Drought Resistant Trees and Plants to Grow for Birds

Be water wise and attract more birds to your yard by planting drought resistant trees and plants for food and habitat.

Goldfinch at goldenrod(C) RobinSeeber.com
Drought resistant plants like goldenrod attract birds to your backyard.

Birds need water. Plants need water. So it makes sense that moisture is an essential part of any backyard habitat. But keeping a garden watered can take a lot of work. That’s why using a mix of drought resistant trees and plants is a great way to attract birds without spending precious time and money on watering.

Check out the top 15 drought-tolerant plants that can handle dry weather, and 15 water-wise plants thrive during dry spells.

Birds Need Drought Resistant Plants for Shelter and Food

black chinned hummingbirdCourtesy Gregory Plank
A black-chinned hummingbird feeds on black and blue salvia

A plant’s drought tolerance varies, depending on your soil, climate and location. It’s best to pick trees and plants suited to your personal growing conditions. For example, hollyhocks do fine without supplemental water in areas that receive some summer rain. In regions with dry summers, however, these statuesque blooms will have a powerful thirst.

Growing conditions can also vary within your own garden. South and west exposures tend to dry out more quickly than areas facing north or east. Choose plants with a stronger drought tolerance for these hotter zones. Artemisia, cotoneaster, echinacea, rudbeckia, sedums and most salvias are good selections. These plants will also entice birds and butterflies with shelter and food.

A few shade-tolerant plants that can handle occasional drought include hostas, bear’s breech (Acanthus), hardy geraniums, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) and bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).

Add these 5 attractive drought tolerant shrubs to your garden.

Drought Resistant Trees and Shrubs

drought resistant trees, Western redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis) blooms in early spring, California, USADanita Delimont/Getty Images
Western redbud tree

As you devise your planting strategy, think vertically as well as horizontally. Choose a combination of plant sizes, and different colors, textures and seasons of bloom.

Small water-thrifty trees and shrubs add character and color. A few good choices are western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), red-leaf rose (Rosa glauca) and strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). Grapes, currants, gooseberries and other water-wise fruit-bearing shrubs and vining plants provide a great food source for many birds.

By the way, these fire resistant plants are great if you live in an area with frequent wildfires.

Growing Tips for Drought Resistant Plants and Trees

Volunteers planting a tree togetherJose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images
Add organic matter to the soil when you plant a tree

Start by mixing a 3- to 6-inch layer of organic matter, such as compost, into the soil before you plant. Doing this increases the water-retaining capacity of the soil and creates an environment that encourages roots to grow deeper, which makes it easier for the plants to find and absorb moisture during times of drought.

Adding organic mulch like compost, shredded leaves, herbicide-free grass clippings or aged sawdust to the surface is a good idea as well. This will conserve water by preventing weeds (which waste water and nutrients) and keeping soil temperatures cooler and moisture levels more consistent, while also reducing surface evaporation.

No plant can survive without water. Even drought resistant trees and plants need consistent watering the first year or two as they become established. After that, the key is to water deeply and infrequently, which will promote a deeper and more extensive root system. The best time to water is in the cool of the early morning or evening. That way, more water seeps into the soil and less is lost through evaporation.

By growing the right water-thrifty plants and utilizing strategies that help maximize moisture, you can keep your landscape lush and winged visitors like birds and butterflies content during times of drought and beyond. What’s more, using less water to produce a downpour of color also gives you more time to sit back and soak it all in.

Follow these essential steps for tree planting success.

12 Drought Resistant Plants for Birds

zinnia on coneflowerCourtesy Joan Addis
American goldfinch on coneflower

You can attract birds and decrease your water bill with these water-wise plants. Once established in the garden, they will easily adapt to dry conditions, requiring little to no supplemental water during the dry season.

  1. Agastache (Agastache species) Known as hummingbird plant, licorice mint, Mexican hyssop or anise hyssop, depending on the species. Trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds, sphinx moths and butterflies. Seedheads provide food for birds. Zones 5 to 11; blooms from summer to fall.
  2. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Flat-topped flower clusters are a nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds. Includes milkweed, the caterpillar host plant for monarchs. Zones 3 to 9; flowers in summer.
  3. Coreopsis (Coreopsis species) Nectar-rich blooms appeal to butterflies, such as skippers, buckeyes and painted ladies. Seeds provide food for sparrows, chickadees, finches and other seed-eating birds. Zones 3 to 11; summer to fall blooms.
  4. Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) Evergreen shrubby perennial serves as a shelter site for hibernating butterflies. Whorls of nectar-rich flower spikes attract a variety of butterflies and beneficial insects. Zones 5 to 10; blooms in summer.
  5. Goldenrod (Solidago species) Flowers attract butterflies, including monarchs, blues and hairstreaks. Its seedheads attract varied bird species. Zones 3 to 10; midsummer to fall flowers.
  6. Lavender (Lavandula species) Aromatic lavender plants attract many butterflies, especially skippers, painted ladies and sulphurs. Finches and other birds dine on seedheads from early fall through winter. Zones 5 to 11; blooms in summer.
  7. Penstemon (Penstemon species) Bell-shaped flowers attract moths and butterflies, such as skippers and swallowtails, as well as hummingbirds. Provides seeds for birds and serves as a caterpillar host plant for some checkerspot butterflies. Zones 3 to 10; summer flowers.
  8. Purple coneflower (Echinacea species) Coneflower blooms offer nectar for fritillaries, skippers and viceroy butterflies, as well as hummingbirds. Late autumn seedheads attract finches, chickadees and nuthatches. Zones 3 to 10; flowers in summer.
  9. Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia species) Daisy-like flowers provide nectar for butterflies. Birds relish the seedheads. Zones 3 to 10; blooms summer through fall.
  10. Salvia (Salvia species) These annuals, biennials and perennials attract hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. Perennials are hardy in Zones 4 to 11, though it differs by variety; summer blooms.
  11. Sedum (Sedum species) Diverse group of succulents provide nectar for butterflies and, occasionally, hummingbirds. Late autumn to winter seedheads attract birds, including finches and chickadees. Zones 4 to 11; spring to autumn flowers, depending on species.
  12. Yarrow (Achillea species) Flattened clusters of tiny flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Seeds appeal to many birds. Zones 3 to 10; summer to early fall blooms.

Kris Wetherbee
Kris Wetherbee is an internationally-published author, freelance writer and recipe developer specializing in the areas of food, travel, natural health, horticulture, nature and wildlife, gardening and outdoor living. She has published more than 1,000 articles in over 95 magazines.