Drought-tolerant plants are friends in almost all weather – American gardens are definitely not in the tropics. Besides weathering hot, dry spells, you’ll love them when you’re busy, just don’t enjoy being outdoors or go away for the weekend. Or do some deadheading to perk up your beds instead.
Given the number of drought-tolerant plant choices, we’ll do perennials that generally thrive in a number of zones and wide areas in this article, and annuals in another. Your local garden center is a great source on what is most likely to thrive and delight in your area, and some catalogues and web sites note water needs.
A few drought-tolerant plants, such as Achillea (yarrow); Alcea (hollyhocks) and similar Malva, Penstemon and Verbascum come in many shades, including reds, pinks, yellows, purples and white.
For great variegated leaves that provide a long show, try Aegeopodium (bishop’s weed – will brown at the edges in high heat, but just trim them back, and they love shade), Euphorbia polychroma (stunning – they glimmer), Ruta graveolens (rue) for delicate elegance, Artemisia in many shades of silver, and Lamium with great bi-colored leaves from early spring often into winter, many now graced with pale to deep rose blooms rather than traditional white. The latter two like full sun to part shade, and Lamium goes fairly shady.
Drought-tolerant and dependable reds and oranges include Achillea paprika, Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) Gaillardia (blanket flower – traditional red with yellow tips has expanded to all red plus great orange and yellow). In the western U.S., Agastache flowers with all the colors of sunset at once and are a stunning addition to any bed.
For yellows, you can choose Anthemis (golden marguerite), Aurinia (basket-of-gold) many varieties of Coreopis (tickseed), Helianthemum, Hypericum (St. Johnswort) Santolina, and new varieties of Solidago (goldenrod, which has been found not to kick up allergies – that’s ragweed), including one called Fireworks that looks like Roman candles in your fall garden, and Thermopsis (southern lupine) .
Drought-tolerant plants in pink may look delicate, but these are strong: Armeria; Bergenia with lovely leaves that bronze in the fall; a huge selection of perennial geraniums; Echinacea (exploding into reds, whites and more in recent years); Liatris (gayfeather) – great deep-toned spikes; Dianthus in many shades – Bath’s Pink is lovely and provides grass-like gray-green leaves throughout the season; and flowering thymes.
Many purple and lavender perennials will withstand drought, including Baptisia, Echinops (looks like Alium), Lavenders, Linaria purpurea (lovely in spite of its common name, toadflax), Limonium, Nepeta, Perovskia, lavender-blue Stokesia (Stokes’ aster), and a huge choice of Salvias in all shades, including deep purple and long-blooming May Night which has entranced gardener since it appeared in the late ’90s.
Whites are a bit rare in drought-tolerant plants, but Boltonia (“snowbank” that look like small daisies), Cerastium tomentosum (snow-in-summer), Echinacea and Achillea give you four great height choices. Gaura (butterfly flower) appears to float in delicate white blossoms, some bi-color with pale pink.
Have fun meeting a few new drought-tolerant plants this year.