When you think of plants for dry areas, the first ideas that come to mind are desert plants like cactus, agave, aloe, and yucca. There are many flowering perennial options for dry gardens outside of these, such as thistles like Echinops (Globe Thistle) and Eryngium (Sea Holly), and Mediterranean plants, such as Lavender and Perovskia (Russian Sage). Any plant with a tap root will be able to dig down deep and find water, so don't forget about beauties like Asclepias (Butterfly weed) and Baptis...ia.
Some gardeners can count on drought as summer's status quo, but even if you don't live in an area commonly thought of as having dry growing conditions, it's a smart idea to study up on which plants can adapt to dry areas. Sooner or later, every garden will experience a period of drought.
While water is crucial to growing healthy plants, many perennial plants can withstand periodic dry spells, as long as they are given a chance to set down roots and become established before they are subjected to drought. This is the basis behind a concept called xeriscaping or water-wise gardening, where gardeners are encouraged to choose and group plants based on their water requirements and how much water will be available to them. Knowing what plants will thrive in dry areas will save you and your garden much grief when the rains refuse to come down.
Designing your garden to withstand dry periods doesn't mean you can't have a great deal of color and variety. Here are 10 perennials that may surprise you with their drought-tolerant constitutions.
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Agapanthus, the African Lily, is thought of as a moist-soil plant, but once established, they are tough enough to withstand dry spells without stressing. Agapanthus foliage grows in thick clumps of long, strappy leaves. The flowers are born atop leafless stalks, about a foot high. They are round clusters of trumpet-shaped blossoms in white, purple or blue that can last for up to 8 weeks in ideal conditions.
- Bloom Period: Early summer to fall.
- USDA Zones: 8 to 10 In cooler climates, agapanthus can... be overwintered as houseplants or stored in a cold basement either in their pots or as a tender bulb.
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Gaillardia is a flashy daisy, too flashy for some gardeners, but also one of the most cheerful flowers you can plant. They love well-drained soil, so drought means little to them. Keep them in full sun or they become floppy from being top heavy. The traditional Gaillardia is rust colored, rimmed with yellow. New varieties are being bred in as an assortment of yellows, rusts, and reds. Gaillardia 'Burgundy' will even appeal to gardeners who don't allow yellow or orange into their flowe...r beds. Butterflies love it too.
- Bloom Time: Early summer to fall.
- USDA Zones: 2 to 9
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Many gardeners are stumped trying to figure out what will grow in the dry shade under a tree. How about Lamium? The partial shade under a tree helps keep Lamium performing in dry heat. It makes a pretty little groundcover. The silvery white streak down the center of its leaves brings some light to the shade. Just be sure to plant it where you won't mind it spreading out, which this plant is wont to do.
- Bloom Period: Late spring to early summer.
- USDA Zones: 3 to 9
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Heliopsis is one of those flowers that is so self-sufficient, it gets no respect. Even the common name, False Sunflower, implies it is a poor relative of a more prized plant.
This native of the dry prairie holds its golden flowers on stiff stems that can climb 3 to 6 feet. You can cut them back in the spring to create a bushier plant or just cut back the plant in the front of a large clump to extend the long blooming period even longer. There are single types that look rather like yellow daisies... and fluffy doubles. Heliopsis is often confused with its sterile cousin, Helianthus, but Heliopsis is quite fertile and will happily spread.
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- Bloom Time: Mid-summer to fall.
- USDA Zones: 3 to 9
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Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana)
Phlomis may sound like a disease, but it is actually an engaging plant with square stems, sage-like leaves and little balls of flowers atop each pair of leaves, all along the flower stalk. The flowers eventually turn into attractive seed capsules, prolonging this odd plant's interest. Jerusalem sage makes its biggest impact when massed. Flowers are usually yellow, pink or lavender.
- Bloom Period: Repeats throughout summer
- USDA Zones: 5 to 9
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Everyone knows the old-fashioned fringed flowers of Dianthus, also known as "Pinks". They belong to a huge genus and new varieties and colors are introduced every year. Although Dianthus often have pink-colored flowers, the name "Pinks" is actually descriptive of the fringed or pinked edges of the flowers. Along with pink, there are also Dianthus that flower in shades of whites, reds, peach, and variations thereof. Although often thought of as a spring bloomer, don't think of... Dianthus as delicate. Dianthus is so tough it's hard to kill.
- Bloom Period: Spring with repeat flowering, if cut back after blooming.
- USDA Zones 5 to 9
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Platycodon gets upstaged by the somewhat similar looking bellflowers (Campanula). Campanulas don't burst open or tolerant dry spells as well as Platycodon. Platycodon has the bonus of being very low maintenance. It doesn't even like being divided. Kids love the way they puff up and pop open, but use caution showing a child how to press on the sides of flower buds to get them to "pop" open, or you'll have a lot of squashed flowers.
- Bloom Period: Summer
- USDA Zones: 2 to 10
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The Veronicas are a large and varied group. Choose your plants right, and there will always be a Veronica in bloom. They are also problem-free and tolerant of almost any type of weather. The flowers are long and spiky, like a salvia but more refined and with less course foliage. There are low growing Veronicas that make great edgers, Veronicas that clump and grow 2 to 3 feet tall and make excellent border plants, and some that will take over. Thankfully, it's the better behaved... Veronica's that are being sold these days.
Continue to 9 of 10 below.
- Bloom Period: Mid-summer to fall.
- USDA Zones: 3 to 9
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Thyme is such a versatile plant, don't confine it to the herb garden. Thyme is another of the Mediterranean herbs that simply thrives on dry heat. That's why it's so popular for growing between pavers. Thyme is rarely thought of as a flower, but most varieties do flower profusely and are quite lovely in lavender, white, pink, and even red. A happy planting of thyme will quickly spread and form a carpet. You can even walk on it. Just be careful of the bees it attracts while in bloom.
- Bl...oom Period: Late spring to early summer.
- USDA Zones: 3 to 9
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Gaura flowers float on air and have names like 'Whirling Butterflies' and 'Sparkle White'. This is another dainty plant that can actually handle heat better than cold temperatures, although it does bloom more profusely with some watering. Even so, drought and poor soil won't deter it. The pink or white flowers are held high above the minimal foliage and keep forming and blooming all summer. Deadheading the entire spent flower stalk will revive it during prolonged dry spells.
- Bl...oom Time: Late spring to fall.
- USDA Zones: 6 to 9