Xeriscaping: How to Create a Lush Drought-Tolerant Landscape

Xeriscaping: How to Create a Lush Drought-Tolerant Landscape


Xeriscaping is a type of landscape design that uses low-water-use or drought-tolerant plants that require little to no supplemental irrigation. Coined in the ’80s, Xeriscaping helps you create a water-wise yard without skimping on enjoying having a landscape full of life!


Reduce the water bill, fill that hot full sun location, create an oasis in a sandy site, and beautify tricky hell-strips around the landscape. In many cases, planting a Xeric garden is a necessity for arid, high-elevation, and desert climates.


What is a Xeriscape Plant?

A Southern California water wise residential garden, featuring native and drought tolerant plants

With natural water-storing capabilities, deep roots, and waxy leaves that reduce moisture evaporation, Xeric and drought-tolerant plants have adapted to a niche climate and can handle the sun and periods of no rain.


The process of designing landscapes with these plants, with the purpose to reduce or even fully eliminate the amount of water needed to support them is the hallmark of Xeriscaping. Beyond what the natural world supplies them, these landscapes need little to almost no water once established!


But Xeric and drought tolerance aren’t synonymous with not watering. In fact, plants who prefer dry climates actually need a year or two of regular moisture management to ensure their roots are well established in their new home. This will only set them up to be truly low watering tolerant for those future dry periods!

California residential landscaping


It also means that the root establishment should be pristine before weaning them off of regular irrigation. Dry plants love to sink their roots down low so that when the upper levels of soil go dry, they still have the water below.


Even if your plants are established, it is recommended that during extended heat, and prolonged dry periods, it is always a good idea to give water to your plants just in case. Being drought tolerant merely means that the plant has a special ability to conserve the water supplied to them or reach out to find its own water source.

Fantastic Xeric Plant Options

Bright flowering plants with lush greenery, Perennials are already very easy to grow and require little maintenance to keep them looking spiffy. Usually small and space-saving, the added bonus of also being Xeric makes them especially alluring!

Planting Agave

Fantastic Xeric Perennials


Agastache Hyssop



Basket of Gold



Blanket Flower







Delonsperma Fire Spinner


False Indigo



Ghost Lamium


Hens n Chicks/Succulents


Ice Plant

Kniphofia/Red Hot Poker

Lesser Catmint



Ornamental Grasses





Russian Sage


Russian Sage


Sweet Woodruff

Stiff Goldenrod

Sea Thrift Splendens

Sea Holly




Many Mediterranean Herbs are also fantastic for creating a scented and tasty Xeric garden! Try Lavender, Rosemary, Santolina, Curry plant, and Thyme.


Drought-Tolerant Shrubs

Small to mid to large flowering and foliage ornamentals, these bushes are stalwart specimens in harsh drought conditions. A few of these fantastic shrubs even produce fruit, but in drought conditions, you may see reduced flowering and fruiting so more energy goes to the plant's survival instead







Blue Mist Shrubs


California Lilac

Burning Bush

Butterfly Bush


California Lilac

California Wax Myrtle



Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle


Flannel Bush

Flowering Quince

Fragrant Sumac

Gold Broom

Hydrangea arborescens


Hydrangea paniculata

Indian Hawthorn

Jasminum nudiflorum














Goldflame Spirea Landscaping Shrub

Oregon Grape

Red Flowering Currant

Rugosa Roses



Virginia Sweetspire

Winterberry Holly


Low-Water Usage Trees

Large trees that handle drought also provide cooling relief from the sun for anything planted beneath them! Including us! Shade helps beat the heat and trees help cool our environment! Many trees are drought-tolerant once established, but others can handle long-term arid conditions

Blue Spruce



Atlas Cedar

Bald Cypress

Blue Spruce

Desert Willow

Oak Tree


Palm Trees

Pinyon Pine




Red Bud

Quaking Aspen

Western Redbud

Whipcord Western Red Cedar

Witch Hazel


Xeriscaping Basics

Agave Parryi

Starting a Xeric garden or dealing with one you’ve been dealt with in the landscape shuffle, there are several things you can do before you put a single plant into the ground to give future installations the right start.

Learn Your Location

First, it’s important to learn your Hardiness Zone so you can choose plants rated for your climate, and choose plants that are low-water usage. Then track how much sun your location receives to know if you have full sun, partial sun/shade, or full shade.

Prep Your Site

If you are starting with bare virgin ground, it’s a good idea to improve your site. Often you are working with very sandy or fast-draining soil, maybe even hardpan compacted soil that’s been sunbaked and dried out to a crisp. It’s also a good idea to call your local Diggers Hotline to ensure you do not hit any underground obstacles.



Start improving the soil by tilling in compost, peat, organic matter, and aged manure, into the ground. This increases the soil’s water-holding capacity and promotes root growth. Fluffing the soil so that roots can easier penetrate and grow deep.


Map out your yard to scale, mark or create hardscapes like patios and walkways, and consider that each flower, shrub, and tree has slightly different needs. Then mark where your shade and sun locations are, where the dappled shade will be beneath trees at their mature width, and where other large structures will cast shade throughout the day.


Consider planting fewer Turfgrass areas, and when you do consider turf - consider using a buffalograss or something that is drought tolerant.

hammock under shady trees in garden


Consider strategically placing shade structures, awnings, canopies, and other objects that cast shade around to help plants cope with the full sun. Until trees mature and can cast their shade, plants around them will need shade cloth or temporary shade until the trees grow.


Nature Hills Root Booster is recommended to be added to the soil during planting, and a 3-4 inch thick layer of mulch of any kind helps to minimize moisture evaporation from the soil, keeps soil moisture more regulated, and insulates the roots from heat and chill.

You can even install underground irrigation to help soak the ground and take the edge off of an extended drought without worrying about the heat and the sun will simply evaporate the moisture before plants can use it.

Types of Xeric Gardens

Design a climate-adapted yard or garden and feel good about being water conservation conscious. This could be as simple as replacing a patch of water-greedy Turfgrass that needs constant attention in the summer with drought-tolerant plants. With the exception of Buffalo Grasses, many do need semi-consistent moisture throughout the heat of summer.


Gravel Gardens & Japanese/Zen Sand Gardens

Japanese zen garden with sand backyard

Gravel Gardens are great ways to mix a Zeroscape with a Xeriscape. A Zeroscape is all rock, brick, pavers, stone mulch, and other hardscapes, including a type of Japanese Sand or Zen garden for meditation. Include a few carefully and strategically placed plants that act as features around the area in rows, groupings, and mindfully placed specimens.

  • Kamtschaticum Sedum or 
  • Angelina's Teacup Sedum 
  • Hakone Grass
  • Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper
  • Japanese Holly
  • False Cypress
  • Lace Shrub
  • Yellow Yucca
  • Flax Lily
  • Flowering Quince
  • Bamboo


Dry River Bed Garden

Dry River Bed Garden

A Dry River Bed garden can take a long, winding, and/or narrow stretch of the yard and turn it into a living river of stone and green. With or without larger stones and rocks on either side to create the look of a riverbank, include a 'river' of fine pebbles or pea gravel down the center, or a ‘stream’ of colored stones to simulate water. Flat and straight, or winding and rambling down a hard-to-mow slope or hillside, the choice is yours.


Include spiky/upright plants, creeping groundcover plants, and graceful cascading plants that 'spill and flow' into the center of the 'stream' you've created. If you are designing on a hill or slope, include flat stones that span the center of the river bed to look like perfect places for a waterfall.

  Bergenia, bergenia cordifolia

  • Dazzleberry Sedum
  • Burgundy Glow Ajuga
  • Purple Haze Butterfly Bush
  • Firewitch Dianthus
  • Lamium Purple Dragon
  • Lucerne Grass
  • Ruby Falls Weeping Redbud
  • Bergenia
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Gro-Low or Autumn Amber Sumac


Southwestern/Desert/Cactus Garden

cactus garden

Most hardy cacti and desert/xeric plants are all the rage in areas like Colorado! Not just because of the dry soils and arid climate, but in the drought-stricken western US, it's easier to replace the lawn with native, water-wise, drought-tolerant plants!


Terra cotta, stones, sand, broken brick, crushed gravel, and pea gravel look great when combined with some desert-style or metal sculptures and statues. Include a rough mixture of big and medium stones mixed with sunbleached logs! Jagged shapes and raw rock keep the mood going!

  Flax Lily

  • Octopus Agave
  • Agave
  • Juniper
  • Sedum
  • Moonglow Mangave
  • Crested Cactus
  • Flax Lily
  • Cordyline
  • Echeveria Truffles
  • Yucca
  • Mondo Grass
  • Livingstone Daisy


The Rock Garden 

rock garden

A Rock or Boulder Garden, or Crevice Garden combines a tough area full of stones and rocks into a garden by planting among the obstacles, turning it into a stony oasis! Tall rocks in the center, smaller and medium stones skirting the edge, and plants tucked in between.


Rock Garden

  • Sedum
  • Succulents
  • Salvia
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Euphorbia
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Basket of Gold
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Purple Wood Spurge

rock garden photo

Crevice Garden

  • Hens-n-Chicks
  • Mixed Sedum Mat
  • Ice Plant
  • Coreopsis
  • Ghost Lamium
  • Bellflower
  • Whipcord Western Red Cedar
  • Sea Thrift
  • Germander


The Hell Strip

Hot and dry, with rough conditions, salt spray in the winter, occasional foot traffic, and tricky compacted ground, the Hell Strip between the road and sidewalk can be a harsh environment for any plant. Improving the soil, adding lots of mulch, and choosing low-growing plants that won’t block the view from your driveway or the road will help improve literal curb appeal.

  Boulevard median has flowers and trees

  • Blanket Flower
  • Golden Mop False Cypress
  • Hyssop
  • False Indigo
  • Coreopsis
  • Lilyturf (Liriope) If Shaded
  • Gaillardia
  • Yucca
  • Sea Holly
  • Potentilla Shrubs
  • Daylilies
  • Creeping Junipers - Bar Harbor
  • Gro-Low Sumac


Go Xeric!

Each year, you’ll be surprised with the time and money saved stemming from the lesser amount of watering due to the new and improved style of gardening adopted. 


But, the true beauty lies within a well-designed, beautiful drought-tolerant garden! Head over to Nature Hills to check out all our Drought Tolerant plants and Full Sun landscaping to turn any tricky location into your new favorite garden oasis!


Happy Planting!

Shop Drought Tolerant Plants Here

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