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Top 10 Water Wise Plants That Will Thrive in a Dry Spell

Grow water wise flowers and shrubs that look absolutely gorgeous, help out pollinators and flourish in drought conditions.

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Amethyst sea holly is a spiky purple flower with an orb-like center.Nathan Allred / Alamy Stock Photo

Amethyst Sea Holly

Eryngium amethystinum, Zones 3 to 9

Eye-catching and compact, sea holly has spiny gray-green foliage and prickly cool blue flower heads that bloom in mid-to-late summer. This deer-resistant plant loves hot sun and well-draining soil but will survive just about anywhere. Add this sea holly to borders, a cutting garden or by a drought tolerant shrub.

Why we love it: Bees and butterflies flock to these water wise plants, which also shine in floral arrangements.

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Moss rose is a spreading groundcover with yellow and red flowers.Photos from Japan, Asia and othe of the world/Getty Images

Moss Rose

Portulaca grandiflora, Annual

A member of the purslane family, moss rose grows to create a mat that is 3 to 8 inches high and up to 1 foot wide. It makes for a stunning spiller in a hanging planter or rock garden. Give it full sun—the flowers open only in sunlight before closing in the evening. Try the Fairy Tale series for pompomlike flowers or Sundial for blooms that stay open longer during the day.

Why we love it: The petals have a ruffled appearance and come in a wide array of colors.

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Rosemary's needle-like leaves offer an interesting backdrop to its dainty light purple flowers.Jasenka Arbanas/Getty Images

Rosemary

Salvia rosmarinus, Zones 7 to 11 or annual

A fragrant evergreen that also serves as a savory herb, rosemary shrubs have needlelike leaves and clusters of flowers in pale blue to white that bloom from late winter through summer. Growing up to 6 feet tall, it requires moist, well-draining soil and full sun for best results. Prune if desired after flowering.

Why we love it: You can keep rosemary in a pot indoors to overwinter or for easy additions to recipes.

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Gold Nugget hens-and-chicks is lime green at the base and fades into red and orange tips.Little Prince of Oregon Nursery / littleprinceplants.com

Gold Nugget Hens-and-Chicks

Sempervivum, Zones 4 to 9

Provide a year-round display of vibrant color with Gold Nugget. The succulent’s foliage changes from lime green in summer to golden red during cooler months. Place hens-and-chicks in gritty, well-draining soil where these water wise plants can receive full sun or very light shade.

Why we love it: With low-growing rosettes that spread 6 to 8 inches, hens-and-chicks can be divided by pulling out a few chicks (smaller rosettes) and replanting.

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Pineleaf penstemon features several red tube-shaped flowers on each stalk.Photo by Matthew Warren, used with permission from High Country Gardens

Pineleaf Penstemon

Penstemon pinifolius, Zones 4 to 9

Native to the southern Rocky Mountains, this compact perennial features foliage that resembles pine needles and has tubular flowers with bright red, orange and yellow tones. Also known as beardtongue, penstemon loves full sun and is a magnet for bees, hummingbirds and other helpful pollinators.

Why we love it: Deer leave it alone. Plus it’s easy to grow on slopes or in rock gardens.

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Red creeping thyme is a groundcover with a bounty of small magenta flowers.Courtesy of Proven Winners - www.provenwinners

Red Creeping Thyme

Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’, Zones 3 to 8

Creeping thyme is a drought tolerant plant with a bounty of blooms. Many thyme varieties do well with very little water, but this magenta-hued version is especially vibrant and fragrant. Keep it in full or part sun. Tuck clusters of these water wise plants into rock gardens or near walls, where they will spread 8 to 12 inches.

Why we love it: The dark foliage slowly transforms to a beautiful bronze color during fall.

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See more flowering drought tolerant ground cover plants.

water wise plants, Color Guard Adam's needle is a yucca with wide yellow stripes.Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

Color Guard Adam’s Needle

Yucca filamentosa, Zones 4 to 10

This flowering desert plant has spiked variegated foliage and ivory bell-shaped flowers that appear on 4-to-6-foot stalks in midsummer. It’s a striking focal point in a low-water garden. Put it in a spot with sunshine and well-draining soil, and this will easily grow 2 to 3 feet wide.

Why we love it: Color Guard is salt tolerant, does well as a container plant and attracts hummingbirds, but deer tend to leave it be.

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water wise plants, A grouping of butterfly weed shines with bright orange flower clusters.Courtesy of Proven Winners - www.provenwinners

Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa, Zones 3 to 9

This bushy perennial is known for its showstopping clusters of vivid flowers that bloom throughout the summer. Add these water wise plants to a cottage garden with easy access for cut flowers. The seedpods add texture and interest to a dried floral arrangement, and it will self-seed if pods aren’t removed. Butterfly vine also is known to attract pollinators and grows in Zone 9 or warmer.

Why we love it: Butterflies adore it and monarchs use it as a host plant.

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water wise plants, Arizona Sun blanket flower blooming in a red pot.Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

Arizona Sun Blanket Flower

Gaillardia, Zones 3 to 9

Requiring little water and suitable in small spaces, this easy-to-grow perennial forms a swath of deep red, orange and yellow daisylike blossoms. Arizona Sun, an All-America Selections winner, prefers full sun and well-draining soil, and it beautifully tolerates heat. Blanket flower is drought resistant and can be grown for birds to enjoy.

Why we love it: A long-lasting bloomer, it flowers from early summer to fall. Deadhead to extend the color show.

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water wise plants, Cascade stonecrop is a sedum with pearl-like green leaves and bright yellow flowers.Alamy Stock Photo

Cascade Stonecrop

Sedum divergens, Zones 2 to 9

This succulent’s tightly stacked, plump leaves range from green to darker red. Golden, star-shaped flowers appear in summer. Also known as spreading stonecrop, it’s a tough, low-maintenance plant that needs lots of sunlight but very little water.

Why we love it: Use this fast-growing flowering succulent as a ground cover or to enhance rock gardens, borders and containers.

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Psst—other succulents like aloe or agave also look great in a water-wise garden.

Wendy Helfenbaum
Wendy Helfenbaum is a freelance journalist and urban gardener in Zone 5 who enjoys the flexibility of container gardening. Follow her on Twitter: @WendyHelfenbaum