6 Drought-Tolerant Trees for USDA Zone 9 Dry Landscapes

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Home » USDA Zone 9 » 6 Drought-Tolerant Trees for USDA Zone 9 Dry Landscapes

Spanning from the southeast to the southwest, USDA hardiness zone 9 encompasses some of the hottest parts of the continental US. And what’s more, it appears in the driest states in the country, including Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Dry soil and an overall lack of precipitation are two things that many zone 9 gardeners must contend with year in and year out. This is why it’s so important to choose trees and plants that can withstand long periods of drought.

While drought-stricken land will restrict the kinds of species you can grow, there are still options.

Here are six drought-tolerant trees for zone 9 landscapes.

6 Trees for Zone 9 That are Drought Tolerant

1. Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Common Hackberry
Image by Andrey Zarkikh via Flickr

A long-lived deciduous tree native to the central and northeast of North America, the Common Hackberry is an incredibly tough tree that will work well for zone 9 landscapes that are otherwise difficult to plant on.

The Hackberry isn’t just tolerant of drought, it is tolerant to a wide variety of difficult growing conditions that will stunt or kill many other trees such as strong winds, pollution, flooding, salt, and compacted, poor-quality soil. Its strong wood can even resist most storm damage.

The tree itself can grow quite tall, has highly distinctive, ridged bark, and produces small edible berries in fall that will be a favorite of local birds. It makes a useful shade tree, street tree, and backdrop.

This Hackberry tree has a dense root system so make sure to plant it far from sidewalks, foundations, and any underground infrastructure. Always choose trees with less invasive roots when it comes to planting close to infrastructure.

Other Common Names: Common Hackberry, Northern Hackberry, Nettletree, Sugarberry, Beaverwood

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 feet tall, with a 25-40 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

American Sweetgum
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

A unique US native with a combination of both positive and negative qualities, the American Sweetgum is an attractive deciduous tree known for its gorgeous fall color, which appears in shades of red, purple, orange, and gold.

It is also known for its small, spiny fruits (known as gumballs) which appear in the fall and can cause an unsightly mess from December to April. It also has an attractive pyramidal growth habit.

The American Sweetgum is a moderately drought-resistant tree when mature, though it will need adequate watering in the first few years until established. It is also tolerant of wet and clay soil, as it grows frequently in swamps and river bottoms according to the NC State Extension.

For best results plant the American Sweetgum in full sun (it is very intolerant to shade), and deep, loamy, well-draining soil with an acidic pH. Keep an eye out for diseases like leaf spot, wood rot, and chlorosis.

Other Common Names: Sweetgum, Satin-Walnut, American Storax, Hazel Pine, Bilsted, Redgum, Alligatorwood, Star-Leaved Gum, Gumball Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-70 feet tall, with a 40-50 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Fall

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) Tree, Flowers and Fruit
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Offering a rare midsummer flower display, and even rarer yellow flowers, the Golden Rain tree is an exceptional specimen to plant on your zone 9 property.

Native to East Asia, it is a medium-sized tree with a spreading vase or globe-shaped canopy. Its bright yellow flowers are small but grow in long, dense clusters, and in fall its foliage turns a complementary orange-yellow color.

As well as being drought tolerant, the Golden Rain tree is tolerant of heat, wind, and air pollution, and it is unlikely to suffer serious pest or disease problems.

Its tough, adaptable nature makes it a good choice for a street, lawn, or patio tree. Its branching pattern may be too widely spaced to cast efficient shade. It will grow well in urban environments.

This low-maintenance, easy-growing tree can grow in a wide variety of soil types. It is invasive in some areas, so make sure to check its status in your state before planting.

Other Common Names: Golden-Rain-Tree, Golden Raintree, Varnish Tree, Pride of India, Panicled Golden Raintree, Firecracker Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Summer

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

4. Sweet Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)

Sweet Acacia
Image by Chic Bee via Flickr

The Sweet Acacia tree is best known for two things: its sharp thorns, and its bright yellow, highly fragrant flowers which look like small round “puffs”.

While some may be deterred by its spines, it is well worth considering if you live in a particularly dry and arid climate. Sweet Acacia flowers are even used in the perfume industry!

Able to grow as a small tree or squat, multi-stemmed shrub, the Sweet Acacia can be used as an ornamental specimen or an extended barrier.

As well as being drought and salt tolerant it is also resistant to pests and disease and is very low maintenance. Simply plant it in loose, well-draining soil in full sun or partial shade.

This plant is considered invasive in some areas, so make sure to check its status in your state before planting on your property. In some states like Florida, it will not replace native vegetation, according to the University of Florida Gardening Solutions.

Other Common Names: Perfume Acacia, Mealy Acacia, Mealy Wattle, Texas Huisache, Mimosa Farnesiana, Needle Bush

Growing Zones: 9-11

Average Size at Maturity: 15-20 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Late Winter – Early Spring

5. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

One of the toughest native trees you can plant in zone 9 is the Eastern Red Cedar, a rugged evergreen conifer native to the Eastern United States.

It has shredded reddish-brown bark, silvery and green-blue foliage, and a growing habit that ranges from columnar to pyramidal. It also produces bushels of dark blue cones that strongly resemble blueberries.

As well as being an attractive year-round evergreen, the Eastern Red Cedar is known for its highly adaptable and hardy nature. It can grow in a wide range of temperatures and will tolerate most soil types and growing conditions.

So rocky, infertile, compacted, dry, and otherwise inhospitable soils will be fine for an Eastern Red Cedar. Its only true enemy in the landscape is standing water.

Of course, the Eastern Red Cedar is drought tolerant too, as well as being resistant to serious pest and disease issues. This tree is also an excellent source of food and shelter for wildlife.

Other Common Names: Eastern Redcedar, Red Cedar, Eastern Juniper, Red Juniper, Virginian Juniper, Pencil Cedar, Aromatic Cedar, Virginia Red Cedar, Savin Evergreen, Cedar Apple

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 feet tall, with a 10-20 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Early Fall through to Late Winter

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

6. Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)

Best known for its fragrant evergreen foliage, the leaves of the Bay Laurel are used around the world as a fantastic savory seasoning, particularly in Mediterranean and French cooking.

This small tree is native to the Mediterranean, and although it can grow up to 60 feet in its native habitat it typically reaches just over 10 feet in cultivation.

The foliage of the Bay Laurel is smooth, glossy, and highly aromatic. It works very well grown in a container as a patio plant, or outdoors as a privacy screen or stunning backdrop.

Being from the Mediterranean the Bay Laurel is very resistant to drought, and can be grown in a wide variety of soil types. The most important thing is to ensure that soil is well-draining, and if you’re planting it to use as a cooking ingredient, make sure it gets as much sun exposure as possible.

Other Common Names: Bay Tree, Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel, True Laurel

Growing Zones: 8-10

Average Size at Maturity: 8-12 feet tall, with an 8-30 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

The Best Trees For Dry Zone 9 Properties

Drought-tolerant trees are a godsend for zone 9 gardeners who live in particularly dry climates.

In regions where many other trees could not survive, they will keep your property beautiful while providing shade, structure, and wildlife sustenance, and protecting your home from soil erosion, strong winds, and other weather patterns.

Whether you choose tough and adaptable specimens like the Eastern Red Cedar and Common Hackberry or a more delicate ornamental like the Bay Laurel, these trees will benefit your property with their adaptability.

For more drought-tolerant landscaping options, check out these zone 9 palm trees, many are not only drought, but salt and wind tolerant too!

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Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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