Plant Selection for Water-Wise Shrub Beds

Water Conservation for Lawn and Landscape September 22, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Juniper draped over a fence. Water-Wise junipers (Juniperis, spp.) are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures, and colors and are native to many parts of the world. Photo credit: Susan Buffler

Horizontal juniper (Juniperis horizontalis). A low growing type good for use as a groundcover. Photo credit: Cass County Extension

Rocky Mountain juniper in its native landscape (Juniperis scopulorum). Photo credit: brewbooks Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Appropriate plant selection for water-wise shrub beds can help reduce water needs in the landscape. 

Shrubs can provide a more natural look, screen unsightly objects, create strong seasonal interest in the landscape, and provide a backdrop for showy perennials. Shrubs can also meet habitat and food requirements for a variety of wildlife species.

  • Look for native or species adapted to the local climate, soil type, and sun exposure
  • Choose flowering and fruiting shrubs for seasonal interest and food for wildlife, if desired
  • Mix evergreens and deciduous shrubs to create interesting texture combinations, seasonal interest (color, texture, form), and wildlife habitat
  • Combine different size shrubs for visual interest
  • Perform a soil test to assess soil conditions such as type, drainage, and fertility
  • Apply enough water during the first two years to ensure strong root establishment
  • Choose shrubs that require 2 or fewer irrigations per month
  • Group shrubs with similar water needs together
  • Group plants in a bed to create a more natural look. This will reduce maintenance, water use and lawn area
  • Use appropriate spacing based on mature plant size. Some overlap can help create a more natural look
  • For a more formal look, create bold, symmetrical patterns by spacing shrubs farther apart to showcase shrub bed shape
  • Many shrubs can be clipped or trimmed to create interesting geometric or 'neat' shapes

Additional Resources:



Xeriscape Trees and Shrubs
Woody Plant Management During Drought


Xeriscaping in the Hight Desert


Shrub Selection for Utah Landscapes
Water-Wise Plants for Utah
Designing Shrub Bed Areas



Selecting Shrubs



Shrubs for Texas

Additional Examples of Water-Wise Shrubs


A variety of cotoneaster (Cotoneaster species) cultivars are available at plant nurseries. Cotoneaster species are native to temperate Asia, Europe, N. Africa, China and Himalaya mountains. 
Photo credit: Leonora Enking Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are available in white and purple and are native to southern Europe. They are somewhat drought tolerant depending on where they are grown.
Photo credit: Chris Devers Flickr CC  BY-NC-ND 2.0            

Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) is available in green or purple leaved types and is native from southern Europe to central China.
Photo credit: Susan Buffler
Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosus) flowering in October.  Native to the Intermountain West U.S., this plant was formerly known as Chrysothamnus nauseosus.
Photo credit: Susan Buffler

Fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) is native to the Intermountain West, U.S.Photo credit: Colorado State University Extension



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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.