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13 Tough Drought Tolerant Trees (Sorted By USDA Zones)

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Written By Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

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Home » Tree Selection » 13 Tough Drought Tolerant Trees (Sorted By USDA Zones)

Choosing the right tree for your climate is very important if you are looking for trees that will tolerate drought.

Often, choosing native trees is best because they are already adapted to your conditions.

Most drought-tolerant trees are not drought-tolerant in all climates in their range, and some won’t grow outside of drought-prone climates.

We will look at 13 of the best drought tolerant trees but organize them according to your USDA Growing Zone.

This will make it easy to find a gorgeous tree that will live and thrive in your yard in your climate.

Drought Tolerant Trees For USDA Zones 3 – 5

1. Eastern Redcedar – Juniperus virginiana

This Eastern Redcedar is not a true cedar tree. But it resembles the North American false cedars with its reddish-brown fibrous bark and scale-like leaves.

It’s actually a juniper tree, so instead of woody seed cones, these produce interesting blueish to purplish berry-like seed cones that birds often love.

These are also incredibly tough and adaptable trees that are extremely tolerant of both cold and drought, making them the perfect choice for xeriscaping in colder temperate climates.

Eastern Redcedars grow best in full sun but tolerate partial shade and nearly any soil type, from sand to clay, acidic to mildly alkaline.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3(2) – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 ft (to 65 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: pollen cones release pollen in late winter; berry-like seed cones mature the following fall or winter

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees or Nature Hills

2. Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa

The Bur Oak is a very cold-hardy white oak that is happy to grow much further north than most oaks will grow.

While not completely suitable for xeriscaping in all parts of its range, it would do well without water in Zones 3-5 once established.

Bur Oaks do best in full sun in almost any soil type, making them an easy tree for beginners to grow.

The name comes from the bur-like cupules on their large sweet nuts. Nuts are edible raw or cooked. Alternatively, you can leave them for the grateful wildlife who will love the feast.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft tall, 60 – 80 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers bloom from April to May; edible acorns mature in October.

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Nature Hills

3. Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Ponderosa Pine is a gorgeous tall pine with long, elegant needle-like leaves and interesting red and black bark cross-checked with grooves and ridges.

While they grow best in deep, moist, well-drained soils, they will tolerate drought and alkaline soils.

In hotter, arid climates, they may need occasional water to thrive, but in Zones 3-5, they can easily be used for xeriscaping once established, surviving on rainwater alone.

Ponderosa Pines produce big, beautiful pine cones that attract squirrels and other wildlife. You can also use the beautiful cones to make a great natural acidic mulch for use in your garden.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
  • Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 100 ft (to 236 ft) tall, 25 – 30 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen cones mature from April to June; seed cones mature in August or September, two years later.

Available at:

Nature Hills

Drought Tolerant Trees For USDA Zones 5 – 7

4. American Smoketree – Cotinus obovatus

American Smoketree is a gorgeous North American native tree that is extremely adaptable. It’s drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, and highly tolerant of urban pollution, so that it can be planted in city gardens.

They are also not very fussy about soil type, growing in any average dry to moist soil; it just won’t tolerate soggy or wet soils.

In the spring, American Smoketree offers pinkish foliage that matures to a blue-dark green, producing unique feathery, lightly fragrant flowers. In the fall, it has a fantastic fall color.

This amazing wildlife tree will attract a wide range of native songbirds.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
  • Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 25 ft wide
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear from April to May; these are dioecious, so seeds mature on female plants in September if male and female trees are present.

Available at:

Nature Hills

5. Chickasaw Plum – Prunus angustifolia

The Chickasaw Plum is named after the Chickasaw nation who used them as a food source.

This attractive, edible North American native tree has beautiful, fragrant white self-pollinating flowers that produce abundant colorful orange to purple fruits in summer.

The fruits can be eaten in jams, jellies, and baked goods or left on the tree to feed the birds and other wildlife.

The best part is that it’s extremely easy to care for and easily handles drought conditions, still producing fruits. It grows fast and adapts to almost any yard and any soil type, including sand or clay, but not alkaline soils.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear from February to May, depending on the location; small edible fruits mature later in summer.

Available at:

Nature Hills

6. Common Hackberry – Celtis occidentalis

The Common Hackberry is a tough, fast-growing tree native to North America, providing shelter and food from its tiny little drupes for countless native birds.

It is highly tolerant of almost any condition, including clay, sand, salt, drought, wind, and urban conditions, so you should have no trouble with this tree. In fact, it’s often recommended for conditions where most other trees won’t thrive.

Common Hackberry makes a lovely shade tree or windbreak and even does well as a street tree, tolerating road pollution and salts. In the fall, the leaves turn lovely yellow shades for additional interest.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 75 ft tall, 25 – 40 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Small flowers appear April through May; fruits mature in late summer.

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees or Nature Hills

Drought Tolerant Trees For USDA Zones 7 – 9

7. Joan Lionetti Texas Live Oak – Quercus virginiana x fusiformis ‘Joan Lionetti’

The Joan Lionetti Texas Live Oak is a gorgeous cross between the mighty Texas Live Oak and Southern Live Oak, bred to tolerate the arid climates of the American Southwest.

It will thrive in extreme heat and drought and give you fantastic year-round shade with its evergreen leaves to help you beat the heat in any season.

It’s smaller than some oaks, so it will fit in more moderate-sized yards.

Joan Lionetti Texas Live Oaks’ tough, hardy nature makes growing it incredibly easy. It’s resistant to pests and disease and will thrive in most soil types other than permanently wet.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10
  • Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers emerge in spring; small acorns mature in fall.

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

You can’t go wrong with the Desert Willow as a xeriscape tree for North America’s more arid regions.

This beauty can grow on roadsides in deserts where no other trees grow. However, they won’t grow in climates with more than 30” of rain annually.

Desert Willows will grow very well in nearly any soil type, including poor gravelly soil, sandy soil, and highly alkaline soils, but not wet. They also tolerate urban pollution.

The best part is the gorgeous pink to purplish trumpet-like flowers that it produces every spring and again throughout the summer any time it rains.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Blooms in May and June but continues blooming all summer after a rain; seed pods mature in late summer and persist all winter

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees or Nature Hills

9. Arizona Cypress – Hesperocyparis arizonica (Cupressus arizonica)

Arizona Cypress is another exceptionally drought-tolerant tree that can handle excessive heat, making it another perfect choice for those in hot and dry climates who don’t want to water their trees.

It will survive on only 10 – 12” of rainfall a year, making them popular landscaping trees in cities.

These trees tolerate almost any soil type, including poor and highly alkaline, but will not tolerate very heavy clay or other poorly drained soils.

Arizona Cypress has beautiful silvery blue-green scale-like leaves that provide fantastic year-round color for your yard. They also produce beautiful small, round woody seed cones that add additional interest.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 80 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen is released in January and February; roundish seed cones mature in summer.

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees, Nature Hills

10. Pomegranate – Punica granatum

Most pomegranates are drought-tolerant and thrive in arid climates, as anyone driving through New Mexico could attest to.

This gives you a great fruit tree option that will tolerate droughts, a win-win for those who want a food tree but don’t want to water it once they are established. However, fruits will get larger with irrigation.

They have beautiful, long, lush-looking leaves that stand out in a xeriscape and gorgeous trumpet-shaped red flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Later, they produce beautiful red to orange fruits.

While they prefer deep, loamy soils, they will grow well in sand or clay.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 3 – 20 ft tall, 3 – 20 ft spread* *Size depends on variety
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from late May to early June; fruits mature from August to October, depending on the variety

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees, Nature Hills or My Perfect Plants

Drought Tolerant Trees For USDA Zones 9 – 12

11. Royal Poinciana – Delonix regia

Royal Poinciana is a stunning tree also called the “Flame Tree” for its blazing red blossoms that are sure to attract pollinators and people alike.

However, the beauty doesn’t stop there; it also has delicate, long, slender leaves that are semi-evergreen and last most of the year if your climate is warm enough.

Royal Poinciana are very tough trees that can easily handle drought and remain beautiful.

They will even tolerate growing in sand in extreme droughts, although they may shed their leaves during especially extended droughts. Use a pruning sealant when pruning; otherwise, they’re prone to fungal infections.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 10 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Gorgeous flowers appear from May to June; legume-like fruits mature in late summer.

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees

12. Scarlet Bottlebrush – Callistemon citrinus

The Scarlet Bottlebrush is another gorgeous drought-tolerant tree with vibrant red flowers that look like a bottle brush!

The best part is those flowers will keep coming all year long, and along with their evergreen leaves, you will have four full seasons of color.

These hardy shrubs thrive on neglect, so even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can grow it without effort. It will grow in almost any soil type except highly alkaline and will tolerate drought once established.

Scarlet Bottlebrush makes a lovely specimen or accent tree and can even be grown in rows as an effortless hedge.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 15 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
  • Flowering Season: Flowers appear at any time of year.

Available at:

Nature Hills

13. Mediterranean Fan Palm – Chamaerops humilis

The Mediterranean Fan Palm is a small palm that often suckers from the main stem to produce a mass of silver-green fan-like leaves.

This is one of only two palms native to Europe where it thrives in extreme heat and cold, easily surviving down to 10 F.

It also tolerates a wide range of soil types, providing it is well-drained; like most palms, they don’t like wet feet. But unlike its cousins, this palm is exceptionally drought-tolerant.

Mediterranean Fan Palms produce bright yellow flowers and yellowish drupes that the birds will love.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 15 ft (to 20 ft) tall, 6 – 10 ft (to 20 ft) spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear in spring; drupes mature in summer.

Available at:

Fast-Growing-Trees or Nature Hills

Quick Overview

Tree NameDescriptionUSDA Growing ZonesAverage Size at Maturity
Eastern RedcedarJuniper with reddish-brown bark, blueish berries, extremely cold and drought-tolerant.3(2) – 930 – 40 ft (to 65 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
Bur OakCold-hardy white oak, adaptable to various soils, produces large sweet nuts.3 – 960 – 80 ft tall, 60 – 80 ft spread
Ponderosa PineTall pine with long needles and red/black bark, drought and alkaline soil tolerant.3 – 860 – 100 ft (to 236 ft) tall, 25 – 30 ft spread
American SmoketreeAdaptable native tree, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, with fantastic fall color.4 – 820 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 25 ft wide
Chickasaw PlumEdible native tree with fragrant white flowers and colorful fruits, drought-tolerant.5 – 915 – 25 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
Common HackberryFast-growing, provides food/shelter for wildlife, tolerant of almost any condition.3 – 950 – 75 ft tall, 25 – 40 ft spread
Joan Lionetti Texas Live OakHybrid oak, tolerates extreme heat and drought, evergreen leaves for shade.7 – 1020 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
Desert WillowThrives in arid regions, pink to purplish flowers, very drought-tolerant.7 – 1115 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
Arizona CypressSurvives on minimal rainfall, silvery blue-green leaves, drought-tolerant.6 – 930 – 80 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
PomegranateFruit tree, thrives in arid climates, drought-tolerant, attracts wildlife.7 – 113 – 20 ft tall, 3 – 20 ft spread*
Royal Poinciana“Flame Tree” with red blossoms, drought-tolerant, semi-evergreen leaves.10 – 1120 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
Scarlet BottlebrushVibrant red flowers all year, drought-tolerant, thrives on neglect.9 – 1110 – 15 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
Mediterranean Fan PalmSmall palm with silver-green leaves, drought-tolerant, produces yellow flowers/drupes.7 – 116 – 15 ft (to 20 ft) tall, 6 – 10 ft (to 20 ft) spread

Drought-Tolerant Trees For Xeriscaping

Choosing drought-tolerant trees is critical for xeriscaping, where you grow plants without irrigation.

Of course, since rainfall varies significantly with different climates, drought-tolerant trees in one area may not be drought-tolerant in other areas, so it’s important to do your research.

Also, it’s important to understand that you must establish your xeriscape garden before you can stop watering it. Few trees can just be planted and forgotten.

However, choosing the right tree for your climate means they will thrive on neglect once established! Great news for busy people! Enjoy!

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Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences. Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees. She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing. When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.