of my favourite Drought Tolerant Plants.
Most of our common perennials and shrubs are drought
tolerant once they're established past a year, or two at the most
(doubly so if you follow the adice in the article above),
but there are many lesser known plants that are more than
"tolerant" of dry conditions, they need
dry conditions to be at their best. Dryland lovers have
robust root systems, DNA coded to plunge deep for their water and
then store it in their sturdy roots. Dryland plants in fact,
have only one enemy - a routinely moist soil surface that will
quickly rot their crown area ("crown" is where stems or leaves
meet roots, just 1/2"-ish below the soil surface.)
In my experience visiting hundreds of clients over the years, I've
never seen a plant that died of drought, but
I've encountered many that had wilted away to nothing because of
crown rot, in just a few months in overly moist soil.
This list is just getting started, so check here again for a more thorough list of dryland tough guys. Cheers! Evelyn
Epimedium rubrum (a.k.a. Fairy Wings). One of my favourite plants, regardless of the fact that it's a tough as nails go-to for even the dryest ground. A huge bonus is that it's also a plant that will thrive in shade as well. (There are only a half dozen or so different plants that won't fizzle out in a garden under a mature Maple, and this is one of them!). Extremely delicate texture to both the leaves and flowers, it adds a soft touch to any mix of plants. Bloom's in late spring around daffodil time. There are a few different cultivars available, but this one I've found to be the happiest in our more or less standard garden conditions.
Schizachyrium scoparium (a.k.a. Little Blue Stem). While many ornamental grasses are drought tolerant, this one demands dry conditions to be worth planting it at all! In medium moisture conditions Little Blue Stem is a so-so straggly thing, but give it some hot, gravelly, dry ground and it's at it's toughest best, with colours unrivaled by any of the other ornamental grasses in fall. (In this picture, it's mid October, and the colour is only getting started!) It's a warm season grass that doesn't even emerge from the ground until early June (good place for spring tulips), but expands into a colourful fireworks display by October and November, and right into winter. Even at the end of winter the stems still hold up strong and have a rich cinnamon colour. You can't do better for a dry garden centerpiece.
Eryngium x zabelii 'Big Blue'. (a.k.a. Sea Holly). An amazing contribution of texture that's totally unique, and a colour the grabs the eye no matter how large the garden. Truly a dry loving plant though so if you're planting it among other standard perennials, create a bit of a mound - 6" or so will do - and plant it on top of the mound so any water immediately drains away from the crown. (I lost my stunning 3 year old clump to crown rot in last years relentless rain! Grrrr). Going out of your way to search this particular hybrid is worth it - the flowers (actually bracts) are huge and the colour intense. The standard one I see around is half the size and not as blue.
Continus aurea (a.k.a. Yellow Smokebush). A stunning foliage colour shrub addition to add to a planting mix! 3-4" diameter round leaves are brightest in early summer,, but the colour holds for the whole season. Very drought tolerant with extremely deep roots, you have to plant it where it's to stay - there's no digging it up once it's in the ground for a year or two. Let it grow tall and slim as a small tree or do a severe coppice style pruning on it each spring to keep it to a bushy small size to mix with flowering perennials. (The photo on my home page here is another example of how this yellow leaved form of smokebush can add lots of punch to a deep coloured flower.). Here it's partnered with a bright Lychnis coronaria and Eryngium 'Big Blue'. Good in the driest of spots after it's given a bit of watering TLC for the first few months.
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Salvia officinalis (a.k.a. Common Sage) Some of the best plants for any garden are the ones right under our noses! Common sage comes in some leaf variations that make them great ornamental plants. Here, the purple leaved variety pairs nicely with the plain green plants around it, plus offers form and texture contrast to Amsonia hubrechtii's feathery leaves (here in it's fall golden colour phase). There is also a variegated (two-tone) variation of sage with white margins on the standard grey/green leaves. I've also seen a tri-colour one that brings together the white edge that's further edged with purple, on the grey/green background. Extremely drought tolerant small shrubs that are trouble free - other than when they have to endure too much water when the leaves get mildewy and some stems rot at the base. Plant Sage near the edge of a garden by some hot paving - these Mediterranean natives love the heat! All they need is a bit of pruning each year to take out old stems and then the remaining stems cut back to around half. It will then grow in a neat dome to contrast with any nearby upright plant.
Drought Tolerant? No! I'm not sure why so many people think of Cedars as tough drought tolerant plants. They're anything but! Average to wet conditions is what they demand.
If they don't have normally wet conditions, they'll spread roots wide and strong to gobble up as much as they can.
Since cedars are so often used as a hedge plant, all the gardens near them suffer the worst kind of drought condition - where moisture is sucked from the soil surrounding all the lovely perennials in the garden beds by the stronger roots of a tree - in this case, cedar trees.
The solution here is to regularly deeply water the hedge itself - not the garden bed. That way the cedar roots will be happy to stay put and not reach into the garden bed. Cedar's natural habitat is near the edge of a body of water, so they know how to stretch for water! Their thirsty roots will play havoc with your nearby garden bed.
Of course, the best solution is to choose something different for hedging if you want to establish an overall drought tolerant garden that needs little watering help from you. Evelyn