Trees, more than any other plant type, speak to the primordial parts of our human brains. Stimulating the release of enzymes that make us feel safe and at peace.
Planting trees in your garden not only improves your well-being but that of wildlife and the Earth, itself.
Naturally, not every tree will grow in every hardiness zone. So, what choices are there for gardens in regions with little rainfall?
Keep reading and by the end of this article, you’ll be well-acquainted with 12 exquisites, drought-tolerant trees that have adapted to thrive in these areas.
Choosing The Best Drought Tolerant Trees
It’s evident that the summer months are becoming hotter and drier. The natural shade that trees provide is vital to our continued enjoyment of outdoor living.
Drought-tolerant trees, specifically, are smart choices. You’ll be rewarded with a much lower water bill, and quite possibly a lower HVAC bill, as well, when these are planted in strategic places.
Choosing saplings, over more mature specimens, is a really cost-effective approach. Planting saplings in warm-climate winters will actually increase the drought and heat tolerance of these trees, in the long term.
Fastest Growing Drought Tolerant Trees
In order for most trees to grow at their fastest possible pace, they need consistent access to water, nutrients, and sunlight. Many drought-tolerant trees take a few years to become so, leaving saplings in need of significant watering to hasten the establishment.
However, the following tree species ignore that norm, entirely. Growing at an uncommon rate of 1-5ft, per year, they’re also fantastic privacy-barrier plantings.
These have adapted to drought with either a deep set, wide-spreading root system or a single tap root that burrows deep into the ground.
Leyland Cypress Tree
The Leyland Cypress thrives in zones 6-10. Its long roots spread just below the soil surface to 9ft deep, as it matures to a substantial 60ft tall by 15ft wide.
The growth rate of Leyland Cypress can be up to 24” per year making this evergreen a great choice. Rapid growth is fueled by full sun and acidic, well-draining soil.
Close-knit branches with sprays of blue-green foliage grow in an elegant, conical form that releases small, coniferous seed cones, in autumn.
This evergreen establishes in just a few months. During this time, new trees require deep, weekly watering. Prune only to remove damaged branches and fertilize only when growth appears slow
Wax Myrtle Tree
This evergreen Wax Myrtle flourishes in zones 7-10. Its large roots can spread out three times the width of its 25ft by 20 ft canopy, for more efficient water absorption.
Vigorous growth (3-5ft per year) will result from full/partial sun positioning and well-draining soil.
Softly serrated, olive-green leaves spiral around sun-exposed branches, with yellow or white floral catkins dotted in between. These emit a subtle, spicy perfume before developing into swathes of ornamental, autumn berries.
Wax Myrtle trees are nitrogen-fixers so they require very little fertilizing if any. Young trees require consistently moist soil, until established and drought-tolerant. Pruning is only needed to maintain the desired shape.
Autumn Blaze Red Maple Tree
(Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’)
This brilliant Maple will set your landscape alight, in zones 3-8. Shallow taproots utilize limited water efficiently to support the rapid growth of 24” per year. Reaching 45ft by 35ft, at maturity, when planted in full/partial sun and acidic soil.
Tight-clustered, white and pink pom-poms bud in early spring. Five-pointed leaves paint a conical canopy of bright, summer green, before finishing the season with vivid oranges and reds.
While drought-tolerant, prolonged dry periods may result in browning leaves and the need for deep watering. Apply a nitrogen-rich NPK when growth seems stunted. Pruning away cross-branching will improve air circulation and prevent fungal infections.
The ancient Ginkgo is naturally hardy in zones 3-8. With a deep-set root system, including a vertical taproot with horizontal supports, this tree shows impressive drought tolerance in these areas.
Spanning an average of 25ft tall and wide, at maturity, at a rate of 1-2ft, per year, Ginkgos prefer full/partial sun and well-draining soil.
Perfect for shade, drought tolerance, and ornamentation. Fan-shaped leaves reflect a soft green in the spring and summer sun before ebbing to dazzling gold, in autumn.
Water your Ginkgo weekly, until established, or during extended dry periods. Fertilizing typically isn’t necessary, but pruning saplings to form a single leader trunk will promote healthy development.
Low Maintenance Drought Tolerant Trees
What makes a tree drought-tolerant? Typical traits include:
- Leaf shapes and textures that have evolved to capture and/or absorb water.
- Extensive roots are designed to soak up all available moisture from the soil.
- Efficient use of water for growth and photosynthesis processes.
Low-maintenance stems from minimal care requirements in exchange for maximum growth and productivity.
Despite their large size, trees are often easier to care for than smaller plants. Provided they get what they need from their environment, with occasional help from you, you’re free to enjoy their shade and beauty with little effort. Take the following four, for example.
The Kentucky Coffeetree will mature to 75ft by 50ft in zones 3-8. Remaining green and lush, despite hot summers. A 12-24” annual growth rate makes this a great choice and given its size, requires very little maintenance.
While tolerant of soggy soil and extreme drought, this prefers full sun and well-draining soil.
In mid-spring, bundles of soft leaf fronds sprout from sturdy branch tips, revealing an architectural maze, within. Pale green flower panicles emerge, yielding autumn seed pods.
Water new trees weekly, until established. While young, fertilize with a low-nitrogen NPK that supports robust, woody growth. In the second year, early-spring pruning will promote fuller branching.
(Bambusa textilis gracilis)
This Bamboo cultivar offers elegant form, shade, and graceful movement in zones 8-11. Maturity is reached In just a few years, reaching 25ft tall by 3-4ft wide.
Full sun and well-draining soil support lush growth and optimal drought tolerance.
Feathery, green fronds sprout along tall, notched stalks that gently sway in the breeze. This cultivar is non-invasive, cold-hardy, and can also be grown in containers.
Young bamboo plants require watering every other day, for the first month. Thereafter, only when the soil is dry down to 3”. When necessary, a bamboo-specific nitrogen-rich fertilizer can be applied in summer. Prune to remove spent shoots and maintain the desired height.
Northern Red Oak Tree
The Northern Red is well-known for its generous shade and drought tolerance, in zones 3-8. Cold and heat-hardy, this majestic tree reaches 75’ by 45’, at maturity. Full sun and acidic soil will push a fast growth rate of 24” per year.
In spring, a broad canopy is awash with bright green, multi-pinnate leaves and soft, yellow-green catkins. Creating dense shade and protection in the heat of summer. In autumn, catkins become quaint, saucer-capped acorns.
Water Oak saplings weekly, until established. Fertilize with a nitrogen-rich NPK when growth seems slow. Prune Oaks from January-March (while still dormant) to relieve cross-branching and to remove any winter-damaged branches.
Pygmy Date Palm
In zones 10 and 11, nothing is more eye-catching than this Pygmy palm. Expanding to just 6ft tall and wide, this tree will increase visual, and garden interest while minimizing your maintenance efforts.
Full sun and well-draining soil will support lush growth and increase water-retention properties.
From atop a stout trunk, large fronds emerge and fan out in the grand, pendulous form. Clutches of small, yellow flowers create the center crown of this opulent, warm-climate display.
Potted Pygmies will need to be watered more frequently vs ground-planted, which only need watering during prolonged dry periods. Prune to remove any yellowing fronds and apply a palm-specific NPK for faster summer growth.
Growing Ornamental Drought Tolerant Trees
For landscaping purposes, an ornamental tree is defined as one that has interesting, visual characteristics such as flowers, changing, seasonal color, unusual growth habits and either fruit, cones or acorns.
Along with sufficient nutrients and sunlight, water is often a driving factor in the production of these features. Yet, just as we saw with fast-growing, drought tolerant trees, there are some that can flourish with less.
These final four options display brilliant foliage color variations, abundant blooming and surprisingly lush form. All while being far less water and maintenance-needy in a range of hardiness zones.
The Rising Sun™ Eastern Redbud Tree
(Cercis Canadensis ‘JN2’)
This Redbud gives a fabulous, two-act performance. Masses of colorful blooms are followed by foliage color reflective of the rising sun. In zones 5-9, this will reach 12ft by 8ft, when planted in full sun and well-draining soil.
Spring spurs a bounty of pendulous fuchsia blooms along upward-reaching branches. As flowers fade, large, heart-shaped leaves emerge in flowing shades of green, yellow, orange, and red from trunk to tip.
Redbuds require consistent watering in the first year, to hasten establishment. In spring, a phosphorus-rich NPK can be applied within the dripline. Prune in early summer to remove cross-branching and any branches sprouting on the lower trunk.
Arapaho Crape Myrtle
(Lagerstroemia indica ‘Arapaho’)
In addition to visual appeal, this ornamental offers considerable drought and heat tolerance, as well as exceptional resistance to pests and disease, in zones 7-9. Full sun and nutrient-rich soil promote vivid color as this tree matures to 20ft tall and wide.
Dark green leaves, with undertones of copper and bronze, bud in early spring. Followed by the emergence of bright red, panicled florets from each branch tip. In autumn, the foliage color fades to a rich orange-red.
Extra watering may be needed during extended dry periods. Prune only while dormant, pruning during active growth may jeopardize your Myrtle’s health. Fertilize with a nitrogen-rich NPK if flowering seems sparse.
This magnificent bloomer is widely used in civic, commercial, and home landscaping, in zones 9-11. Offering fast-growing, drought-tolerant shade as it matures to a potential 50’ tall by 30’ wide.
Blooms are abundant and fern-like fronds are larger (up to 20”, in length!) when planted in full sun and a variety of soil types.
The tropical Jacaranda produces swathes of fragrant, panicled purple blooms along arched branches, forming a dense canopy. Once blooms fade, foliage continues providing shade and protective cover.
Water Jacarandas weekly, until established. Once mature, they will only need water during times of extended drought. Fertilize and prune young trees to promote fuller branching and blooming.
Thundercloud Plum Tree
(Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’)
The extraordinary feature of this tree is its foliage color. A dark purple canopy creates stunning contrast in a green landscape, in zones 5-8. Full sun and acidic soil will heighten foliage color and robust growth, as this tree matures to 20ft tall and wide.
In spring, small, fragrant flowers line each branch. Summer sparks the rise of a dark purple cloud of foliage that ebbs to a lighter burgundy hue, in fall. Followed by small, edible plums.
Thunderclouds require deep, weekly watering until established. Once mature, rainfall or slow, drip irrigation is sufficient. A triple 5 NPK will support increased blooming and rich color. Prune only to remove damaged branches.
Best Drought Tolerant Trees And Shrubs
Remember that maturity size, recommended hardiness zone, and care level all play a vital part in the success of your trees.
Fast-growing specimens like the Autumn Blaze Maple and Leyland Cypress will help you reach your landscaping goals, quickly.
Looking for low maintenance with a high return? Choose the Kentucky Coffeetree or Pygmy Date Palm. For dazzling ornamental features, look no further than the Arapaho Crape Myrtle or Thundercloud Plum.
All of these stunning trees will minimize your water costs, while maximizing your curb appeal and garden view.