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The Best Sun-Tolerant Plants For Your Outdoor Space

It sure is getting hot outside! Kate here, and in my part of the world, the sun is almost always shining, a drought is in progress, and summer temps are often in the triple digits. My husband and I have been in our “new” home for a year now, and it’s become very clear which of our outdoor plants can handle the heat and sun and which ones are better suited for the shade. Through trial and error, I’ve learned a lot about working with the environment rather than against it when it comes to sun-tolerant plants.

As a companion piece to my post on the best outdoor plants for shaded areas, today I’m featuring six of my favorite plants that can thrive in the outdoor sun. While I can’t guarantee that all of these plants will be perfect for your outdoor environment, I can tell you that they’ve held up under some pretty extreme circumstances, including the freezing cold in some cases. Below I share some inspirational images, as well as a few pics from my own yard. Here’s to a verdant summer!

Mexican Feather Grass

See the Mexican feather grass below? I planted it in late spring, and I’m delighted to say that it’s thriving this summer. I also planted a batch last summer, and they didn’t make it past August. Why? I over-watered them! [photo by Kate Simmons]

Mexican feather grass thrives in the sun

Yes, folks–this full-sun plant only needs occasional watering once the roots are established. See how green this grass looks in the photo above? As more time passes, it will take on a golden hue, especially when clusters of flowers emerge at the tips.

Mexican feather grass embellishes an outdoor dining space

Not only is Mexican feather grass known for its low-maintenance qualities, its tranquil presence is heightened when the wind blows. As it moves, it takes on a modern wispy look that makes it perfect for landscaping in contemporary outdoor spaces. [from Huettl Design]

Mexican feather grass is ideal for modern outdoor spaces

Silver Falls Dichondra

I’m a wee bit obsessed with “Silver Falls” dichondra. Maybe it’s the way this plant shimmers in the sunlight, or the way it cascades over the edges of walls and planters. It’s a ground cover with a magical feel! Below we see “Silver Falls” dichondra in the rocky soil of my front yard. [photo by Kate Simmons]

“Silver Falls” dichondra cascades over a wall

This trailing plant is a silvery blue-green. It’s hard to believe that something so enchanting could be heat- and drought-tolerant! While “Silver Falls” (also known as “silver ponyfoot”) loves full-sun conditions, I’ve included it in three of my part-sun planters, and it’s absolutely thriving. [from Southlands Nursery]

“Silver Falls” dichondra shimmers and cascades

Speaking of containers, there’s nothing like the thick curtain of foliage this plant produces as it falls like a sheet of water over the edge of planters. Its name couldn’t be more perfect! [from American Farms]

“Silver Falls” dichondra

Dwarf Yaupon Holly

Densely packed leaves and low growth make dwarf yaupon holly ideal for sculpting. This full-sun plant is perfect for modern and classic outdoor spaces alike. [from VerdeGo]

Dwarf yaupon holly

These drought-tolerant plants can also be left unsculpted, as their bushy clusters will add interest to your yard as-is. In fact, they are a charming contrast to cacti, native grasses and other plants we frequently see in xeriscaped or modern yards. [from Animal Planet Gallery]

Dwarf yaupon for sale

Below we get a closer look at the leaves of the dwarf yaupon holly, courtesy of a plant in my backyard. I’m trying to decide whether or not to sculpt my yaupon. If I give it a shot, I’ll share the results with you here on Decoist! [photo by Kate Simmons]

Dwarf yaupon leaves


Ah, the cactus plant! It can beautifully tolerate heat and drought, and with many varieties to choose from, you can group this plant with its own kind for a truly interesting outdoor garden or vignette. [from D-CRAIN Design and Construction]

Cacti and succulents in a large planter

It goes without saying that cacti don’t need a lot of water. Many people water them about once a week, but this will vary depending on the conditions of your specific location. Pay attention to the state of the soil, and try not to water if the soil is moist. Below we see a collection of cacti in a hand-built planter created by my brother Andy. Remember this pic from my post on Andy’s amazing tiny house?! [photo by Kate Simmons]

Cacti and custom siding

Desert cacti love the full sun, so don’t hesitate to put them smack dab in the middle of the brightness! The cacti below are in cinder block planters against a beige wall in my backyard. This wall heats up when pelted with the sun, so not many plants can survive here. These cacti are loving the location. It helps that the planters are a light color! [photo by Kate Simmons]

Cacti in cinder block planters

Blue Agave

Next up: blue agave. Did you know that it’s also called the tequila plant? That’s because tequila comes from the distilled sap of the blue agave! This plant does well in hot, dry conditions, and its azure leaves are a lovely counterpart to the green plants that dominate many an outdoor space. Below we see a blue agave plant in my front yard. [photo by Kate Simmons]

Blue agave plant

In fact, blue agave can be a striking contrast to an array of flowers and plants, including the rosy pink muhly, shown below. Blue agave can get BIG! We’re talking over 6 feet tall, folks. It’s true! I’ve seen a few that are nearly that tall in my neck of the woods. [from D-CRAIN Design and Construction]

Blue agave and pink muhly

Their height and form make them ideal statement plants, whether they pepper the landscape in a sprawling yard or punctuate a flowerbed. Blue agave doesn’t need much water–some only water it once or twice a month, depending on the weather. Blue agave can beautifully handle full sun. Mine have done well in extreme heat and sunshine! [from Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects]

Blue agave in front of a white wall


Last but not least, we have yucca. With many species available, the landscaping possibilities are endless. In my area, both white and red yucca (named for their blooms) truly thrive, and there’s nothing like the tall flower-filled stalks that shoot from the center of the plant. Talk about height! [from Blisstree]

White yucca in bloom

Above we see white yucca, and below is the red. As shown, this plant makes a big statement when grouped with others. [from Arizona Desert Xeriscape]

Red yucca plants add a burst of color

Caring for your yucca is easy. These low-maintenance plants love full sun, and they need well-drained soil. In other words, don’t be tempted to over-water them. They don’t need much! The white yucca plants have sword-like leaves, so make sure you wear protective gloves when tending to them–they are likely not the best choice for yards where pets and children will be playing. [image below by Kate Simmons]

Red yucca in a modern planter

We end with a shot of a red yucca plant in a modern container. This very plant and its counterpart sit on either side of my garage doors. Thanks for letting me share a few snapshots from my yard. I hope you enjoyed today’s post! These six featured plants have held up under extreme heat, and when they haven’t survived, it’s been because of my over-watering, or unusually cold winter temperatures. In other words, they’re solid choices for sunny spots! Happy gardening, Everyone!

Kate Simmons

Kate Simmons is a freelance writer and design blogger with a love of all things decor. She spent her childhood writing stories and working on interior design-themed DIY projects. Kate’s published writing reflects her special interest in how design has changed through the decades. Her blog Mirror80 ( http://mirror80.com/) explores the fashion and [...]

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