Drought Tolerant Plants for New Hampshire Landscapes [fact sheet]

Drought stress on azalea

Rainfall patterns are can be highly variable in New England. Periods of above-normal precipitation may be followed by weeks with little or none. While many established trees and shrubs can tolerate two weeks or even longer without water, they may show signs of reduced growth, nutrient deficiencies, and/or increased susceptibility to certain pests and diseases during a prolonged drought. New plants need frequent watering for several weeks or even months (for large shrubs/trees) to establish their roots in the surrounding soil. Even short periods of hot, dry weather can threaten the health and survival of newly planted trees and shrubs, vines and perennials. Annual flowers (bedding plants) generally suffer first from drought because of their limited root systems.  

Homeowners and landscapers who want to minimize irrigation needs or who live in areas with potential water restrictions should select plants which can tolerate drought. This does not mean xeriscaping, which is more appropriate for arid environments such as the Southwest. Many xeric plants cannot stand the wet conditions that are likely to occur during part of our growing season. Instead, choose plants that can withstand New Hampshire’s variable climatic conditions, not just occasional drought.

To get the right plant for your site, consider other characteristics in addition to drought-tolerance. Good soil drainage is especially important for many drought-tolerant species to thrive. Sun and shade patterns, soil characteristics, and wind exposure, as well as mature size and shape, insect or disease susceptibility, and aesthetics are all important factors in selecting appropriate plant material. Evergreen plants generally need less water than deciduous trees and shrubs during the growing season, but more during the off-season. Broad-leaved evergreens such as rhododendrons and mountain laurel, although not considered drought-tolerant, grow best in partial shade which offers some protection from dehydration. Needled evergreens (conifers) as a group have the lowest water requirements.

Keep in mind that even drought-tolerant plants need ample water initially to encourage root establishment. Once established, in most years they require little or no water other than natural rainfall. When no rain occurs for a period of two weeks or more during the growing season, check on shrubs, trees and perennials and water the root zone thoroughly if they are showing signs of wilting or stress. Check annual flowers daily.

This list of drought-tolerant plants was compiled using several references, along with our own experiences where possible. The plants included here are cold hardy to zone 3 or 4 and are generally considered to be desirable landscape plants (not weedy, invasive, brittle, or especially pest-prone), but these criteria are always changing. Consult the references for the most current common and scientific names and any concerns about potential invasiveness.  Most of the listed plants should be available at local garden centers and nurseries.

Deciduous Trees

Burr Oak     

Quercus macrocarpa   

Common Hackberry

 Celtis occidentalis


Malus spp. (some)

Gray Birch           

Betula populifolia        

Honey Locust

Gleditsia triacanthos 

Hop Hornbeam    

Ostrya virginiana         

Japanese Tree Lilac

Syringa reticulata

Japanese Zelkova   

Zelkova serrata

Kentucky Coffee Tree

Gymnocladus dioicus   

Maidenhair Tree          

Ginkgo biloba    

Northern Red Oak

Quercus rubra     

Winter King Hawthorn

Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’

Deciduous Shrubs

Common Lilac

Syringa vulgaris     

Beach Rose

Rosa rugosa

Flowering Quince 

Chaenomeles speciosa


Forsythia suspensa

Fragrant Sumac  

Rhus aromatica

Sweet Pepperbush

Clethra alnifolia   


Physocarpus opulifolius 

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Dasiphora floribunda  

Shrubby St. John’s-wort

Hypericum prolificum 

Siberian Pea Shrub

Caragana arborescens

Small Bayberry  

Morella caroliniensis    


Comptonia peregrina

Spreading Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster divaricatus

Staghorn Sumac  

Rhus hirta

Evergreen Trees and Shrubs

Austrian Pine

Pinus nigra

Chinese Juniper  

Juniperus chinensis

Common Juniper

Juniperus communis

Eastern Red Cedar

Juniperus virginiana

Pitch Pine      

Pinus rigida

Scotch Pine     

Pinus sylvestris

White fir     

Abies concolor

White Spruce   

Picea glauca


Taxus x media

Ground Covers and Vines


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Creeping Juniper

Juniperus horizontalis

Japanese Garden Juniper

Juniperus procumbens


Mitchella repens

Virginia Creeper 

Parthenocissus quinquefolia


Adam’s Needle

Yucca filamentosa


Epimedium spp.

Barren Strawberry  

Waldensteinia ternata

Black-eyed Susan   

Rudbeckia hirta 

Blanket Flower

Gaillardia aristata

Blue Wild Indigo

Baptisia australis

Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa


Iberis sempervirens


Nepeta cataria


Geranium spp.


Hemerocallis hybrids  

Garden thyme

Thymus vulgaris   

Globe Thistle  

Echinops ritro  


Solidago species     


Sempervivum tectorum


Hosta plantaginea

Lamb’s Ears       

Stachys byzantina       


Lavendula angustifolia 

Moss Phlox           

Phlox subulata

Pale Purple Coneflower

Echinacea pallida

Purple Coneflower     

Echinacea purpurea

Russian Sage    

Perovskia atriplicifolia

Spotted Dead Nettle  

Lamium maculatum


Euphorbia spp.


Sedum spp.      

Wand Flower    

Gaura lindheimeri      

Woodland Sage     

Salvia nemerosa   

Wood Sage     

Salvia x sylvestris        


Achillea spp.     



Cosmos bipinnatus

Creeping Zinnia

Sanvitalia procumbens

Dusty Miller       

Senecio cineraria      

Garden Verbena  

Verbena hybrida

Globe Amaranth

Gomphrena globosa     


Lantana hybrids  

Mexican Sunflower  

Tithonia rotundifolia


Ipomoea purpurea  

Moss Rose    

Portulaca grandiflora


Tropaeolum majus     

Spider Flower     

Cleome hassleriana  


Helichrysum bracteatum

Treasure Flower

Gazania rigens

Wax Begonia   

Begonia semperflorens

Ornamental Grasses, Ferns and Sedges

Blue green sedge

Carex flaca  

Purple love grass   

Erigrostis spectabilis    

Blue Fescue       

Festuca cinerea

Switch grass  

Panicum virgatum  

Christmas fern    

Polystichum acrostichoides   

Little Bluestem  

Schizachyrium scoparium

Prairie Dropseed   

Sporobolus heterolepis   



  1. Missouri Botanical Garden. 2018. Plant Finder. St. Louis, MO 63110. www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx  

  2. New England Wild Flower Society. 2018. Go Botany! https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org  Framingham, MA 01701.

  3. Swearingen, J., C. Bargeron. 2016. Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States. University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. http://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/

  4. USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901. http://plants.usda.gov


Anna Boudreau Supports Extension

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Anna Boudreau
State Advisory Council Chair