Drought-tolerant plants save time and water

Drought tolernat perennials

Dry does not mean dull. Low-water perennials include, from left, tall sedum, black-eyed Susans, blazing star (or liatris) and purple coneflowers. Photo courtesy of outsidepride.com

Without low-water plants, I’d have little to look at and even less to snip for small bouquets around the house. We’ve had 9.4 inches of rain since June 1 – 50 percent above the norm – though a week of hot, stuffy days is wilting plants and those tending them.

And it’s not even August.

Glenora CA demo gardens

The City of Glenora, California, showcases drought-resistant gardens with plants donated by Monrovia. See below for link.

Blessedly, nature as well as plant breeders produce ground covers, annuals, perennials, ornamental grasses and shrubs that do well without regular watering. A staple of low maintenance gardening, drought-tolerant plants also can add generous shots of color in late summer and early fall.


In her book Hot Color, Dry Gardens, author Nan Sterman says, “Flower Carpet roses are among the most drought-tolerant roses, especially in coastal Mediterranean climates.” She specifically recommends them for people who struggle to grow roses in a dry garden.  Award-winning Flower Carpet roses have two-tier root systems that allow them to weather drought conditions without slowing down. Surface roots quickly grab new moisture from rain or watering, while established plants develop taproots that reach lower level groundwater sources.


Drought Gardens

These Flower Carpet roses hold up to Australia’s drought with no reduction in blooms!  Gardeners in drought-ridden areas of the US  have had equally great success with them.


drought tolerant plants

Flower Carpet Pink and Red thrive in this California winery entrance


water wise plants

Purple Cone Flowers and Coreopsis are both water-wise plants

Black Eyed Susans, coneflowers, coreopsis, sedums, asters, chrysanthemums, lavenders and many types of salvia need little water. They require little care, spread nicely and divide well.

Nearly all junipers are drought-resistant, and the dwarf, shrubby ones add texture to a mixed border. Butterfly bush, including Monrovia’s Buddleja Lo & Behold® ‘Blue Chip’, creates height and long-lasting color. Flower Carpet Ground Cover Roses, Festival Cordyline and Storm agapanthus are drought-tolerant, too.

Other low-water ideas, many from the Southwest, are hardy in at least USDA zones 5 to 9:

  • Desert beardtongue (Penstemon pseudospectabilis), with tall red flowers, needs a deep watering only every few weeks.
  • Violet Cloud skullcap (Scutellaria ‘Violet Cloud’), with deep purple flowers, needs well-drained soil.
  • Hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii), with orange-red tubular flowers, needs little water but likes afternoon shade.
  • Swallowtail columbine (Aquilegia ‘Swallowtail’), with large, grows nearly two feet high by two feet wide.
  • Orange hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca), with flowers that change from orange to pink, attracts hummingbirds.
  • Veronica ‘Big Blue,’ with blue spires, is among low-growing forms of veronica, also called speedwell.
low-water plants

A swath of tall coreopsis, foreground, with rosemary in the background makes a simple but striking low-water statement.

Low-water plants are surprisingly diverse, though a few traits can help identify contenders. Fine-textured leaves – think Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) are one clue. Waxy stems and leaves for water storage is another. A cover of gray or silver hairs – Lamb’s ears, or Stachys byzantina is a classic example – also helps plants conserve water.

Remember even drought-tolerant plants need water to establish themselves, so don’t just pop them in the ground and walk away. A soggy spring and early summer predict nothing about late summer and early fall.


Mulch, Mulch More . . .

And finally, don’t forget the importance of using mulch to conserve water usage, even with drought-tolerant plants.  Studies show that using a 4-6 layer of mulch can reduce moisture evaporation by at least 25%!   Click here to learn more about mulch options for your garden.

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2 Responses to Drought-tolerant plants save time and water

  1. Graciebelle July 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Thanks for these great ideas and it’s wonderful to learn that some of the drought-tolerant plants also attract humingbirds. Very cool!

  2. Pamela Coyle July 27, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    Many water-wise plants also attract butterflies and are staples in butterfly gardens. Bees, too, flock to my coneflowers and sedums. May be that the longer bloom time means more nectar or simply that the ability to tolerate the oft-hot and dry months of July and August works well with the life cycles of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Experts, please weigh in!

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