The 12 Best Drought Tolerant Plants in Phoenix

Posted by Joseph Barnes on Jun 26, 2024 11:04:44 AM

100-degree days and a mere eight inches of annual rainfall are two major reasons to go all in on drought-tolerant plants in Phoenix, AZ. Plants that require large amounts of precious water to survive desert climates put a strain on area resources, waste property owners’ money, and are perilously unsustainable. 

However, there are plenty more reasons why plants suited for desert climates are a must. We’ll touch on those reasons as we list our top 12 plant suggestions below, but it’s best to note governmental guidelines for drought-tolerant landscapes:

  • Use smart irrigation controllers that adjust watering schedules based on weather data and plant water needs 
  • Install rain sensors to bypass irrigation events when rainfall has occurred 
  • Utilize drip irrigation systems (more efficient than sprinklers)
  • Select drought-tolerant, low-water-use plants 
  • Group plants with similar water needs together in irrigation zones
  • Water in the early morning to minimize evaporation 
  • Adjust irrigation run times to match seasonal temperature and rainfall changes
  • Regularly check irrigation system for leaks and wasted overspray onto hardscapes 
  • Convert water-needy turf to xeriscape (residential incentive program for this begins in 2025)

You can also request a free commercial water consultation from the city of Phoenix. Yellowstone Landscape designers and other members of our teamcertified by local smart water organizations are also happy to answer your smart irrigation questions.

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The Best Drought-Tolerant Plants For Phoenix

Below is the overall list. Then, we’ll get to the unique aspects of each plant.

  1. Lantana
  2. Red birds of paradise
  3. Bear grass
  4. Outback sunrise emu
  5. Arizona ash
  6. Palo verde 
  7. Red push pistache
  8. Chocolate flower
  9. Globemallow
  10. Golden barrel 
  11. Hedgehog cactus
  12. Century plant 

A bonus plant we’ll add to the mix is the Yellow hesperaloe. 

Now, to lead us into the details of our list, we’ll take a brief look at how punishing an environment Phoenix is for commercial landscapes.

Understanding The Southwest Climate

Did you know Phoenix endures more sunlight exposure than any major city on Earth? It’s true. Combine those 3,872 hours of bright sunshine annually with 111 days of 100-degree temps (on average), and the significant challenges for Phoenix green spaces are obvious.

Add to that, most of the rainfall that does arrive is limited to a short stretch during the summer monsoon season. Conventional gardens and landscapes often require excess watering, even in ideal climates—so their survival chances in this harsh Southwest desert are minimal. The chances of flourishing are zero.

That’s why drought-tolerant plants chosen specifically for Phoenix’s climate are the perfect solution for commercial landscapes. Let’s take a closer look at our top plant choices.

Detailed List Of Drought-Tolerant Plants For Phoenix

(Includes shrubs, grasses, trees, perennials, cacti, and agave options)


1. Lantana 

Lantana plants hold their own in the most extreme heat and driest conditions once they’re established. The added benefit of the vibrant blooms arriving in shades of yellow, orange, and red is that butterflies and hummingbirds find them irresistible. These plants fit in with Phoenix commercial landscapes in need of border plant elements and ground cover. Perhaps the most incredible feature of Lantana? One study showed that Lantana's pollen remains viable at extreme temperatures, highlighting its reproductive heat-tolerance.

2. Red Birds Of Paradise

Unique plants never cease to amaze and this drought-tolerant species proves this again with its resemblance to nature's feathered friends. Red birds of paradise show off their brilliance in your choice of red, orange, or yellow flowers. However, they offer more than color appeal as the fern-like greenery can be a creative way to add texture to Southwestern landscapes. This lovely shrub has no heavy irrigation needs and can tolerate full sun.

3. Bear Grass

This grass is native to Arizona’s desert area, meaning it has maximum sustainable benefits and hardiness. Drought and extreme heat are elements that this plant calls home so it naturally flourishes in commercial landscapes in Phoenix. It produces lovely white cone shapes to accent the spikey grass blades, which give garden spots a linear look while blending in texture. Bear grass’s resilient underground rootstalks can survive wildfires, allowing the plant to quickly regrow. It’s often the first plant to show signs of life after a devastating fire.

4. Outback Sunrise Emu 

Outback sunrise emu ornamental grasses add stunning color and swaying movement to dry commercial landscapes. Once this attractive plant is well-established, watering needs dramatically decrease, and it will thrive in full sun or reflected heat (a consideration near HVAC units and vehicles). These waterwise ornamentals produce foliage ranging from green to red to yellow. Most property owners don’t realize this drought-tolerant plant can add creative functionality to Phoenix landscapes. They can be used as a “living mulch,” reducing weeds beneath taller plants such as cacti, plus they’re often used for erosion control on slopes.

5. Arizona Ash

A trifecta of benefits awaits with the Arizona ash as it provides aesthetic value, wind resistance, and healthy shade. This native Southwestern tree saves natural water resources once it has taken root and provides a beautiful addition to commercial landscapes, parks, HOA communal areas, and more. Another benefit is the reduced need for commercial tree trimming once it matures since this low-maintenance tree is resistant to many harmful elements besides dry climates. A rarely considered bonus to installing an Arizona ash is its appeal to surrounding butterfly species.

6. Palo Verde 

Another terrific native option for drought-resistant commercial landscapes in the Phoenix area is the Palo verde. This tree opens up new life in the spring, with its low-maintenance branches producing sunny yellow flowers. This beauty has a naturally sculpted form that’s as eye-pleasing and unique as the tree’s texture. And when the goal is cool spaces for people to escape the heat, you can’t go wrong with this iconic desert tree. It provides ample shade while not soaking up water that could be needed by other landscape elements.

7. Red Push Pistache 

The Red push pistache is perhaps the best evidence for reversing misconceptions about conventional landscaping being more attractive than sustainable landscapes. “Exhibit A” is the rounded canopy showing off a dignified look, and every time fall rolls around, you get treated to a blaze of evolving red and orange leaves. Not only is this remarkable tree drought-tolerant, it’s ideal if you’re worried about foundation problems, as its roots dive deep versus spreading endlessly like other trees. 

8. Chocolate Flower

You can raise your expectations for fantastic desert blooms with the Chocolate flower, known for blooming from spring all the way to fall. This native perennial loves the scorching, arid Southwestern climate and pollinators love this plant’s flowers, which have a similar look to daisies. A more adaptable plant for Arizona landscapes is hard to find since the Chocolate flower fits perfectly in rock gardens, containers, wildflower meadows, and borders.

9. Globemallow 

Drought-tolerant and one of the easiest desert plants to grow and keep alive year after year, the Globemallow is very popular among our landscape designers. Also setting this Phoenix perennial apart is the striking silvery foliage alongside red flowers that nature molds into tiny cup-shaped designs. Whether you have this versatile perennial installed as an easily-maintained groundcover or let it trail over retaining walls, you’ll be saving water for other community needs.

10. Golden Barrel 

This appealing plant is a slow-growing cactus that can take decades to reach full size. That’s a benefit in and of itself because “decades” means you’re adding a sustainable plant with incredible longevity. Unsustainable landscapes are measured in years, not decades. Plus, Golden barrels have one of the most remarkable spherical shapes you’ll find anywhere in the U.S. This drought-tolerant specimen produces lovely yellow flowers up to four inches wide and is perfect as a centerpiece planting or commercial landscapes with distinctive desert themes. 

11. Hedgehog Cactus  

Why do top Phoenix landscapes feature the Hedgehog cactus? It’s native to the Sonoran Desert, needs no supplemental water, and attracts attention with its extraordinarily dense spines. Commercial property managers often request this cactus for new xeriscapes, when extra ground cover is needed, or for container garden additions. It saves tons of water resources and is about as low-maintenance as a plant gets. Not to mention the critical role this bee food source plays in enhancing biodiversity in harsh desert ecosystems that need every advantage. 

12. Century Plant

This agave family member is a standout succulent with a color that admirers can’t get enough of, with the blue-green leaves nicely contrasting desert sand tones. It has low water needs and is heat- and drought-tolerant, making it ideal for commercial landscapes in the Southwest. The aspect that sets the Century plant apart, above all else? The allure of its uncanny shape makes the case for utilizing one-of-a-kind sustainable plants that conventional landscapes often ignore.

Bonus: Yellow Hesperaloe

A cool breeze meandering through the Yellow hesperaloe will have people taking notice of this remarkable succulent in motion. The base is a perfectly formed collection of evergreen leaves, giving way to tall spikes of tubular flowers colored by a calming yellow hue. It’s genetically built to thrive in hot, dry climates, and its deer-resistant DNA means you’ll have fewer worries about wildlife damage. This final plant on our list has a multitude of installation options, including containers, accent planting, borders, and desert garden additions. 



Our top choices for drought-tolerant plants in Phoenix landscapes should give you more avenues for improving your green spaces and enhancing their sustainability. Please be aware, though, that the plants we listed are just the tip of the iceberg.

Each one can branch off into other unique and attractive plant ideas in similar categories, opening up endless potential and extending your options for commercial landscaping projects. And when you work with Yellowstone Landscape designers at our Phoenix branch, you’ll gain access to certified smart water professionals. 

We’ll help you save on utilities, navigate governmental water-efficiency requirements, and you’ll get access to our design expertise for drought-tolerant landscapes that are as appealing as any conventional landscaping. 

Schedule a consultation today.

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Joseph Barnes

About The Author

Joseph Barnes

Joseph Barnes has served as Marketing Manager of Yellowstone Landscape since 2013. He writes on a variety of topics related to the commercial landscaping industry.