If you live in the west, water conservation is always top of mind, whether it's remembering to take shorter showers or re-doing your yard with plants that thrive in arid conditions. Elsewhere, xeriscaping (the technical term for planting a low water landscape), does not have quite the same degree of urgency, but it's still an important step you can take toward responsible resource use. Rather than being a constraint, landscaping with drought tolerant plants opens up a world of unique and beautiful plants to experiment with. You will be amazed at the colors and unusual textures that are available.
Agaves have incredible coloration on their smooth succulent foliage—hints of blue, silver and green are found on many of the varieties, though some also have red, purple or chartreuse highlights. 'Blue Flame' and 'Blue Glow' are two of the most colorful varieties. After many years of growth, a single enormous flowerstalk emerges from the center of the plant and sends out fragrant, long-lasting white flowers. Native to the deserts of the US and Mexico, agaves can be grown throughout much of the US provided that they are planted in ultra-light, well-drained soil. USDA zones 5 to 10, depending on the variety.
One of the most popular flowering herbs of all time is also one of the most drought tolerant. Lavender's tiny grey-green leaves are aromatic and attractive, but they also limit the amount of water transpired by the plant. The purple flower spikes keep coming up all summer long and everyone from birds to bees to gardeners can't seem to get enough of them. USDA zones 5 to 9.
Lantana is another ever-blooming perennial for use in xeriscapes. Purple, white, yellow and orange varieties are available, but one of the most popular cultivars is called 'Confetti', which bears multi-hued flowers that are reminiscent of a beautiful sunset. On a practical note, lantanas offer a large diversity of sizes to fit the space you have available—from 8-inch groundcovers to large rounded shrubs 8 feet tall. Most Lantanas are hardy only in USDA zones 8 to 11, though the variety 'Miss Huff' is hardy down to zone 7.
If luxurious foliage is what you're after, licorice plant can offer it in a highly drought resistant package. It's small, rounded leaves are covered in adorable silver-gray fuzz that makes a striking contrast when paired with green-leafed plants or bright-blooming flowers. It grows as a 12 to 18 inch groundcover which makes it well suited as filler around taller perennials. Licorice plant is an evergreen perennial in USDA zones 9 to 11, though it is often grown in colder zones as an annual.
Known as “House Leeks" to some, the hen and chicks plant is like a miniature agave; growing just a couple inches tall with colorful succulent foliage. Its tiny size makes it ideal for xeriscape container gardens, though it's also useful as a small scale groundcover. Try growing it in rock gardens where it can creep around small boulders or cascade over larger ones. The plant spreads by sending out runners with miniature versions of itself at the end of each one, hence the name hen and chicks. USDA zones 3 to 11.