Australia is a dry country, so your garden needs drought tolerant plants that make for a beautiful garden without lots of supplemental water. Thankfully, there are lots of options for full sun and shade, and there are even plenty of drought tolerant flowering plants that work well in Australian conditions.
Drought Tolerant Plants in Australia for Full Sun
Many Australian gardens get little water. But some drought tolerant plants prized overseas are invasive here. Choose from a selection of the best drought tolerant plants that'll suit your needs as an Aussie gardener for areas of your garden that get full sun.
Succulents are the quintessential drought tolerant plant, and they're very well suited to Australian garden conditions. Their thick, fleshy leaves store water for plants to use when rain showers are few and far between. And many produce bright flowers. They prefer well-drained soil and generally prefer full sun (though some species tolerate shade). Just don't plant any cacti from the Opuntioideae subfamily, as they're weeds here. To help you plant a beautiful drought tolerant garden with succulents, here's a great guide to landscaping with succulents.
With small purple flowers and velvety foliage, native Australian rosemary is a beautiful and drought tolerant plant for full sun areas. It also makes a great drought resistant hedging plant. Westringias prefer sandy, well-drained soil though they'll grow in most soil types. They also tolerate coastal conditions, frost and even exposed sites like roof-top gardens.
Stachys byzantina, or Lamb's ears, is an excellent choice for a drought tolerant sensory garden as the soft, almost fluffy leaves are wonderful to touch. It's also a great choice for a child's garden. Lamb's ears are frost-hardy and will tolerate even the poorest soil provided it's not too wet.
A bay tree is a good choice if you're looking for an edible drought tolerant plant for a sunny spot. The large, dark green, glossy leaves look beautiful on the large shrub and they smell even better. And you can add them to many casserole recipes for a super tasty dinner. As with many drought tolerant species, bay trees dislike wet soil. They also need protection from heavy frosts.
Drought Tolerant Shade Plants
For areas that don't get much sun, here are the best drought tolerant Australian natives.
Mat rush, or Lomandra longifolia, is an excellent choice if you're looking for a drought tolerant species for a partially shady spot. This grassy plant produces glossy, green leaves up to 1m long and about 2cm wide. The white flowers attract pollinating beetles. Unlike many drought tolerant species, Lomandra longifolia will grow in anything from sandy soil through to swamps.
Native violet, or Viola banksii, is an Australian native, evergreen, spreading perennial plant that makes the perfect groundcover for a dry, shady patch, even if it gets frosty. It'll even grow well in Canberra and cold alpine areas. The flowers are edible and are usually purple and white, though pure white and baby blue variants are available. Native violets prefer soil that drains freely.
Drought Tolerant Flowering Plants
Many people think of flowering plants as being incredibly thirsty. But here are some great flowering plants that are also drought tolerant.
Mountain banksia, or Banksia canei, produces the unique banksia flowers in shades of pinkish-purple and yellow. It's a very hardy, drought tolerant species that grows well in shady spots in cooler areas of Australia and is frost-hardy down to -8 °C. It needs soil with good drainage.
French and English lavender are hardy flowering plants that are perfect if you're looking for a drought tolerant, scented plant. The grey-green foliage perfectly complements the edible, usually purple flowers. (Varieties with light pink or white flowers are also available.) These perennials grow best in full sun in areas with well-drained soil and lower humidity. If you live in a humid area, Spanish lavender may be a better choice.
All callistemon species are hardy flowering shrubs that produce distinctive bottlebrush flowers in a variety of colours. Being Australian natives, they're a fantastic choice when you're looking for drought tolerant flowering plants. Most species are frost tolerant to some degree and will grow in pretty much any soil as long as it's not too alkaline.
All Correa species are drought tolerant flowering plants. Correas come in all shapes and sizes from ground cover to large shrub, so there's bound to be one that will suit your needs. Most correa species flower some time between May and November and will cope with any kind of soil and any amount of sun. However, they prefer sandy soil with good drainage and dappled morning sun.
The grevillea is yet another Australian native flowering plant that does well in low-water conditions. The distinctive flowers come in a range of colours from brilliant red through to cream. And like correas, grevilleas come in the full spectrum of sizes from species that are suitable as ground covers to trees that grow to 15 m. All grevilleas prefer full sun, though they'll tolerate some shade at the expense of vigour and flowers, and they need well-drained soil.
How to Spot Other Drought Tolerant Plants
Here are some tips for determining whether plants at your local nursery are drought hardy:
- Silver foliage reflects sunlight, keeping leaves cooler and reducing evaporation. So plants with silver leaves tend to need less water.
- Some leaves have a waxy coating that reduces evaporation. So plants with waxy leaves also tend to be drought hardy.
- Species with small leaves tend to need less water because the leaf surface area is smaller and holds a lower number of pores through which water can be lost.
- Plant species with phyllodes instead of normal leaves need less water because the phyllodes point straight down, minimising the amount of sun they're exposed to. (Phyllodes are a specialised plant part. They fulfil the same role as leaves, but they're actually flattened leaf stalks.) Most Australian acacia species have phyllodes.
- Species with thick, fleshy leaves or stems that can hold lots of water are the epitome of drought hardy plants. Succulents are the most well-known example, however, hakeas tend to have thick, fleshy leaves too. The Queensland bottle tree is an example of an Australian native species with a large stem.
- Some plants have a lump at or just below ground level, called a lignotuber, which can store food and water, making them drought tolerant. Many eucalyptus trees fall into this category.
- Plants that produce underground tubers or rhizomes tend to be more drought resistant because they can store extra water and food in their specialised roots.
Tips for Landscaping With Drought Tolerant Plants
Just because these plants are drought tolerant, doesn't mean you can plant them in the middle of a desert and expect them to thrive. Here's how you can grow the most beautiful and lowest maintenance garden with drought tolerant plants:
- Water new plants regularly until they've settled into their new homes in your garden as many plants are only drought tolerant once established and won't survive transplant on minimal water
- Mulch with plenty of organic matter to protect plant roots from extreme temperature fluctuations and conserve soil moisture, so they need even less supplemental water - this is especially important if you've got sandy soil or really well drained soil
- Group plants with similar water requirements together, so you can give plenty of extra water to less hardy plants that don't tolerate drought conditions while still taking full advantage of the characteristics of your drought resistant species
- Don't assume all Australian native plants are drought tolerant as there are plenty that aren't, especially Australian rainforest plants
- Dig water retention channels around each garden bed to catch water runoff when it rains and funnel it into the soil around your plants, so your garden needs even less water
Make Sure It's Not an Invasive Species
And finally, if you've found another hardy plant that you'd love to grow, double check that it's not an invasive species in Australia or your state.