Drought-Tolerant Trees

Drought is common throughout the history of the western United States, and it is only likely to become more common  in future. Accordingly, it is wise for Californians to select and plant drought-tolerant trees whenever possible. While now is not an ideal time to plant new trees, as new plantings require a fair amount of water to become properly established, most of these suggested species represent excellent choices, once the drought concludes.

Get to Know Your Natives

Because California has suffered droughts throughout the millennia, many of the state’s native shrubs and trees have evolved adaptations that enable them to survive long, dry periods.  Most of these are capable of surviving droughts once well established.

  • California redbuds (Cercis occidentalis)

  • California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)

  • Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica)

  • California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica)

  • Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

  • Scrub oak (Quercus beberidifolia)

  • Valley oak (Quercus lobata)

  • Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)

  • Hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia)

Excellent Exotics

California is not the only place in the world with drought-tolerant trees, and many exotic species are equally suited for surviving low-water periods. While native trees are generally preferable to exotics, you can select some species that are unlikely to spread invasively or cause ecological problems.

  • Jujube tree (Ziziphus jujuba)

  • Kei apple (Dovyalis caffra)

  • African sumac (Rhus lancea)

  • Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

  • Olive trees (Olea europaea)

  • Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki)

  • Persian mulberry (Morus nigra)

  • Carolina laurel cherry (Prunus caroliniana)

  • Australian willow (Geijera parviflora)

  • Mulga (Acacia aneura)

  • Bailey acacia (Acacia baileyana)

  • Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)

  • Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica)

  • Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)

  • Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

  • Afghan pine (Pinus eldarica)

  • Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)

Proper Establishment

In addition to selecting species suitable for drought-stricken regions, you must plant and establish them properly to give them the best chance for long-term survival. For example, when you water the newly planted trees, be sure to soak the soil deeply and infrequently. In contrast to frequent, shallow watering, deep, infrequent watering causes trees to develop deep root systems. These deep root systems enable trees to draw water from deep within the substrate during parched periods.

Further Reading

For more information on drought-tolerant trees, see these resources: