The purpose of this article is not to furnish an exhaustive list of drought-tolerant trees. Instead, my goal below is to alert homeowners to the diversity of choices available. That is, the noteworthy traits of the selections below run the gamut from great fall foliage to evergreen foliage to exceptional flowering exhibitions, and from towering giants to medium-sized plants to dwarfs. All hold up well under dry conditions once established but do need to be watered adequately as young plants.
You may wonder how some specimens manage to qualify for inclusion in a list of drought-tolerant trees, while others do not. Do the qualifiers possess certain beneficial traits that help them withstand dry conditions better? Are there common threads that run through some of the selections on this list? The answer on both counts is yes. The Warnell School of Forest Resources points to a few of these beneficial traits, citing:
- Leaves that use water efficiently
- Natural protective waxes on leaves
- Extensive root systems that are able to extract any available moisture from the soil
But while the reasons why particular mature specimens are able to survive dry conditions are of enormous interest to arborists, what the homeowner needs, primarily, are three things:
- A readable list of drought-tolerant trees, with pictures
- A selection that offers variety in terms of appearance, since not everyone has the same aesthetic tastes
- Links to further information that describe the selections in greater detail
I hope the information below meets these needs. If you would like to add to my selections, mentioning other examples that, based on your experience, qualify as strongly drought-tolerant trees, you can do so by posting in my Landscaping Forum.
What are the noteworthy traits of this ancient drought-tolerant tree? Let's begin with its fall color, which is revealed in the picture on your left. But I also value Ginkgo biloba (commonly called "maidenhair tree") for the exquisite fan-shape of its leaves. If you're already familiar with Ginkgo biloba and hate it, there's a good chance you're thinking of the female trees (this species is dioecious). The "fruit" produced by the females is messy, meaning that they don't make good street trees. But the same objection can't be leveled at the males, since they lack this undesirable feature. Maidenhair trees are also pollution-tolerant.
As with all the entries on this list, you can click the link above the picture to access more detailed information about maidenhair trees.
3. Red Maples
Another common plant name for red maple is "swamp maple." This fact could well lead you to believe that Acer rubrum is not a drought-tolerant tree. But don't be fooled: this is simply a case where the specimen in question is found in a wide range of habitats, representative of a variety of conditions. They boast a survival mechanism whereby they stop growing under dry conditions.
Of course, red maple is famed for being a standout fall-foliage tree. Assuming it is feasible to grow this plant in your landscape, it's a must-have if you harbor an appreciation for vibrant fall color.
You've heard me talk about fall foliage, but what about spring foliage? For some plants, the new leaves they put out in spring truly are more noteworthy than their fall leaves (even if only because striking spring foliage is rarer). Such is the case with Sunburst honey locust.
I mentioned the issue of messiness (or the lack thereof) above when introducing maidenhair trees. Sunburst honey locust is renowned for being a non-messy specimen, for the reasons I provide in my full article (click the link above the photo). Its non-messy nature and the fact that it is a drought-tolerant tree are two of the leading factors that make this plant an excellent street tree.
10. Mugo Pines
Mugo pine is another evergreen. More interesting, though, is the fact that it's the opposite of sumac (above), in the sense that it's technically a tree but gives every appearance of being a shrub. In fact dwarf mugo pine is so short that it functions effectively as a groundcover.
Return to Drought-Resistant Plants index.