Drought Tolerant Shrubs and Conifers

Drought Tolerant Shrubs and Conifers

Picking Plants For A Water Wise Garden  

Making small, incremental changes year over year in how or what you plant in your garden can greatly influence your water usage. The benefits to planting a water wise garden are many, including decreased water usage, increased wildlife habitat, decreased soil erosion and simplifying garden maintenance.  

In this blog, we will walk you through our best water wise gardening tactics and share a list of some of our favorite drought-tolerant shrubs and conifers that thrive in Western Washington gardens.  

Plant In Hydrozones 

The concept of hydrozone planting/watering is both simple and efficient. Placing plants in groups with similar water, soil and sun needs means that you can reduce water consumption and protect your plants from both under and overwatering.  

There are five irrigation categories to consider. Remember, your yard may not be divided into this many categories – it's possible to have an outdoor space that only includes two or three of the irrigation categories.  

  1. Routine Irrigation Zones – this area of your yard requires the most water. Sometimes it’s referred to as the principal irrigation zone and will often include plants that require a frequent watering schedule, think grass, vegetables and fruit trees and bushes.  
  2. Reduced Irrigation Zones – these areas require frequent watering but less watering than routine zones. Think perennial shrubs and beds.  
  3. Limited Irrigation Zones – these areas have low water requirements. On average, plants in L.I. zones require very minimal water once established (during long dry spells).  
  4. Non-irrigated Zones – these areas can survive off of rainfall and surface drainage alone.  
  5. Special Landscape Areas – this area consists of edible plants and its sole purpose is to feed you and your family.  

Some people opt to map out the irrigation zones of their outdoor space with a hand drawn map. This can make preparing for future planting or setting up an irrigation system simpler. Now that you’re familiar with the irrigation categories you can start to think about your yard and any future plant projects within these parameters. 

Caring For Drought-Tolerant Plants 

Once established, caring for drought tolerant plants is often very low maintenance. It’s critical that in the first two years after planting, they are properly watered and maintained.  

Watering Tips: 

  • Water deeply and less frequently  
  • Water at the plant’s base – many plants can suffer from being watered at the crown  
  • Water in the morning (preferred) or in the early evening to prevent midday scorching 
  • Invest in watering tools like soaker hoses, watering wands or irrigation systems 
  • Weed – competing with your plants for water, weeds deter from water conservation efforts 

Molbak’s Staff Picks 

We’ve put together a list of drought-tolerant deciduous shrubs, evergreen shrubs and conifers. These choices are great for PNW gardens and once established will leave you with a fuss-free, water wise garden for years to come.  

Deciduous Shrubs – rounding out the garden, deciduous shrubs offer color and beauty to PNW gardens and are popular for good reason – they're low maintenance! These flowering plants provide a great food source and refuge for some of our most loved garden friends, like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  

  • Spiraea 
  • Barberry 
  • Butterfly Bush 
  • Smoke Bush 
  • Caryopteris 

Evergreen Shrubs – year round color, texture and privacy are just a few reasons why evergreen shrubs are a mainstay in Western Washington gardens. They bring a clean, fresh scent to the air and because they’re green year round you can enjoy them from one season to the next.  

  • Hebe 
  • Euonymus 
  • Aucuba 
  • Abelia 
  • Arbutus 
  • Nandina 

Conifers – these are the backbone of most PNW gardens. They are natural focal points and while many people delegate them to the rear of the garden, there are many varieties, like dwarf varieties, that can be planted in the center or along the edges of gardens.  

  • Pine 
  • Spruce 
  • Juniper 
  • Yew 

Looking for other PNW-friendly water wise plants? Check out Great Plant Picks or subscribe to Molbak’s newsletter for upcoming educational seminars and classes.  


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