Low-Water Plants Can Be Water Opportunists

April 10th, 2023

Don’t get fooled by some of their habits!

Photo top row (left to right):UNDAUNTED® Ruby muhly grass, Blonde Ambition grama grass.
Bottom row: Panchito manzanita, Autumn Amber sumac.

Some low-water plants are “water opportunists”—meaning they’ll take more water if you give it to them.

The trick is to adjust your watering habits, so you aren’t giving these plants more than necessary after they’re established in your landscapes. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they need more water.

Here are a few examples:


Arctostaphylos x coloradensis

Native to western Colorado, these evergreen shrubs have vibrant green leaves that add year-round color and texture. Their branches offer shelter for smaller songbirds, and their leaf litter is home to many insects, supplying a decent food source for birds during much of the year.

Manzanitas are versatile plants. You can plant them near trees, and they can take same amount of irrigation your trees need. Or, you can lower their water much lower than a tree, planting them in sunnier, semi-arid landscapes. They thrive on hillsides with approximately 5” inches of supplemental irrigation per season (assuming 10-14″ inches of natural precipitation per year).

UNDAUNTED® Ruby muhly grass

Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘PUND01S’


Blonde Ambition blue grama grass

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ PP 22,048

Both of these regionally native grasses tend to look better with more water… so the temptation is to increase irrigation. But typically, you can back off on your watering.

These grasses can handle dry conditions—they just may not look their best during those time frames. Similar to manzanitas, both of these grasses have a sweet spot around 5” inches of supplemental irrigation per season (assuming 10-14″ inches of natural precipitation per year).

Autumn Amber sumac

Rhus trilobata ‘Autumn Amber’

This low growing, wide spreading sumac from New Mexico makes a wonderful “groundcover” shrub. Depending on the year, it may turn yellow or amber in the fall. It can grow in full sunlight through dry shade.

This sumac will happily spread horizontally—and it can outgrow its space—when it’s regularly irrigated. Once this shrub is established, you can turn off the water to this plant. It is xeric and needs no supplemental irrigation. This helps keep its size in check!

So, are all low-water plants eager to soak up extra water?

Nope! Not all low-water plants are opportunists.

And even the plants above have an overwatering threshold. Less is more!

To help you group plants together that have similar watering needs, here is a list of Plant Select plants with their supplemental watering requirements.

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