Drought Tolerant Plants
Which plants can tolerate drought conditions
One misconception about drought tolerant plants is that you can put them in the ground and never water them. That is not the case. Most plants must be well established in the ground for 1-3 years before they are well equipped to handle drought. There are also many things you can do to help plants along during extreme stretches without rain. Here are a few tips before I go into specific plants to grow.
- Amend your soil with compost at planting time and add a layer of compost around plants each spring and again in the fall if your soil is extremely sandy or full of clay. This will improve the soil and allow sandy soil to retain moisture better and will allow clay soil to drain better thereby allowing the roots to absorb water in the soil more easily.
- Mulch around plants with at least 2" of a natural mulch to help conserve water and to help keep the soil temperature even. This would include bark, pine needles, leaves, grass clippings, etc.
- Avoid plants with large lush leaves as they will require more water to stay alive. Choose plants with smaller and fewer leaves per stem. This usually indicates that they can handle dry weather better than a plant with large leaves. Plants with fuzzy leaves can also withstand short bouts of dryness.
- Keep plants with similar watering requirements together, to make watering easier.
- Take the time to set up soaker hoses or drip irrigation around plants so that when you do have to water you can do so efficiently with as little water as possible.
- Put plants where they can get some shade during the hottest parts of the day to help reduce stress on the plants. This is beneficial to all sun-loving plants, especially in the south or west where temperatures are especially high in the summer months.
- Pay attention to the humidity level in the air. Plants are more likely to dry out during low humidity than during high humidity; adjust your watering accordingly.
- Choose plants that are native to your area as they are more likely to be able to withstand drought if that is the norm for your location.
- If allowed by your local government, put up a rain barrel to capture water from any rainfall you might have so that you can use that to water your plants instead of water from the hose. Plants much prefer rain water or well water over water that has been treated with chemicals.
- Plant any new perennials or shrubs during your "rainy" season when possible. For some people this may be Spring and for others this may be in the Fall or Winter. This will allow the plants to grow a healthy root system before they are tested by dry weather.
- Avoid fertilizing during dry weather. Fertilizer will only stress the plant. Fertilizer will encourage the plant to grow more, but without regular rain this can be detrimental to the plant.
Following is my list of favorite drought tolerant plants. There are many more available. Make sure a plant is not considered invasive to your area before planting. Talk with educated people at a garden nursery, farmer's market or Cooperative Extension office if you are unsure. Avoid big box stores for information as most of their employees may not be well educated in plants.
- Artemisia - Generally a low growing perennial that can spread rapidly if it is happy. It is prized for it's silvery-green foliage that is a wonderful accent plant for other flowering perennials. Choose varieties that are less aggressive such as 'Seafoam', 'Silver Mound' or 'Valerie Finnis' which grows 2' tall.
- Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) - A low growing shrub typically grown in the southwest, this plant can remain evergreen in warmer climates. Flower color generally range in the purple to red shades, but other colors are being introduced such as white, pink and salmon. Autumn Sage grows best in well-draining rocky soil and grows really well on slopes that are hard to mow.
- Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) - I love this plant. Butterflyweed grows in sandy soil well and blooms in a vibrant orange or gold color most of the summer. Attractive to butterflies and other pollinators, this plant can be grown in most of the country.
- Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) - This plant is perfect to grow with other flowering perennials as it makes an excellent ground cover, which also helps to retain moisture in the soil. Looks lovely cascading over rock walls, candytuft will spread moderately throughout your garden.
- Dianthus - These carnation-like flowers grow about 1'-2' tall depending on the variety being grown. They prefer a mostly sunny area and look great planted with most any plant since their stems can range from green to silvery-green in color.
- Lambs’ ears - Another great plant for it's fuzzy silvery foliage, Lambs' ears compliment may other perennials well and can tolerate dry soils once the are established. This plant is grown as an annual in colder climates and as a perennial in warmer climates. It's been known to survive a mild winter in zone 5 and can also reseed itself.
- Lavender - Lavender is a small shrub that is grown in zones 5-9 for it's fragrance, medicinal purposes and for it's beauty. It can be grown and shaped or allowed to grow naturally depending on the type of garden it's in. It must receive full sun and be planted in sandy, well draining soil with a soil pH of at least 7.0 to be happy. It benefits from annual pruning.
- Liatris - Also known as Blazing Star or Gayfeather, this plant produces spiky purple flowers on 2' tall stems. Grows best in zones 3-8. Though Liatris prefers a more fertile soil, it can tolerate drought quite well and will die in wet soils.
- Salvia - At it's peak bloom in mid-summer, Salvia can be found in annual, biennial, perennial and shrub varieties. Salvia are also very attractive to hummingbirds and prefer partial to full sun. Salvia range in size from 18" tall to 5' tall, so there is sure to be a plant right for your landscape.
- Sedum - Sedum is a fantastic plant for hot dry areas. It thrives on full sun and doesn't need a lot of fertilizer. Sedum come in low growing creeping varieties to tall upright varieties. Blooms on the end of the stems occur in mid-late summer ranging in color from rose, pink, red, white and yellow.
- Yarrow - Hardy in zones 3-9, Yarrow have feathery foliage with bright flower heads in shades of yellow, white, red and pink. Yarrow don't like wet feet so make sure the area they are planted in drains well in case you get a lot of rain . Yarrow can spread when happy with their location, but that can be a good thing as they can help keep weeds down. Divide every 3-5 years to keep them in check or to make new plants.