Drought tolerant plants that need little water

Great for wallets and hot summers: we show you which plants are drought tolerant and how you can save water in the garden.

Bed with garden plants that need little water; next to it is a wheelbarrow with soil and garden tools

Overview: Drought tolerant plants

On hot days, in particular, constant watering and high water consumption can become problems. But with just a few simple tips, you can reduce your water consumption and water the plants as they need it. When creating new beds, it's best to choose drought tolerant plants that need little water from the outset. This saves you time and money and protects the environment without sacrificing your garden’s beauty.

Why some plants need little water

A plant’s structure defines how much water it needs; for example, plants with small leaves need less water. This is because small leaves have a smaller surface area, which reduces evaporation.

Garden plants with particularly thick leaves also need less water. These thick-leaved plants store water in their leaves, which is then available to them over time.

Deep roots also help save water. Plants with deep roots do not rely on water supplies in fast-drying topsoil. Instead they can reach the water deeper in the soil.

When buying plants, look for types with silver or grey leaves or a fine down on them. The down stops leaves from drying out, and light colours reflect sunlight, which means that the plant does not overheat.

Flowers that are drought tolerant

If you want to create a drought tolerant garden, here's our guide to the garden plants that require less water. 

Drought tolerant flowers that don’t need a lot of water

The term flower is rather colloquial and actually refers to herbaceous flowering plants; in other words, flowering bedding plants and pot plants as well as hardy perennials. Flowering perennials and shrubs can be found below, so we have put together a small selection of classic flowers here.

Green bush with white wild rose blooms

Even though they require much care and attention in other respects, roses are among the flowers that need less water. The bush’s deep roots supply the plant with sufficient moisture even in sunny locations.

Wild roses (Moyes’ rose or multiflora rose) are generally very hardy, though some more prized types also cope outstandingly well with drought.

Close-up of two yellow and red flowers on a moss rose

The moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) blooms with colourful white, yellow, pink or variegated flowers and is easy to tend.

The flower copes well with dry spells, as it is good at storing water in its thick leaves.

Close-up photo of yellow-dark red sunflower heads

The bright-yellow flowering sunflower (Helianthus annuus) roots almost as deeply as it is tall and, as such, reaches deeper into the soil.

Its seeds make good bird feed, and some varieties have plate-sized flowers.

Other flowers that need little water:

  • Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare)
  • Cape daisy (Osteospermum)

Shrubs that need little water

In sun, shade, or drought, these bushes are robust and look good thanks to flowers, attractive foliage or fruit.

Close-up of a bee on the white flowers of a privet shrub

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) can be planted not only as a hedge, but also as a fast-growing shrub in the garden. This evergreen shrub doesn’t need much water but can withstand flooding and grows well in both sun and shade.

Privet grows to a height of up to four metres and is an ideal companion for flowering plants.

Close-up of a peacock butterfly on dark purple lilac blooms

Summer lilac (Buddleja davidii) is a butterfly magnet and provides food for bees, meaning that the flowering shrub is good for the environment in two ways: it needs less watering and helps make the garden bee-friendly.

Depending on the variety, summer lilac grows to a height of two to three metres and is the perfect choice for stony ground and intense sunlight.

White flowers and green leaves on a mock orange
The mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius) is an excellent hardy choice and consumes relatively little water. It can handle bright sunlight and semi-shade, is unfussy about soil and is cut resistant.
The mock orange can be planted as a single shrub or flowering hedge, grows up to 3 metres high and flowers from May to June.

Other shrubs that need little water:

  • Ninebark (Physocarpus)
  • Rock pear (Amelanchier lamarckii)
  • Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum)
  • Christmas berry (Photinia fraseri)
  • European hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia)
  • Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
  • Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
  • Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria)
  • Spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus)
  • Rose acacia (Robinia hispida)
  • Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
  • Common wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana)

Drought tolerant perennials

Drought and poor soil? No problem for hardy plants, which cope better with summer heat than damp, wet winters. If you have heavy clay soil, you should add coarse sand to make it more suitable for prairie grasses and perennials that need little water. This prevents waterlogging at the roots.

Close-up of open and closed pink bergenia flowers, with a bee in front of green leaves

Blooming in shades of pink, bergenia is a hardy perennial that doesn't need much water.

It flowers better in the sun, but also tolerates shade well and is ideal as a wall shrub.

Pink flowers and green leaves on a bloody cranesbill

The roots of the bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), also known as the bloody geranium, extend deep into the ground, which is why this perennial copes well with drought.

The bloody cranesbill grows to around 40 cm and is broad and bushy enough to provide perfect ground cover. In sunny locations, it bears carmine red flowers from June to August.

Bright purple flowers of the Adria bellflower on stone edging

The Adria bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana) makes an attractive alternative or addition to popular aubretia in a sunny to semi-shaded location as it blooms from June to August when the aubretia has already turned green again after flowering.

These hardy perennials, that need little water, shed their leaves in winter.

Other perennials that need less water:

  • Blue spire (Perovskia superba)
  • Yarrow (Achillea clypeolata ‘Moonshine’ or ‘Parker’)
  • Large-flowered tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)
  • Macedonian widow flower (Knautia macedonica ‘Melton Pastels’)
  • Evening primrose (Oenothera types and varieties)
  • Peonies (Paeonia species and varieties)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Sneezeweed (Helenium varieties)
  • Alpine rock thyme (Calamintha nepeta)
  • Day lily (Hemerocallis hybrids)
  • White coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Alba’)
  • Siberian spurge (Euphorbia seguieriana)

Drought tolerant ground cover

On average, ground cover contributes more to water conservation than other plants, as it means less bare soil between plants so less water can evaporate. You can find out more about ground cover and how to maintain it in our article specifically on the topic. A few outstanding examples of attractive ground cover can be found below.

Close-up of the red-green variegated leaves of the red barrenwort

Red barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum) grows to around 30 cm, thrives best in shade and semi-shade, and is ideal for planting under trees as it swallows up their fallen leaves.

This ground cover is extremely tolerant of summer dryness. Cut back leaves in spring using a hedge trimmer to enjoy the full splendour of its flowers in April and May.

Small purple flowers of the creeping thyme with a bee

Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) is particularly suitable for dry, permeable, thin soils.

The ground cover plant blooms from June to August and is an attractive bee magnet and fragrant plant.

Close-up of white flowers of snow-in-summer between stones
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) is a ground cover plant that loves sun and needs little water.
These plants can even grow in drystone wall joints, and the white star-shaped flowers attract numerous insects in May and June.

Other drought tolerant ground cover plants:

  • Dwarf Schmidt wormwood (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’)
  • New Zealand bur (Acaena buchananii)
  • Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina)

Drought tolerant trees

Trees that need little water often originate from hot and dry regions, but these drought tolerant trees are usually not frost-resistant and would not fare well in our gardens. Conversely, our native trees are the most hardy.

White flowers on the branch of a robinia

The floriferous robinia comes in many varieties, all of which need little water and prefer a sunny location. Its fragrant blooms provide ideal bee fodder.

However, seeds and bark from the robinia are poisonous, so be careful with children and pets, especially horses.

Other trees that need less water:

  • Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus)
  • Field maple (Acer campestre)
  • European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
  • Silver birch (Betula pendula)
  • Larch (Larix)
  • Common walnut (Juglans regia)
  • Sour cherry (Prunus cerasus)
  • Large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos)
  • Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
  • English oak (Quercus robur)
  • Irish oak (Quercus petraea)
  • Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata)


7 Tips to Save water in the garden

Regardless of which plants you choose, you can do many things to save water in the garden. With a few simple steps, you can, for example, stop water from evaporating and therefore keep the ground moist for longer.

Our tips can help you grow healthy plants without wasting water.

With our tips and lists of garden plants that need little water, you can easily save water in your garden. Watering with rainwater and lowering your overall water consumption are both sustainable ways to help the environment.