When you think of plants for dry areas you probably think of desert plants like cactus, agave, aloe, yucca and prickly pear. If you garden in a dry area yourself, you've most likely experimented with thistles like Echinops (Globe Thistle) and Eryngium (Sea Holly). Mediterranean plants are also good choices for dry, neglected areas. Lavender and Perovskia (Russian Sage) come to mind. Also, 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 Baptisia.
It's a smart idea to study up on which plants can adapt to dry areas because sooner or later every garden will experience a period of drought. Some gardeners can count on drought as summer's status quo.
While water is crucial to growing healthy plants, there are many perennials that can withstand periodic dry spells, if they are given a chance to become established before they are severely stressed. This is the basis behind a concept called xeriscaping or water-wise gardening. Gardeners should 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 won't seem 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.
Top 10 Underused Plants for Dry Areas
- Agapanthus africanus (African Lily) Agapanthus is thought of as a moist-soil plant, but once established, they are tough enough to withstand dry spells without stressing. Agapanthus foliage is 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 - 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.
- Dianthus spp. (Pinks) Everyone knows the old-fashioned fringed flowers of Dianthus. The belong to a huge genus and new varieties and colors are introduced every year. Although pink is a common Pinks color, the name is actually descriptive of the fringed or pinked edges of the flowers. Flowers now come in pinks, 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 - 9
- Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) Gaillardia is a flashy daisy. Too flashy for some gardeners, but also one of the most cheerful flowers you can plant. Here is a repeat bloomer that light up your garden. And 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. 'Burgundy' will even appeal to gardeners who don't allow yellow or orange into their flower beds. Butterflies love it too. Bloom Time: Early summer to fall. USDA Zones: 2 - 9
- Gaura Gaura flowers float on air and have names like “Whirling Butterflies”. This is another dainty plant that can actually handle heat better than cold, although to be honest, it blooms 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 dry spells. Bloom Time: Late spring to fall. USDA Zones: 6 - 9
- Heliopsis helianthoides (False Sunflowers) Heliopsis is one of those flowers that is so self-sufficient, it gets no respect. Native to the dry prairie, Heliopsis holds its golden flowers on stiff stems that can climb 3 - 6 feet. You can cut them back in the spring to create a bushier plant or just cut back the front 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. Bloom Time: Mid-summer to fall. USDA Zones: 3 - 9
- Lamium (Dead Nettle) The question is often asked: "What grows in the dry shade under a tree?" How about Lamium? In fact, the partial shade under a tree helps keep Lamium performing in dry heat. It makes a pretty little groundcover with the silvery white streak down the center of its leaves calling attention in the shade. Just be sure to plant it where you won't mind it spreading out, because spread it will. Bloom Period: Late spring to early summer. USDA Zones: 3 - 9
- Phlomis 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 along the flower stalk. The flowers eventually turn into attractive seed capsules, prolonging this odd plant's interest. Phlomis makes its biggest impact when massed. Flowers are usually yellow, pink or lavender. Bloom Period: Repeats throughout summer USDA Zones: 5 - 9
- Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) Platycodon gets upstaged by the similar campanula. But Campanulas don't burst open or tolerant dry spells as well as platycodon. Use caution showing a child how to pres on the sides of flower buds to get them to "pop" open, or you'll have a lot of squashed flowers. Platycodon has the bonus of being very low maintenance. It doesn't even like being divided. Bloom Period: Summer USDA Zones: 2 - 10
- Thymus (Thyme) 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 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. Bloom Period: Late spring to early summer. USDA Zones: 3 - 9
- Veronica (Speedwell) The Veronicas are a large and varied group. Choose your plants right, and there will always be a veronica in bloom. They are also very problem free and very 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 -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. Bloom Period: Mid-summer to fall. USDA Zones: 3 - 9
Tip for U.S. Residents:
You can keep tabs on drought forecasts for your region on the U.S. Drought Monitor.