15 Drought-Tolerant Groundcovers for Low-Maintenance Beauty

fire witch dianthus silver-leaf plant
Photo: Lynn Karlin 

Choosing plants that don't need much water can help you create a low-maintenance landscape. These tough, low-growing perennials will look beautiful (many even bloom) without requiring you to break out the hose or turn on the sprinklers.

01 of 15

Winecup

Pink and purple flowers in field
Kritsada Panichgul

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 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.

Test Garden Tip: Winecup develops a thick taproot so it can be hard to transplant. Plant it where you want it to remain.

Light: Full sun

Size: To 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Winecup Flower Seeds (from $3, Etsy)

02 of 15

Moss Phlox

Yellow and purple flowers
Bob Stefko

Carpet sunny spots in your landscape with moss phlox. Growing just 6 inches tall, this plant 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 likes well-drained soil that doesn't stay muddy after heavy storms. It's also deer-resistant.

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

Light: Full sun

Size: To 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

03 of 15

Sedum 'Angelina'

angelina sedum
Blaine Moats

You can't go wrong with 'Angelina' sedum. This extra-easy perennial thrives in hot, sunny locations, even in the cracks in a dry stack stone wall. 'Angelina' develops tidy, 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. 'Angelina' looks especially at home in a rock garden, but also makes a good "filler" plant in hanging baskets and window boxes.

Test Garden Tip: For best effect, plant 'Angelina' in large masses or drifts where its color will take center stage.

Light: Full sun

Size: To 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 5-8

04 of 15

Sunset Rock Rose

Pink Sunset rockrose
Denny Schrock

A profusion of papery fuchsia flowers appear among rock rose's sage-green, evergreen leaves in spring. This perennial is drought- and heat-tolerant and does best in well-drained soil. Deer will pass it by, too. Rock rose spreads vigorously, sprawling 6-8 feet wide, but it can be pruned to the size you need. It also has a low-fuel volume so can be used in firescaping (landscaping with fire-resistant plants around your home to help protect from wildfires).

Test Garden Tip: Prune back rock rose after it flowers to maintain its shape.

Light: Full sun

Size: 2-3 feet tall and 8 feet wide

Zones: 8-10

05 of 15

Epimedium

epimedium, barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat
Marty Baldwin

One of the best groundcovers for dry, shady spots, epimedium (occasionally called barrenwort or 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. It 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.

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

Light: Part to full shade

Size: To 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

06 of 15

Periwinkle

coneflower leaves
Jeff McNamara

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 first though, so give moderate water until root systems are established. Periwinkle can become overly exuberant in some areas of the country, so be sure to check if it is considered invasive in your region before planting.

Test Garden Tip: Place your mower on a high setting and mow periwinkle after it blooms to keep it thick and lush.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Size: To 6 inches tall and 18 inches wide

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Periwinkle ($16, Etsy)

07 of 15

Prostrate Rosemary

Close up of rosemary
Marty Baldwin

Not only does prostrate rosemary make a top-notch groundcover for dry, sunny locations, it also excels in the kitchen where its 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 drought-tolerant groundcovers produce nectar-rich, light purple flowers that appear from mid-summer to early fall and attract butterflies and bees. 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.

Test Garden Tip: Prune plants back once or twice a year to encourage new, more compact growth.

Light: Full sun

Size: To 6 inches tall and 3 feet wide

Zones: 8-10

08 of 15

Wooly Thyme

Rocks and koi pond
Rob Cardillo

Wooly thyme makes a dense groundcover in dry, sunny locations. This pretty sun-worshipper grows only 2-4 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. This tough herb does best in poor soil that drains quickly after a rain. The plants will sulk and rot in wet soil. Use wooly thyme between stepping-stones or along a garden path where it's protected from harsh winter weather. Note that wooly thyme is not a culinary variety.

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

Light: Full sun

Size: To 4 inches tall and 1 foot wide

Zones: 4-8

09 of 15

Ostrich Fern

Green ferns around bridge
Kindra Clineff

Although they prefer moist soil, ostrich ferns are surprisingly drought-tolerant groundcovers. These vigorous shade dwellers 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 rain returns.

Test Garden Tip: Mulch young plants to preserve soil moisture and encourage stronger root systems.

Light: Full sun to full shade

Size: To 2 feet tall and 8 feet wide

Zones: 3-7

Buy It: Tennessee Ostrich Fern ($8, Breck's)

10 of 15

Blue Fescue

blue fescue silver-leaf plant
Andrew Drake

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 garden border or walkway, blue fescue looks good all season, and produces demure, buff-color flowers in late summer. This evergreen groundcover can stand up to the hottest summers and still look fresh and beautiful. Use in dry streambeds, green roofs, or rock gardens.

Test Garden Tip: Plant in groups as an easy-care groundcover.

Light: Full to part sun

Size: To 1 foot tall and 9 inches wide

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Elijah Blue Fescue Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

11 of 15

Ice Plant

Purple ice plant
Edward Gohlich

Despite its name, ice plant likes it hot, thriving in challenging spots like a dry, sunny slope, in a rock garden, or cascading off the edge of a green roof. This plant has needlelike succulent foliage that grows low to the ground, and in late spring and early summer, it unfurls purple-pink, daisylike flowers.

Test Garden Tip: Ice plant does best in poor soil. Avoid feeding this plant.

Light: Full sun

Size: To 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 6-10

12 of 15

'Voodoo' Sedum

Close up of Sedum ‘Voodoo’
Peter Krumhardt

No matter what Mother Nature throws its way, 'Voodoo' sedum takes it in stride. This super-hardy perennial groundcover can handle hot summers, cold winters, drought, deer, and rabbits. 'Voodoo' will seem to magically spread over any open, sunny spot in your landscape, even in hard-to-plant locations such as along a driveway or sidewalk. The plants have rounded reddish-green leaves and rose-red flowers in late summer and early fall.

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

Light: Full sun

Size: To 6 inches tall and 36 inches wide

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: 'Voodoo' Sedum ($11, Etsy)

13 of 15

Dianthus 'Firewitch'

fire witch dianthus silver-leaf plant
Lynn Karlin 

This butterfly magnet is one of the longest flowering perennials, blooming for 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.

Test Garden 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.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Size: To 8 inches tall and 1 foot wide

Zones: 3-10

14 of 15

Snow-in-Summer

White flowers over stones
Lynn Karlin

Poor, dry soil? It's no problem for snow-in-summer. This tough-as-nails 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 a drought-tolerant groundcover, this fast-growing perennial is not a favorite for deer and rabbits. It's one of the easiest-care perennial groundcovers.

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

Light: Full sun

Size: To 1 foot tall and wide

Zones: 3-10

Buy It: Snow-in-Summer Seeds ($2, Etsy)

15 of 15

Creeping Mahonia

Purple creeping mahonia
Denny Schrock

An ideal option for erosion control, this shrubby evergreen groundcover grows well in shaded areas. After planting, keep it watered the first year to help get it established, but from then on, it will tolerate drier conditions. Use as a border or groundcover in a woodland garden and enjoy yellow flowers in spring followed by blue-black berry clusters.

Test Garden Tip: Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help conserve soil moisture and discourage weeds.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Size: To 1 foot tall and 36 inches wide

Zones: 5-8

Buy It: Mahonia Rooted Shrub Plant ($10, Etsy)

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles