Hunt for the prettiest, most popular, garden plants of all time, and you’ll likely face one disappointment after another if your garden has dry soil — most garden favorites thrive in moist and rich soil types. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your garden soil is dry (or even parched), though!
The key to a beautiful garden? Choose plants that thrive in dry soil types, whether for a desert-friendly garden or for a garden with a few dry and sunny spots.
Thankfully, the plant kingdom is full of surprises, and once you get going, you’ll quickly discover that you’ve got no shortage of choice — whether you’re looking for tall grasses, succulents, colorful flowering plants, hardy shrubs, or even trees.
Let’s take a look at some of the most amazing plants that like dry soil!
Foxtail lilies (Eremurus robustus) are also called desert candles — and just like that name suggests, these amazing woody tubers are guaranteed to brighten up any garden. That’s thanks to their candle-shaped blooms, which appear in late spring and can last through early summer, and which can have a golden-yellow, white, orange, or coral shape. Try the cultivar Eremurus ‘Romance’ for an especially romantic feel.
These plants are best adapted to loamy or sandy soils, and while they’re drought-tolerant, the soil absolutely needs to be well-draining. These plants thrive in full sun.
Deciding whether the foxtail lily is right for your garden? Here’s a quick overview.
- Foxtail lilies are perennial tubers.
- Foxtail lilies grow to be three to six feet (two meters) tall in the right conditions, and have a modest spread of around one foot (30 centimeters).
- Their spiky, candle-shaped flowers are their biggest selling point.
- These plants are suitable for medium dry soil conditions and need proper drainage. They love loamy or sandy soil.
- Foxtail lilies thrive in full sun and can cope with partial shade. Since they are frost sensitive, they will need to be mulched if your area receives spring frosts. These plants can, however, easily survive in climates with colder winters, which can lead them to produce brighter flowers.
The bearded iris (Iris germanica) is a wonderfully drought-resistant flowering plant that’s native to the Mediterranean. Their showy fragrant blooms make an appearance in the spring, and though they’re often a deep blue, these delicate flowers can also be black, cream, pink, orange, or variegated, among other colors — there’s no shortage of unique cultivars to choose from. Bearded irises thrive in dry soil because they are able to store moisture within their rhizomes.
Ready for a brief summary? Here goes:
- Iris germanica is a herbaceous perennial that can reach a height of one to four feet (making the tallest ones just over a meter, though some cultivars are smaller) and has a nice spread, too. The delicate and fragrant large flowers make them popular among gardeners.
- Bearded irises can tolerate dry soil, but struggle in clay-based soil types — and gardeners should avoid mulching around these plants, or overwatering them, because they’ll quickly begin to protest.
- These flowering herbs prefer full sun and will not bloom as abundantly in shady conditions. They actually thrive in rather diverse temperature conditions, coping well with temperatures ranging from 95 °F (35 °C) at the hottest end, and -4 °F (-20 °C) as a minimum temperature.
The lavender genus counts nearly 50 separate species among its members, as well as cultivars. These flowering and famously fragrant shrubs spread in a fan-like shape, growing upright, and are a must-have for anyone who likes their characteristic scent and would like to attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Lavendula stoechas, also called Spanish lavender, is a great choice for gardeners looking for attractive flowering plants that thrive in dry soil, without too much water.
These plants produce blooms with upright, delicate, violet petals at the top, differentiating them from most other lavender species. They prefer sandy, well-draining soil that’s neutral to acidic.
- Is a perennial shrub with a nice spread, growing up to 36 inches (nearly a meter) tall.
- Has purple blooms that emerge in spring and last into summer. Some varieties have pink or white flowers.
- Is extremely drought-tolerant. While it should be watered the soil is completely dry, overwatering lavender makes it vulnerable to fungal diseases. These plants do not appreciate humid climates!
- Is happiest in full sun. Lavender also tolerates a wide range of different temperatures. While the exact range depends on the species, lavender generally does OK in freezing weather conditions of -20 °F (-29 °C) or above. These plants absolutely don’t mind hot weather, and do fine it 100 °F (37 °C) temperatures during the summer. They do appreciate cooler temperatures at night.
- Is toxic to pets — keep your furry friends away!
Cynara cardunculus, also known as cardoon or the desert artichoke, is a hardy deciduous plant that’s related to the artichoke.
While these plants prefer moderately moist soil, they can also tolerate periods of drought very well, making them suitable for people designing gardens in warmer, dryer climates with dry soil conditions.
Although these plants are native to the Mediterranean, they do so well in sunny California that cardoons are considered invasive there!
The showy and spiky purple flowers of the cardoon or desert artichoke are edible, and emerge during the fall and summer periods. Because the hardy silvery foliage of the cardoon reflects sunlight, they’re able to hold onto moisture very effectively, making them suitable for dry conditions.
Get ready for your desert artichoke 101:
- Cardoon is a herbaceous, edible, perennial that grows beautiful purple flowers on tall stalks. They typically grow to be around three feet (one meter) tall, and are an amazing sight when planted in clusters.
- Cynara cardunculus has a strong preference for full sun, and will need at least six hours of sunlight every day. These plants can actually cope well with a range of temperatures, but will grow tallest in hotter climates, while remaining more compact in areas with cool winters. If you live in a humid climate, supplemental watering becomes even less important.
- These plants prefer clay, sandy, or rocky soil and aren’t picky about pH levels. While they do need some water, desert artichokes aren’t harmed by periods of drought at all.
- These plants need to be placed in a location where they won’t be saddled with extremely forceful winds, which can snap the heads off the large stems.
- Cardoon attracts pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.
- Much of the plant, including its roots and leaf stalks, is edible! This makes cardoon a wonderful choice for an edible garden.
- They also do very well as container plants!
Wisteria (Wisteria spp.) is an entire genus that’s well-known for its attractive blooms, and it’s a favorite among gardeners in dryer climates who are yearning for a floral landscape or a romantic, whimsical, space to entertain guests.
This vine produces an amazing number of gorgeous flowers in the mid-spring. The wisteria vine comes in three different types — the Chinese, Japanese, and American wisteria. The flowers of the wisteria vine can have a variety of stunning shades — blue, white, and purple — and are very fragrant! Wisteria vines love clay, loam, and sandy soil and need soil with good drainage to do well.
Let’s take a look at some of the most notable features of wisteria:
- Wisteria is a woody vine that belongs the Fabaceae It can grow up to 10 to 25 feet (three to eight meters) long and four to eight feet wide.
- The flowers of the wisteria vines are no doubt their most eye-catching feature! The flowers, which bloom in mid-spring, attract pollinators and are wonderfully fragrant.
- These fast growers thrive in full sun to partial shade and prefer neutral or acidic soil.
- Most wisteria species cope with warmer temperatures without any difficulties, but will begin to struggle if the temperature dips below -4 °F (-20 °C). This essentially makes them suitable for almost any garden, except for the coldest and northernmost regions.
Sedum (Sedum spp.) — also commonly called stonecrop and roseroot — is a genus of over 300 species that can have all kinds of sizes and colors. Stonecrop is a perennial succulent in the Crassulaceae family, which is native to East Asia. Most sedum plants favor very dry and well-draining soil and have a preference for full sunlight.
Though it depends on the type of stonecrop, most will grow to be around six to 24 inches (60 centimeters) tall and 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters) wide. Taller variants of sedum feature majestic clusters of flowers that come in an assortment of colors including pink, gold, orange, red, and white.
Of the numerous different sedum species, some of the most popular ones are:
- ‘Black Jack’ — This type of sedum will grow upright and has alluring deep burgundy foliage — the foliage of the black jack can even be almost black!
- ‘Soft Cloud’ — The soft cloud stonecrop develops attractive flowers in the late summer that start out with a light pink color but eventually darken to a lovely red shade. This sedum grows mounds of gray to green foliage.
- ‘Brilliant’ — This plant gets its name from its brilliant blooms that are a more vibrant pink than most other sedum variants.
- ‘Autumn Joy’ — This absolute beauty has gorgeous pink and rusty red flowers in the fall time.
Agave plants (Agave spp.) are beautiful spiky perennial succulents that belong to the Agavaceae botanical family and are native to the tropical regions of the United States and Mexico. These fierce plants make perfect additions to relaxing rock gardens, with their stunning basal leaves and almost spherical shape, and are also often grown as houseplants or in winter gardens.
Agaves — also commonly called century plants — are slow growers that can often take up to 30 years to start flowering. Agaves love loamy and sandy soil and very much prefer dry to very dry soil with good drainage.
Anyone considering getting an agave plant should know that:
- This succulent is a slow grower that will (eventually) grow up to six to eight feet (around two meters) tall and 10 to 12 (over two meters) feet wide.
- The agave is mildly toxic to both pets and humans and can cause contact dermatitis, so handle them with care and keep your furry friends away.
- The century plant is resistant to drought and heat, making it a perfect plant for gardeners in drier climates with soil that’s challenging to keep moist. It does need at least six hours of direct, bright, sun to remain strong and healthy. The fact that agave is hardy to freezing winter temperatures makes it a popular plant for people designing a winter garden.
- While agave plants can take a while to flower, when they do, their flowers will be gold, green and white. The flowers are bell-shaped and tubular, with spikes, and bloom in the summer. If you are growing your agave plant indoors, it will only bloom rarely. Outdoors, however, they can impress you with amazing blooms.
People who are looking for ideal plants to add to their gardens in hot, dry, climates with perpetually dry soil will immediately consider cacti. The prickly pear (Opuntia) genus is a large one with over 100 individual members, all of which are native to North and South America.
Some prickly pears are small shrubs, while others can grow so tall that they very much resemble trees. Their segmented stems (called cladodes — which you might think of as “leaves” if you’re not too familiar with cacti) grow in paddle-shaped ovals, with spines.
Prickly pears prefer dry soils, including sandy and gravely soils, and need very little water to remain healthy. Unlike some cacti, prickly pear species also tolerate colder temperatures quite well. Prickly pears don’t just produce showy yellow, orange, or pink flowers, but also give rise to beautiful fleshy or dry fruits — which are edible!
Not sure whether prickly pears are right for your garden? Take a look at this quick cheat sheet:
- Some prickly pears can grow to be 16 feet (five meters!) or even taller, but if you’re looking for a more compact cactus, you certainly have a lot of species and cultivars to choose from.
- Prickly pear cacti need six or more hours of direct sunlight, and should be planted in areas without shade. They prefer hot weather, but can cope with temperatures as low as 14 °F (-10 °C), making them a good choice for cactus-lovers living in regions with freezing winters.
- Sandy or rocky soil types with neutral to mildly acidic pH levels are best for prickly pears.
- Their spikes can cause painful and persistently irritating injuries. Even the stems are mildly poisonous, and touching them can lead to contact dermatitis. The moral of the story? Wear gloves. None of this should cause you to be afraid of the prickly pear, though, because their fruits aren’t just edible, but also very pleasantly flavored.
Hostas (Hosta spp.) — also known as plantain lilies — are herbaceous perennial plants that belong to the Liliaceae family. Hostas are, in fact, one of the most popular perennial plants in America.
Because hostas are so easy to look after and prosper in the shade, they’re a great addition to your garden if you haven’t really looked after plants before. The plantain lily is native to Japan and China and will look beautiful near ponds as well as in rock gardens, thanks to its large, stunning, leaves with deep grooves. Hosta species prefer rich and well-draining soil.
Some quick facts about the plantain lily you’ll want to be aware of before adding it to your garden include:
- The hosta thrives in shade and needs very little to no sunlight to survive — about two hours of sunlight is best if you do want to expose your plantain lily to the sun. These plants favor regions with warm summers and cold winters.
- Plantain lilies can vary in size depending on the precise variety, but most hosta plants are around six to 48 inches (15 to centimeters to over a meter) tall and 10 inches wide.
- Any pet owner considering growing a hosta in their garden should know that this plant is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses — so make sure to keep the plantain lily away from your pets!
- Though you may never see it, hostas can give rise to fragrant purple and white flowers. Most people don’t even like the flowers of the hosta, and if they are kept, they are often only used as pollinators and do not look very appealing. These plants usually only bloom once in their lifetime!
- When it comes to pests, plantain lilies are vulnerable to slugs and snails which can even kill the plants if not taken care of.
The Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is notorious for its ability to succeed in all kinds of conditions and it will do perfectly well in dry soil. The Virginia creeper is a deciduous woody vine native to North America and Mexico. The plant itself is an extremely fast grower, making it a really easy to grow no matter your skill level.
The Virginia creeper is also, however, famous for being a deadly plant — the berries are toxic not just to pets, but also humans. It’s often an unwanted plant, and many seek to get rid of it, but that doesn’t mean that the Virginia creeper isn’t a good choice for your garden.
As long as you prune your Virginia creeper to keep it away from your trees — Virginia creepers steal sunlight from your trees and can kill them — its dense vines are a perfect choice for your trellises.
Some facts you will need to be aware of before growing a Virginia creeper include:
- The Virginia creeper can succeed in practically any soil type as it is not picky at all. Clay, loam, and sand are all fine for your Virginia creeper.
- As the Virginia creeper is highly poisonous, handle it with care. Eating the fruit of the Virginia creeper can be fatal; do not try this at home (or anywhere else).
- Virginia creepers can have small green and white flowers in the spring and summer though they are often so small that they are hidden by the dense foliage.
Adding grasses to your garden will balance the flowering plants you’ve chosen out nicely, as well as helping with erosion control. Pennisetum setaceum, also called annual fountain grass or African fountain grass, is an attractive clumping and mounding grass that can grow as tall as two to four feet (over a meter).
It propagates itself from seed very easily, and can become invasive, but does reward you with “spikelet” flowers of a purple to crimson color. This ornamental grass will require supplemental watering, but thrives in low-humidity conditions. It also attracts songbirds and pollinators.
Here’s a quick look at the conditions you need to help fountain grass succeed:
- This ornamental grass can succeed in partial shade as well as full sun, but will flower less er less often.
- Fountain grass likes neutral to acidic soil types and does well even in nutrient-poor soil.
- Fountain grass is extremely drought-tolerant, but will be more vibrant if you water it at least once weekly.
- If you’re looking for smaller varieties, many compact cultivars can be found, some of which have a greater spread.
A Final Word
Don’t become disheartened if you have persistently dry spots in your garden, or even if your entire garden is covered with dry soil.
You’ll only realize just how many plants are perfectly adapted to dry soil when you’re choosing candidates for your personal oasis — and you can rest assured that the 11 options we looked at are the very tip of the iceberg.
Work with the soil you have, rather than fighting it with aggressive irrigation every step of the way, and you’ll be able to enjoy an amazing garden all year round.