16 Drought Tolerant Plants (+Herbs), So Your Outdoor Space Shines All Summer Long

The climate is something we tend to take for granted in Southern California. Summers are hot and beautiful, and winters are usually mild too! But everyone knows the weather is dry and that California water is expensive due to years of drought. That means focusing on drought tolerant plants is vital if you want to grow a beautiful yard or patio garden. Luckily, there are dozens of gorgeous flowering plants, shrubs, and grasses that grow and thrive in the dry SoCal heat.

Using drought tolerant plants in yards and patio gardens is important not only because they need less water. Plants that can tolerant droughts, especially native California species, help support local ecosystems too. By filling your yard or patio with these plants, you can create a beautiful space that also benefits local birds, butterflies, and bees! If you’ve been wondering what to plant, check out these drought tolerant plants for your Southern California garden.

drought tolerant plants southern california

1. Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

Beavertail cactus is popular in yards and containers, thanks to its distinctive flat leaves and large pink flowers. It grows up to 4’ in height and prefers well-drained soil, lots of sun, and little water.

drought tolerant plants southern california

2. Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

This small perennial grows to around 1’ in height and width, with small, deep blue flowers. It loves plenty of sun, but also does well in partial sun. Blue-eyed grass makes a great ground cover for yards, and it does equally well in containers.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: Ghislain118

3. California Fuschia (Zauschneria californica)

This hardy California native grows virtually anywhere, even in rocky crevices and cliffs. It produces masses of bright, red-orange flowers from July to November and needs very little attention. Hummingbirds love it, so this is a great one to plant if you want to attract birds to your yard or balcony. It does well in containers and grows up to 2’ high and 4’ wide.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: Stan Shebs

4. California Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

The California redbud is a medium-sized tree that loves lots of sun and blooms in the spring with clusters of small pink and magenta blossoms. Its blue-green leaves turn yellow-red in the fall, so it’s lovely all year round. It’s hardy and eye-catching, and is one of the more popular drought tolerant plants in Southern California’s parks and reserves. This one can grow to a height of 20’ with 15’ of width, so it needs plenty of space.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: Megan Hansen

5. Canyon Live-Forever (Dudleya cymosa)

An evergreen succulent that needs very little attention, it’s a great container plant as well as a good option for the yard. It reaches around 1’ in height and width and does well in a sunny position with well-drained soil. It produces red-orange flowers from spring through to early summer.

6. Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

This evergreen sage has gorgeous lavender flowers, but it’s the intense, spicy scent that makes the plant so special. Cleveland sage prefers full sun and very well-drained soil, and it grows well in containers as well as in the yard. It can reach around 4’ in height and width and is strongly attractive to hummingbirds.

7. Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis)

Coyote brush is an evergreen bush that makes excellent ground cover. It’s extremely drought tolerant and needs very little in the way of maintenance. It reaches 1’ to 3’ in height and up to 10’ in width.

drought tolerant plants southern california

8. Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana)

The Douglas Iris grows beautifully in containers or in the yard, with stunning deep blue or purple spring blooms. It prefers full sun but will also grow in partial sun. This iris grows to around 1’ high and 2’ wide.

9. Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

The Firecracker penstemon blooms in spring and summer with long stems of bright red flowers. Reaching up to 4’ hight and wide, it grows quickly, and hummingbirds love it. Like all penstemons, this one prefers well-drained, gravelly soil and a little water in the summer.

10. Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)

If you’d love to attract butterflies to your balcony or yard, plant some golden yarrow! This small shrub does well in containers and likes lots of sun. It produces clusters of bright yellow flowers between March and August. This one can grow up to 4’ tall and wide, so it needs a large pot if you’re planting it on your balcony or patio.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: Stan Shebs

11. Mesa Bushmallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus)

The Mesa Bushmallow sports pretty gray-green stems and leaves, with pink flowers in spring and summer. This shrub can get quite large—up to 10 feet high by 6 feet wide—so it’s best suited to a yard rather than a balcony.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: lienyuan lee

12. Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)

This large sage bush reaches a height of 3’. While it prefers a sunny spot, it can grow well in areas of partial shade. It has gray-green foliage and long spikes of purple flowers in summer and fall. It’s popular with both birds and butterflies and can grow equally well both in the yard and in large containers.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: brewbooks

13. Red Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens)

With clusters of dark pink blossoms from June to October, red buckwheat is a stunning plant that’s highly attractive to butterflies. It grows up to 2’ tall and is suitable for balcony containers as well as the yard.

drought tolerant plants southern california

14. Rockrose (Cistus sp.)

The Rockrose is incredibly hardy and needs very little attention once it’s established. It produces pink flowers in the spring and grows well in both containers and in the yard. Rockrose varieties grow to a height of around 1’ and up to 3’ wide. It’s great for ground cover.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: peganum

15. Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)

This perennial shrub produces stunning flowers in shades of lavender, pink, and purple from April to June. The flowers are highly attractive to hummingbirds and grow on tall spikes that can reach up to 3’ in height. This plant prefers full sun, but it can do well in partial sun too.

drought tolerant plants southern california

Credit: Bill Bouton

16. White Mariposa Lily (Calochortus venustus)

This drought tolerant Southern California native blooms from May to July with colorful flowers ranging from white to yellow to dark red and purple. The plant reaches 1’ in height and is about 2’ wide.

Cultivate a Drought-Tolerant Herb Garden

An herb garden can make a great addition to your patio or yard, too. There are many herbs that grow well in the Southern California climate, and they add both visual beauty and sweet, spicy scents to your garden. Many herbs also attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies and repel mosquitoes and other pests.

Here are a few herbs that do well in a hot, dry climate:

  • Italian parsley is the most drought tolerant parsley species and is preferred for cooking. Look for Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum, a variety with broad, flat leaves.
  • Lavender has a wonderful scent and doesn’t need heavy watering. Lavendular angustifolia Munstead is a great culinary lavender, with sweet-smelling flowers and a citrusy flavor.
  • Sage thrives in dry climates. The common Salvia officinalis variety of sage is the most popular for culinary purposes.
  • Rosemary has a beautiful spicy-sweet smell, and it’s a popular landscaping plant. For cooking, choose varieties such as Rosemary officinalis Tuscan Blue or Spice Island.
  • Thyme is easy to grow and is especially great in containers. It makes good groundcover for yards too. Choose English or French thyme if you want to grow it for cooking. Or go for a lemon thyme, such as Silver King or Silver Queen.
  • Oregano is another drought-tolerant herb that is great for cooking. Choose a variety such as Origanum heracleoticum or Origanum viride, or choose Origanum x majoricum for a sweeter option.

Drought Tolerant plants southern california

Whether your Millenia home has a balcony or a yard, planting a garden can bring you a lot of joy. We’re so lucky to live in Southern California! By adding drought tolerant native plants to your garden, you’ll create your own little piece of paradise. You’ll also attract all kinds of birds and butterflies, helping the local ecosystem!