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.
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.
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 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.