28 Low-Water Flowering Shrubs

Low-growing flowering shrubs become blankets of color while taller plants can frame entryways with blossoms

Lauren Dunec Hoang
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Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)

These tough shrubs have aromatic leaves and small, tubular flowers that hummingbirds can’t resist. Originally native to the South West and Mexico, S. greggii has been bred for flowers in a wide variety of colors ranging from purplish red to pink and white. Great selections include ‘Furman’s Red’, white ‘Alba’, and magenta ‘Ultra Violet’, as well as those in the Heatwave series which are particularly drought tolerant.

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Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa)

Native to Southern California, the Southwest, and Mexico, these dramatic desert plants have evolved to grow with hardly any water. In gardens, plant in gritty, quick-draining soil and only water during the hottest months of summer. White flowers resembling apple blossoms bloom in spring and summer, followed by feathery, pale-pink seed heads.

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Bottlebrush (Callistemon)

The elongated flower spikes of these Australian natives are surrounded by long, bristle-like stamens that give the plants their common name. Blooms are followed by woody capsules that can last for years. Species range in size from groundcover shrubs to 15-ft tall trees. Dwarf ‘Little John’ grows to 3 feet tall and wide and is a good variety for small gardens.

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With masses of papery, petal-like bracts in a range of vibrant colors, these shrubby vines are showstoppers in warm climates. The plants look right at home rambling over arbors or up stucco walls of Mediterranean- and California Mission-style houses. Many are susceptible to frost but will sprout again from undamaged wood.

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California wild lilac (Ceanothus)

These beloved California natives have an abundance of flowers that range from white through all shades of blue. The plants are generally evergreen, but some varieties can lose leaves in cold weather. Types with small leaves, such as C. ‘Dark Star’, tend to be deer-resistant. C. ‘Skylark’ is shown. Plants need fast-draining soil and can be very drought tolerant.

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Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)

These are tough, Mediterranean natives that endure poor, rocky soils. In garden settings, plant in well-draining soil as plants will suffer in overly wet conditions. The plant blooms almost year-round, bearing lavender-blue flower spikes at branch ends. The silvery leaves and pale purple flowers cool down hot color palettes in mixed borders.

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Bush poppy (Dendromecon harfordii)

Bright yellow flowers cover this California native in spring and early summer. A member of the poppy family, the blossoms have a characteristic poppy-like form. Plants make an excellent addition to seaside and sloped gardens and need little to no water once established.

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Cape plumbago (Plumbago auriculata)

These evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs grow in a mounding form, generally covered in white or sky blue flowers from spring through summer—or nearly all year in warm, frost-free locations. Native to South Africa, the plants are not fussy about soil type but must have good drainage. Not eaten by deer. ‘Royal Cape’ is shown.

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Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis)

Hot orange blooms form at the ends of twiggy branches of these South African plants. The rambling form and exuberant blooms give a very tropical feel to home gardens yet the plants need little water to look lush. Plants are also tolerant of wind, baking heat, and salt air and can be problem solvers in coastal gardens.

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Euryops (Euryops pectinatus)

This easy-care evergreen shrub, grown for its profuse show of cheerful yellow daisies over a long season, needs excellent drainage. Plant as a hedge, an accent in borders, or in containers. It thrives on buffeting ocean winds but is damaged by sharp frosts.

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Flannel bush (Fremontodendron)

Native to California woodlands and canyons, these plants need plenty of room to sprawl in home gardens or train as an espalier to keep compact. In spring, cup-shaped flowers cover the plant in gold. Flannel bushes are very drought tolearant but can be easily killed with over-watering, particularly in summer. Plant in quick draining soils and on slopes.

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Flowering quince (Chaenomeles)

One of the first plants to bloom each spring, flowering quince make a colorful statement in gardens while other many other plants are still dormant. Blossoms range from white, pale pink, to bright coral and red and branches can be cut and brought indoors. Plants are easy to grow and tolerant of cold winters and many types of soil.

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These evergreen Australian natives vary in size and appearance, but generally have fine-textured foliage and long, curved flowers, usually borne in dense clusters. Plants need little water to get established in home gardens and grow best with little to no irrigation in the summer. As with other members of the protea family, they can be sensitive to poor drainage and high phosphorous levels in the soil. Avoid high phosphorous fertilizers. G. ‘Superb’ is shown.

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Island snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa)

Native to the islands off the coast of Southern California and Mexico, Galvezia produce delicate red blooms almost year round in temperate climates. The blossoms are favorites of hummingbirds. In the garden, plant as an informal hedge and shear lightly once a year to shape the plant, which naturally grows with a spreading habit.

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Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

These cheerful, tropical American natives are most often used as ground-covers in home gardens. Frost can cause serious damage to plants; grow as annuals in cold winter regions. Flower color ranges from hot coral and orange to deep purple.

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Lavender (Lavandula)

With their fragrant blooms and totally unfussy nature, it’s no wonder lavenders have been grown for centuries. Flowers can be pale purple, violet, pink, or white and many varieties are intensely aromatic. In the garden, plant as an informal hedge, in mixed borders, as accents in containers, or in large masses for swaths of color. All varieties need well draining soil and low to moderate water.

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Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

A charming bloomer native to the Mediterranean, lavender cotton produces a carpet of rounded, button-like flowers in summer. The foliage is also attractive and aromatic when crushed. Plant along borders, allow to spill over rock walls, or use as a loose ground cover. S. c. ‘Pretty Carol’ is shown.

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Lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus)

This South African native can grow to 4-6 feet tall and wide tall and produces spikes of tubular orange flowers summer through fall. Once established, the tough plant needs little to no water but will look more lush with occasional irrigation. Plant in full sun with other low-water bloomers such as kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri), and woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum).

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Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense)

Although loropetalums require more water than most shrubs on this list, the plants deserve a mention for their usefulness in the garden. Originally native to China and Japan, the plants range from 1 to 10 feet tall with varieties that work well planted as ground covers, hedges, foundation plants, and small trees. All have white or pale pink or purple flowers with a flush of bloom in spring. Plant in part shade in hot inland areas, full sun elsewhere.

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Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)

This easy-care salvia from Mexico grows vigorously to 3-4 feet tall and 3-6 feet wide with velvety, grayish green leaves. Plants will often bloom for months, growing tall stems that bear purple or white flowers with purple calyxes. The blossoms provide a steady food source for hummingbirds.

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Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Once indispensable in Western gardens, oleander have been overused in parking lot medians and lost favor as backyard shrubs. Their tough nature and pretty blooms make the plants useful in home gardens as informal hedges or planted for screening. The plants can be problem solvers in areas with radiant heat, poor soil, and little water. The shrubs produce a profusion of blooms from late spring to fall, bearing 2–3-in.-wide, often fragrant flowers clustered at twig or branch ends. Blossom color ranges from white to shades of yellow, pink, salmon, and red. All parts of the plant are toxic. Wash hands thoroughly after pruning or handling the sap.

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Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)

These natives of Madiera, are show-stoppers in coastal gardens and thrive planted on slopes with quick drainage. Plants grow 5–6 ft. tall and 6–10 ft. wide, with many coarse, heavy branches. They produce dramatic spikes of bluish purple flowers in spring that bees love. Although relatively short-lived, they readily reseed if blooms are left on the plant.

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Red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Native to the coastal ranges of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Colombia, red flowering currant work well planted in woodland gardens. The shrub is deciduous with maple-like, dark green leaves. In spring, the plant produces drooping clusters of small deep pink to red flowers, followed by small, dark fruit in summer.

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These dense, compact shrubs are useful in gardens as hedges and foundation plants. Leaves are glossy and green year round and the plants produce profuse white to nearly red flowers from late fall or midwinter to late spring. Dark blue fruit follows but isn’t especially showy. New growth is often bronze and reddish.

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Rockrose (Cistus)

These carefree Mediterranean natives are blanketed with flowers from spring into early summer and often sporadically at other times of the year. Blooms come in white, cream, pink, magenta, and pale purple. Plants thrive in full sun with fast draining soil and can tolerate salt spray, poor soil, and desert heat. C. corbariensis ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is shown.

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Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)

Beautiful, translucent foliage and delicate flowers make these shrubs prized garden specimens. The common name is derived from dramatic puffs of “smoke” from fading flowers: as the tiny greenish blooms wither, they send out elongated stalks clothed in a profusion of fuzzy lavender-pink hairs. ‘Royal Purple’ holds its brownish leaf color through summer; ‘Grace’ has vibrant orange fall color.

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Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

This handsome evergreen plant native to California and Mexico grows as a dense shrub or a multitrunked small tree. Leathery dark green leaves are edged with bristly, pointed teeth. Profuse small white flowers in flattish clusters appear in summer; these are followed in fall to winter by pea-size bright red berries, much relished by birds. Plants are drought tolerant once established but produce more berries with occasional water.

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Wild buckwheat (Eriogonum)

Native to most areas of the West, wild buckwheat grow best in areas with full sun and loose gravely soil. The individual blossoms of these shrubby perennials are tiny but grow in long-stemmed or branched clusters. Flowers age to a tan or reddish brown and persist for a long time. Plant to cover dry banks or in rock gardens.