What Are the Best Native Plants for a Low-Water City Garden?

March 7, 2024

Gardening in drought-prone areas like Utah can be a challenging task, but it becomes a breeze once you acquaint yourselves with some of the best native plant species that are water-efficient and can add color and liveliness to your urban gardens. These plants are not only well-adapted to survive in the harsh summer sun but also contribute to the local ecosystem by offering habitat and food for local wildlife. This article delves into the realm of low-water, native plants that can enhance your city garden’s beauty and sustainability, regardless of the drought situations that may arise.

Great Choices for Full Sun Gardens

Consider incorporating native plants that thrive in full sun into your garden design. These plants have evolved in the harsh conditions of Utah, making them highly tolerant to the summer sun and drought.

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Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is a perfect example of such a plant. This shrub can reach heights of up to six feet, with its silver-green leaves providing a beautiful contrast against the blue skies of summer. The Big Sagebrush is also known for its pleasant aroma that wafts through the air when its leaves are crushed.

Another excellent choice is the Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea), which is a full sun-tolerant shrub known for its attractive red branches. This plant can reach heights of up to seven feet, and its white flowers and blue berries offer food for native birds and insects.

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Ideal Plants for Well-Drained Soil

In addition to sunlight, the type of soil also plays a crucial part in determining the plants for your garden. Native plants that thrive in well-drained soils not only enhance the aesthetic of your garden but also contribute to the soil’s health by improving its structure and fertility.

One such plant is the Utah Agave (Agave utahensis). This succulent plant has a unique rosette shape that can add a striking element to your garden. It’s also a low-water plant that thrives in well-drained soils, making it a great choice for urban gardens in drought-prone areas.

The Engelmann’s Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii) is another standout choice for well-drained soils. This cactus species not only adds a southwestern feel to your garden but also produces beautiful yellow flowers during the summer months.

Drought-Tolerant Flowering Plants

The native flowering plants of Utah are an excellent addition to city gardens, adding vibrant splashes of color while also attracting beneficial wildlife like bees and butterflies. These species have evolved in this arid region, making them exceptionally tolerant to drought conditions.

One such species is the Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), which is known for its beautiful red-orange flowers. This perennial plant can grow up to three feet tall, and it blooms from May to September, providing a long-lasting display of color in your garden.

Another excellent choice is the Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata). This perennial plant produces bright yellow flowers that stand in stark contrast to its silvery-gray leaves, making it a showstopper in any garden.

Perfect Choices for Landscape Design

Landscape design is an essential aspect of city gardening, and native plants offer a wide range of options for creating a dynamic and visually appealing space. These plants can provide varying heights, textures, and colors, which add depth and interest to your garden.

The Cliffrose (Purshia stansburiana) is a plant that suits this category perfectly. This evergreen shrub is native to Utah and can grow up to ten feet tall. It produces cream-colored flowers, and its feathery seeds add a unique texture to the landscape design.

Another fantastic plant for landscape design is the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii). This deciduous tree can reach heights of up to 30 feet, providing shade and a sense of grandeur to your garden. Its leaves turn a beautiful red color in the fall, adding to the visual appeal of your city garden.

Plants for Small Gardens

If your city garden is short on space, there’s no need to fret. There are quite a few native plants that can thrive in small gardens, providing beauty and ecological benefits without taking up much room.

A great example is the Small-Leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea parvifolia), which is a compact perennial plant that produces orange-red flowers. This plant is well-adapted to withstand drought, and it can add a pop of color to your small city garden.

The Desert Four O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora) is another excellent choice for small spaces. This perennial plant produces large, magenta flowers that bloom in the afternoon and evening hours, hence the name. It can grow up to two feet tall and is drought-tolerant, making it a great choice for city gardens in Utah.

Choosing the Best Shrubs and Trees for Your Garden

The importance of choosing the right shrubs and trees for your city garden cannot be overstated. Not only do these plants add a sense of structure and height to your garden, but they also provide shade and habitat for local wildlife. When choosing these plants, it is crucial to consider their water requirement, growth rate, and their adaptability to the local climate.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), a native tree to Utah, is a superb choice for city gardens. This tree grows up to 50 feet tall and is renowned for its stunning fall colors, with leaves turning bright yellow. It’s remarkably drought resistant and requires minimal maintenance once established.

Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) is another excellent choice for city gardens. This shrub grows 2 to 5 feet tall and is a good choice for full sun gardens. It displays clusters of beautiful yellow flowers in the early fall, adding a burst of color to your garden. This native plant is exceptionally drought tolerant and well-suited to the salt lake city’s climate.


In conclusion, creating a beautiful and sustainable city garden in drought-prone areas like Utah is entirely possible when you choose the right native plants. These plants are not only adapted to withstand the harsh summer sun and low water conditions, but they also contribute significantly to the local ecosystem. Whether you are looking to add color, attract wildlife, or simply conserve water, there is a native plant to meet your needs.

Choose full sun plants like the Big Sagebrush or the Red-Twig Dogwood for sunny areas. If your soil is well-drained, plants like the Utah Agave or the Engelmann’s Prickly Pear could be ideal. Flowers such as the Scarlet Globemallow or the Desert Marigold can add vibrant colors to your garden and attract beneficial insects.

If your focus is on landscape design, consider adding unique textures and heights with plants like the Cliffrose or the Gambel Oak. And finally, for small gardens, compact plants like the Small-Leaf Globemallow or the Desert Four O’Clock can be perfect.

Remember, a sustainable garden is not just about saving water but also about creating an environment where local wildlife can thrive. Happy gardening!

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