low-maintenance and eco-friendly. 

4. Where does the term xeriscape come from?

Denver, Colorado’s water department wanted homeowners to use less water in their gardens and lawns. So, in the early 1980s, the department combined “xero” with the word “scape,” coming up with “xeroscape” or “xeriscape.” “Xero” comes from the Greek word xeros, which means “dry.” 

5. Why is it best to use native xeric plants?

Native plants have many benefits to homeowners and the environment. Here are some ways they can save you money and time, contribute to a cleaner environment, and help you support the local ecosystem:

  • Native plants are low maintenance. They have adapted to the local climate, including being more tolerant to area diseases and pests, so they require less watering, fertilizing, and pesticide and herbicide applications.
  • They reduce waste and water contaminants because fewer chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) are needed to maintain them, so fewer chemicals run off into the water supply. This also means fewer chemicals are introduced into the environment, in general. 
  • Native plants support and sustain biodiversity and the ecosystem by providing food and habitat to pollinators, other insects, and wildlife.

6. Can you use plants outside of your area’s USDA hardiness zone?

Yes, you can. If you choose plants outside of your zone, only use plants in a lower zone. Plants in higher zones may not survive the lowest winter temperatures in your area.

Keep in mind that plants in your zone grow well with the least amount of effort. Plants inside your zone require less watering, fertilizing, and other maintenance tasks because the plants have adapted to your area.

Start xeriscaping today

You can have the best of both worlds: a beautiful and diverse landscape and a water-wise display. Whether it’s ornamental grasses, cacti, succulents, sedums, or other flowering plants, there are several xeric plants to choose from that will thrive in your climate and your yard’s conditions. 

Ready to get started? You don’t have to do it alone. Connect with xeriscaping professionals in your area who can help you pick the perfect plants and come up with the perfect design for your new xeriscape.

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LaShonda Tucker

LaShonda Tucker’s passion for maintaining a healthy lifestyle through organic herbs, fruits, and veggies leads her to research and learn about plants and insects. She loves sharing her knowledge to help others achieve their lawn care and landscaping goals.