Drought-Tolerant Groundcovers

Plants that don't require much water benefit gardeners in numerous ways. This is especially true for gardeners who live in areas with watering restrictions and those who travel frequently. Regardless of your reason, choosing perennial groundcovers that don't need a lot of care (or water) are a great way to have a low-maintenance garden. Consider adding these tough and non-thirsty beauties to your landscape.

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  • 1 of 19

    Winecup

    Native to the Midwest prairie, winecup forms thick mats of finely cut foliage and cup-shape, poppylike, magenta flowers from late spring to early fall. In the wild, winecup can be found growing on rocky outcrops and along roadsides, which proves that this tough little perennial can survive poor soil and scant rainfall. The plants grow 6 to 12 inches tall and have a tendency to sprawl, so try them along a garden path, in a raised bed, or in a rock garden.  Winecup will not tolerate wet, mucky soil.

    Care tip: Winecup develops a thick taproot so it can be hard to transplant. Plant it where you want it to remain.

    Name: Callirhoe involucrata
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     4-8

  • 2 of 19

    Moss Phlox

    Carpet sunny spots in your landscape with moss phlox. Growing just 6 inches tall, moss phlox forms a dense mat of dark-green needle-like foliage that's topped with blue, violet, pink, or white star-shaped flowers in early spring. Moss phlox spreads slowly (so it's not invasive) and prefers a well-drained soil that doesn't remain muddy after heavy storms. In our Better Homes and Gardens Test Gardens, we've discovered this creeping beauty seems to prefer low hillsides or slopes where runoff drains quickly. It's also deer resistant.

    Care tip: Space plants about 12 inches apart and, in a few years, you'll have a thick, easy-care alternative to lawn grass.

    Name: Phlox subulata
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     3-9

  • 3 of 19

    Sedum ‘Angelina’

    You can’t go wrong with ‘Angelina’ sedum. This extra-easy perennial thrives in hot, sunny locations, spreads quickly, and looks great all season long. ‘Angelina’ grows 4 to 6 inches tall and develops lovely needle-like chartreuse foliage highlighted by bright yellow flowers throughout the summer. It's deer and rabbit resistant and can go weeks without receiving a drop of moisture. Use ‘Angelina’ to carpet bare spots along a walkway or drive, in a rock garden, or in raised beds. ‘Angelina’ also makes a great “filler” plant in hanging baskets and window boxes.

    Care tip: For best effect, plant ‘Angelina’ in large masses or drifts where its color will take center stage.

    Name: Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     5-8

  • 4 of 19

    Sunset Rock Rose

    Rock rose is a beauty! It features sage-green, evergreen leaves dotted with a profusion of papery fuchsia flowers. This spring-blooming, low-growing shrub grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Rock rose is drought and heat tolerant and does best in well-drained soil. Deer will pass it by, too. Rock rose spreads vigorously, sprawling 6 to 8 feet wide, but it can be pruned to the size you need. It has a low-fuel volume so can be used in firescaping.

    Care tip: Prune back rock rose after it flowers to maintain its shape.

    Name: Cistus pulverulentus
    Light: 
    Sun
    Type:
     Shrub
    Zones:
     7-10

  • 5 of 19

    Spanish Lavender

    As fragrant as it is colorful, Spanish lavender is probably the most drought-resistant member of the lavender family. Growing 18 to 24 inches tall, Spanish lavender develops numerous purple or pink blooms, each one with flag-like bracts at the tip. Butterflies and bees love to feast on the nectar-rich flowers. Plus, whenever it's brushed or rubbed, the gray-green foliage of Spanish lavender gives off a rich, piney fragrance. Unlike its English cousins, Spanish lavender is not considered a culinary plant. Use Spanish lavender in rock or seaside gardens or massed in the landscape.

    Care tip: Clip away flowers as they fade to keep the plant looking tidy.

    Name: Lavendula stoechas
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones
    : 8-11

  • 6 of 19

    Epimedium

    One of the best groundcovers for dry, shady spots, epimedium (occasionally called barrenroot) is available in a number of varieties that produce heart-shape leaves in an array of colors and pretty pendulous blooms in lavender, yellow, or white. Epimedium grows 12 to 18 inches tall and spreads slowly through your garden -- and doesn't mind growing under tall trees. In warmer parts of its range, epimedium retains its foliage through the winter. The plants are also deer and rabbit resistant.

    Care tip: In the early spring, before new growth begins, cut back any foliage that remains from the previous season.

    Name: Epimedium sp.
    Light:
     Shade
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     5-8

  • 7 of 19

    Periwinkle

    One of the most reliable (and popular!) groundcovers, periwinkle grows about 6 inches tall and spreads practically forever. Vigorously vining, this groundcover bears glossy green or variegated leaves. Choose blue or white flowering varieties. Periwinkle forms a dense, evergreen mat and will grow happily in dry shade; the plants need to be well established to do so, so give moderate water until root systems are established. Periwinkle is a good option for planting at the base of trees with shallow roots. This plant is also known as myrtle or creeping myrtle.

    Care tip: Place your mower on a high setting and mow periwinkle after it blooms to keep it thick and lush.

    Name: Vinca minor
    Light: 
    Sun, Part Sun, Shade
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     4-9

  • 8 of 19

    Prostrate Rosemary

    Talk about versatile! Not only does prostrate rosemary make a top-notch ground cover for dry, sunny locations, it also excels in the kitchen where its pungent foliage can be used in a wide variety of recipes. Prostrate rosemary forms low-growing, twisted branches that rarely get over 6 inches tall. The plants are drought tolerant and produce nectar-rich, violet-lavender flowers that attract beneficial bees and butterflies. The flowers appear from mid-summer to early fall. Use prostrate rosemary in raised beds and rock gardens or along the edges of a pathway. Northern gardeners should grow prostrate rosemary in containers and move the plants indoors when freezing weather threatens.

    Care tip: Prune plants back once or twice a year to encourage new, more compact growth.

    Name: Rosmarius officinalis 'Prostratus'
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     8-10

  • 9 of 19

    Woolly Thyme

    Woolly thyme makes a wonderful groundcover in dry, sunny locations. This pretty sun-worshipper grows only 2 to 4 inches tall, but its gray-green fuzzy leaves and pale pink flowers pack a big impact in the garden. The nectar-rich flowers are also attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Woolly thyme does best in poor soil that drains quickly after a rain. The plants will sulk and die if forced to live in wet soil. Use woolly thyme between stepping-stones or along a garden path where it’s protected from harsh winter weather. Woolly thyme is not a culinary variety.

    Care tip: In the Northern part of its range, protect young plants by lightly covering them with pine boughs during the winter.

    Name: Thymus pseudolanuginosus
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     5-8

  • 10 of 19

    Ostrich Fern

    Although they prefer moist soil, ostrich ferns are surprisingly drought tolerant. These vigorous shade dwellers grow 3 to 6 feet tall and spread by underground roots, eventually forming large, thick colonies. Ostrich fern is prized for its feathery, finely cut fronds that unfurl gracefully in the early spring. Use ostrich fern in woodland gardens or shaded hillsides. During periods of drought, ostrich fern won’t grow as tall or spread as quickly, but will survive until the rains return.

    Care tip: Mulch young plants to preserve soil moisture and encourage stronger root systems.

    Name: Matteuccia struthiopteris
    Light:
     Shade
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     3-7

  • 11 of 19

    Blue Fescue

    A beautiful addition to any garden, low-growing blue fescue grass provides colorful blue-hued stems that grow in an attractive mound. Ideal for edging a border or walkway, blue fescue looks good all season, and produces buff flowers in late summer. This evergreen groundcover can stand up to the hottest summers and still look fresh and beautiful. Plants grow 8 to 12 inches tall and provide year-round interest in the garden. Use in dry streambeds, green roofs, or rock gardens.

    Care tip: Plant en masse as an easy-care groundcover. Blue fescue’s adaptable good looks are at home in every type of garden from Asian to modern to country. 

    Name: Festuca glauca
    Light:
     Sun
    Type: 
    Perennial
    Zones:
     4-11

  • 12 of 19

    Catmint

    Long blooming and beautiful, catmint is a gorgeous choice for any drought-tolerant garden. For gardeners who covet blue hues in their beds and borders, catmint delivers clouds of brilliant blue flower spires in late spring. It keeps blooming nearly all summer. There are many varieties of catmint; some are low growing and others are taller, so there is one to fit in any gardening space. Catmint also features white- and pink-flowering varieties.

    Care tip: When catmint stops blooming, shear back plants to encourage an additional flowering spurt.

    Name: Nepeta
    Light:
     Sun, Partial Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     4-9

  • 13 of 19

    Ice Plant

    Ice plant excels nearly anywhere you plant it: On a slope, in a rock garden, or cascading off the edge of a green roof. This plant’s needlelike succulent foliage and frilly, daisylike flowers make it a beautiful groundcover that grows happily in sunny spots. In late spring and early summer, purple-pink flowers unfurl. This low-growing plant (under 6 inches tall) spreads into 1- to 2-foot-thick mats, creating a lush carpet.

    Care tip: Ice plant does best in poor soil. Avoid feeding this plant.

    Name: Delosperma cooperi
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     5-10

  • 14 of 19

    Sedum ‘Voodoo’

    No matter what Mother Nature throws its way, Sedum ‘Voodoo’ takes it in stride. This super-hardy perennial groundcover can handle hot summers, cold winters, drought, deer, and rabbits. ‘Voodoo’ grows 3 to 6 inches tall and will magically spread over any open, sunny spot in your landscape. The plants have rounded reddish-green leaves and rose-red flowers in late summer and early fall. Colorful butterflies will also brighten your garden as they feast on the plant’s delicious flowers. Use ‘Voodoo’ in hard-to-plant locations such as along a driveway or sidewalk. Once established, you won’t have to worry about this plant at all.

    Care Tip: Dig and divide plants in the early spring if you want to move Voodoo to other locations.

    Name: Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’
    Light:
      Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     3-8

  • 15 of 19

    Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

    This butterfly magnet is one of the longest flowering perennials -- up to 4 weeks. Stunning pink flowers with fringed edges cover each plant. Dianthus, also called pinks, are members of the carnation family and have a pleasant clove-like fragrance. 'Firewitch' loves normal to sandy soils and easily tolerates hot dry summers. Plants grow in spreading low mats, reaching 10 to 12 inches tall.

    Care tip: After the plants have bloomed, shear off the faded flowers and stems (a couple inches off the top). New foliage will grow, making plants more attractive.

    Name: Dianthus gratianopolitanus
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     3-9

  • 16 of 19

    Coreopsis

    The cheerful, daisylike flowers of coreopsis are a welcome treat when they burst into bloom throughout the summer. Coreopsis are available in a wide variety of sizes and colors, but they all share their love for hot, sunny conditions where they will slowly form large clumps or drifts. Most coreopsis varieties grow 18 to 24 inches tall and will attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden. Coreopsis prefers well-drained soil that sheds moisture quickly after heavy storms.

    Care tip: Clip coreopsis back to the ground after the first killing frost. Dig and divide the plants every few years to keep them vigorous.

    Name: Coreopsis sp.
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     3-9

  • 17 of 19

    Snow-in-Summer

    Poor, dry soil? It’s no problem for snow-in-summer. This indomitable groundcover forms a low-growing mat of gray-green leaves that are smothered with starry white flowers in late spring and early summer. Snow-in-summer excels in sandy or clay soils. In addition to being drought tolerant, this fast-growing perennial is also deer and rabbit resistant. It’s one of the easiest-care perennial groundcovers.

    Care tip: Use snow-in-summer in rock walls, as erosion control on slopes, and in containers that can take neglect.

    Name: Cerastium tomentosum
    Light:
     Sun
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     1-9

  • 18 of 19

    Creeping Mahonia

    An ideal option for erosion control, this shrubby evergreen groundcover reaches 18 to 24 inches tall and spreads 3 to 4 feet wide. Creeping mahonia excels in shaded areas that have dry soil. They are often used as firescaping groundcovers because they are evergreen.  Use as a border or groundcover in a woodland garden and enjoy yellow flowers in spring followed by blue-black berry clusters. To help them excel in dry areas, water well after planting in the first season so plants establish sufficient roots.

    Care tip: Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help conserve soil moisture and discourage weeds.

    Name: Mahonia repens
    Light:
     Shade
    Type:
     Perennial
    Zones:
     5-9

  • Next Slideshow The Best Perennial Plants for Shade

    The Best Perennial Plants for Shade

    Brighten up sheltered spots in your landscape with these easy-to-grow, colorful shade plants that come back year after year.
    Begin Slideshow »
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