Drought tolerant plants

It may be raining as I type, but I know summer’s hot, dry days are coming. That can mean watering the garden every night or planning ahead and making the garden drought tolerant.

Drought tolerant or water-wise planting does not have to be all cactus and tumbleweed. Smart choices can be made to create a green and even a bloom-filled garden that conserves water.

As always, it starts with the soil. Create healthy soil by amending it with compost and other organic matter. This helps the soil retain water yet be loose enough to allow drainage and prevent soggy plant roots.

Once the garden is planted, a layer of organic mulch or stones on top of the soil will help retain moisture and keeps weeds at bay.

Speaking of stones, choose hardscaping wisely. Stones and boulders can create focal points and definition in the garden. Occasionally using stones instead shrubs will add to the design and aid in creating a drought-resistant garden.

Here at the little house on a big hill, after concrete walkways needed to be removed, I replaced them with pea gravel. One, I like it, and two, it lets water seep into the ground instead of heavy runoff, which can create issues if too close to the house.

Smart plant choices will help protect the garden from dry spells. Often fragrant plants, such as herbs, are drought tolerant. And those glorious spring blooming bulbs like it dry in the summer. After blooming, they become dormant and store water in their well – the bulb itself.

An experienced gardener can make an educated guess by the look of a plant if it is drought tolerant. Keep these tips in mind when shopping for your garden and choose plants with these characteristics:

*Gray, Silver, or blue foliage- such as certain hosta and yucca

  • Small, thin, narrow leaves – decorative grasses have thin leaves
    *Glossy, waxy leaves – begonias are a good example
    *Green stems w/ minimal foliage – rosemary and its woody stem fit this description
    *Fuzzy leaves- lamb’s ear, not only drought tolerant, it’s deer resistant, too

Of course, there are many other plants that, once established, can handle days of dry weather. Coneflowers, butterfly weed, and honeysuckle will not only withstand a mild drought but also bring color to the garden.

Stonecrop sedums will survive the dry spells. Their thick cushy leaves help store water. Sedums come in all shapes and sizes; think of Autumn Joy, which reaches 18-20 inches tall. The top blooms change from pale pink to a deep rose as the seasons progress. This perennial will grace your beds for years with minimal care.

Other stonecrops serve as ground cover and are equally independent. I have several varieties in my front bed. They have survived deer, weeds, runoff, winter salt, and overall neglect, yet they bloom and spread like crazy.

These plants and others are drought resistant, but all plants – even cacti – need water. The summer heat and wind will dry the soil quickly. The garden planted to be water wise will survive less water but not abandonment. Careful choices can help make your garden sustainable, but lucky for those of us who like to play in the soil, it will not thrive without a bit of care.