Water-Wise Plants for Utah Landscapes

Plants adapted to Utah's arid climate and cold winters have to be tough to survive. However, this doesn't mean that the plant pallette is limited or that the plants cannot beautiful!  

Many of the public gardens and water-conservation demonstration gardens in Utah have compiled lists and databases of plants appropriate for our climate.

USU Extension resources are listed at the bottom of this page. 

Iris Blanket Flower

Water-Wise Plant Lists

Conservation Garden Park Plant Database Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Utah Special Collection LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center 
Native Plants for the Intermountain West Wyoming Extension/WERA-1013 (website currently hosted by USU Extension)
Plant Select ® Colorado State University & Denver Botanic Gardens
Red Butte Garden Red Butte Garden, Salt Lake City, UT
Red Hills Desert Garden Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, UT 
Tree Browser Utah State University
USU Botanical Gardens and Utah House Utah State University
Water-Wise Plant Lists for Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Public Utilities

Plants in the Garden: Search a master database of plants in the garden and great for waterwise landscaping

Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, Layton, UT

Design Considerations

Selecting the right plant for the right place in your garden is essential when creating a water-efficient landscape.

  • Fit and Function: Choose plants based on height, width, shape, color, and form that will best help accomplish the design goals. Plants can be used to conserve energy or water, block undesirable views or noise (dense plant material), control erosion on steep slopes (lower growing groundcovers) and attract birds, butterflies and bees. There are many resources for water-wise plant lists and tree selection that are searchable by desired characteristics and water use.
  • Choose Adapted Plants: Use plant species that are adapted to the landscape environment—the soil, water, temperature, light, and pest conditions—to help minimize maintenance and water requirements. This does not necessarily mean that water-wise landscapes are composed entirely of native plants.  In fact, some native plants, such as Aspen, do not generally do well at the altitudes and water levels in most gardens as they are adapted to high elevations and wet-meadow situations. There are many plants from other dry regions around the world that are well-adapted to suit the low-water requirements of our region.
  • Hydrozones: Grouping plants according to their water needs allows for more efficient irrigation as plants are less likely to be over or under-watered. Also, remember that smaller plants tend to have lower water requirements than larger plants.
  • Seasonal Interest: Think about the timing of the foliage, bloom and seed head displays of the planting material to ensure interest year round. Try to Incorporate spring, summer and fall interest in each planting group so that no place in the landscape looks bare.
  • Hardiness Zone: Use plants that will survive in our climate. Plant hardiness zones in Utah range from 4-9. The hardiness zones were established by the USDA and are based on the minimum, annual survival temperatures for plants. Plants for hardiness Zone 4 can survive -20 to -30 °F, Zone 5 can survive -10 to -20 °F, Zone 6 can survive 0 to -10 °F and Zone 7 can survive 0 to 10 °F. Keep in mind, that local micro-environments in the landscape, such as low or wet areas, soil conditions such as drainage and rockiness, shade, and other physical features can influence a plant's hardiness or suitability for a particular place. Contact your local Utah State University County Extension office or go to the USDA Plant Hardiness Website to learn the hardiness zone of your area.

Visit a Garden for Ideas

It is a good idea to research the types of plants you would like in the landscape before heading off to the nursery to purchase.

One way to do this is to visit local water-wise demonstration gardens for ideas on plant combinations and mature sizes.

The many water-wise demonstration gardens around the state of Utah can help you visualize ideas for water-wise plant selection, irrigation innovation, hardscape ideas, as well as planning and design.


Related Extension Fact Sheets and Publications

Extension Fact Sheets

Annuals for Utah Gardens

Annuals are plants that come up in the spring, reach maturity, flower, set seeds, then die all in one season. They provide eye-catching color to any flower bed and can be used as borders, fillers, or background plantings. There are several ways to find an...

Apache Plume in the Landscape

Apache plume is an evergreen shrub that can reach five feet tall and wide in a landscape setting. This plant’s most distinguishing and attractive feature is the feathery, redturning-pink seedhead that emerges after the white rose-like, five-petaled flower...

Firecracker Penstemon in the Landscape

Bright scarlet flowers that shower from arching stems of firecracker penstemon have made this plant a favorite of many penstemon enthusiasts. The species is found throughout the West at elevations from 3,000 to 11,000 feet.

Little Bluestem in the Landscape

This plant can be found naturally in desert surroundings, along waterways, and in rock crevices. This is a long-living plant that can be used ornamentally as a specimen, in a rock garden, or anywhere soil stabilization is desired. In winter, the seeds are...

Mountain Beebalm in the Landscape

This mound-forming perennial is typically seen in higher elevations in the interior West. The lavender or rose-purple flowers are attractive to insects, especially bees and butterflies. This plant is easy to establish and maintain in Intermountain West la...

Selection and Culture of Landscape Plants in Utah

The purpose of this series of publications is to recommend plants and landscape management procedures for various regions of the state. This edition targets the communities of the high mountain valleys of the state (Rich, Morgan, Summit, and Wasatch count...

Shrub Selection for Utah Landscapes

Urban and suburban landscapes present special challenges concerning shrub selection in Utah. Due to our distinctive climate, shrubs must be able to withstand intense sunlight, low relative humidity, drying winds, and limited seasonal precipitation.

Water-Wise Plants for Utah Landscapes

This fact sheet includes a water-wise list of ornamental trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, ornamental grasses, and ground covers. The plants on the list are (1) water-conserving, (2) adapted to Utah’s arid climate and cold winters, (3) available in th...