Gardening | Drought Tolerant Gardening

Choose drought resistant plants for more color without using a lot of water.

Water! That’s my first thought when I see areas around my town landscaped with Kentucky bluegrass and plants that demand well-moistened roots. That’s fine in areas with sufficient rainfall (or incredibly cheap water rates). But here in the arid Southwest, water is a precious commodity.

To help educate people in this area about “water-wise gardening”—also called “Xeriscaping” (xeri is Greek for dry)—the Moab Information Center in Utah offers visitors a showcase of plants that can create a colorful garden without extensive watering. The center’s educational garden, which features drought-tolerant plants arranged in a pleasing and colorful way, was created by Janis Adkins of High Desert Gardens, a local nursery.

Many of the plants she selected share the same characteristics—broad root systems, small leaf sizes, waxy coatings on the leaf surfaces, spring growth, seed longevity and other unique traits that help them survive in sandy, rocky soil.

More Than Cactus

There are over 100 plants in the gardens. Surprisingly, most of them don’t belong to the cactus family! The display gardens cover 14,000 square feet and include many varieties of perennials, succulents and drought-resistant trees and shrubs. It’s clear gardeners have many choices.

Janis’ plan has been so effective the gardens are watered only once or twice a month-even in summer. The lawns at the center also fit the plan. Buffalograss and blue grama grass are used extensively because they require 60% less water than bluegrass does. They’re extremely drought-resistant because they’re native to the short-grass prairies of the Great Plains. Once established, these grasses need minimal watering and can be mowed or left to grow wild.

A Few Pointers

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Whether you live in a desert climate or just want to reduce your own water bill, Janis offers these tips for water-wise gardening:

  1. Plan before you plant. Group plants with similar water, sun and soil needs. Direct water runoff into planting beds.
  2. Choose plants that are drought-tolerant. Many are readily available at nurseries.
  3. Limit lawn areas and select native grasses.
  4. Mulch and improve soil with compost and other organic matter. This helps hold moisture.
  5. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to water deeply. Don’t overwater.
  6. Maintain landscape by mowing, pruning and controlling pests and weeds.

A Few Water-Wise Plants for Your Garden


  • Amaranth
  • California poppy
  • Coreopsis
  • Cosmos
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtium
  • Portulaca (moss rose)


  • Bearded Iris
  • Daylily
  • Evening primrose
  • Gaillardia (blanketflower)
  • Lamb’s ears
  • Liatris (gayfeather)
  • Mexican hat
  • Penstemon
  • Red-hot poker
  • Russian sage
  • Virginia creeper
  • Yarrow


  • Butterfly bush
  • Cotoneaster
  • Firethorn
  • Juniper
  • Smoke tree
  • Western redbud


  • Goldenrain tree
  • Hackberry
  • Locust
  • Oak
  • Sweet bay

(Note: Not all plants listed are hardy in all areas. Please check with your nursery or county Extension service before planting.)

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