Friday, June 15, 2012

Drought Tolerant Trees and Shrubs

After a very dry stretch of weather, we were blessed with a beautiful rain last evening - a glorious 2" or more over most of the area. I was so excited that I went outside and started to dance - until the lightning and my embarrassed wife scared me back inside. Despite the wonderful rain, we all know that drought is a regular part of the climate story here in Nebraska and the dry weather will return at some point. Thankfully we have a wide-range of landscape plants at our disposal that are well adapted to our climatic extremes.  In fact, many of the prairie plants look their best when the weather and associated soil conditions stress them out a bit (little bluestem is the classic example). Here are a few of my favorite trees and shrubs that do a good job of tolerating drought conditions. Unless otherwise noted, these species are native to the region.

Bur Oaks in Bur Oak Canyon near McCook

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa): If I could only plant one tree, it would be bur oak. It laughs at our weather extremes. This stand of native trees southwest of McCook attests to their tough nature.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis): This species provides yeoman's service to us year after year with very little love or fanfare from we humans.

Chinkapin oak leaves
Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii): is a very beautiful and underutilized shade tree able to tolerate an amazing range of climatic extremes.

Linden (Tilia americana): Only the worst of droughts will slow this tree down.
American Linden
Osage Orange

Osage orange (Maclura pomifera). On a hot, dry day, the shimmering glossy leaves of Osage orange are a welcome site.
Blackjack Oak
Pecan (Carya illinoinensis): Thought not quite as adaptable as its cousin the black walnut, pecan is still one of the best nut trees we can grow.

Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica) is a medium-sized, slow growing tree deserving of much greater planting. Its unusual leaves turn a nice red in the fall.

Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii): This species is meant for the western half of our region where it can survive easily on less than 10" of annual moisture.
Gambel Oak

Boxelder maple (Acer negundo): This tree gets even less love than hackberry, yet will grow in just about any situation.


Fragrant Sumac
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) loves the heat and rewards us with glossy leaves all summer and a nice red fall color.

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus): Primarily for western Nebraska, the gray-green foliage of this Xeric plant is unmistakable. Its yellow flowers are butterfly magnets in late summer.

American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) has proven to be very drought tolerant for me in Waverly. Love the apricot fall color.

Western Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) is noted for its low, sprawling habit and light green foliage. It most definitely desires well-drained soils. Its cherry fruits are very tasty.

Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum): Though somewhat gangly as it grows, the clove currant is extremely tough and reliable and awards our efforts with very tasty fruits.

American Plum (Prunus americana): Is there anything tougher than the native wild plum?
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis): This small, rounded shrub does not get nearly the landscape attention it deserves. It is only mildly suckering, has nice clean foliage and shows off with white fruits in late summer.

Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii): This large suckering species is amazingly tough and adaptable and with a nice red fall color and attractive flowers and fruit.
Roughleaf Dogwood


  1. Nice Post. I agree with this, and the dry weather we are experiencing right now should be a reminder to consider these trees in our landscapes. -Robert Whitman in KC

  2. I live trees so I would like to look for the best landscape services that can manage the entire landscape design of the backyard and even the front yard of it. Any way aside from this I'm interested also to lawn landscape design.