When you think about drought tolerant perennials, do you envision an arid landscape filled with rocks, cacti, and succulents? Think again! Many gorgeous gardens include lush layers of colorful blooms and fabulous foliage—but also contain drought-tolerant plants to enhance the garden’s sustainability.
After all, as temperatures rise and many regions experience extended droughts, choosing plants that flourish in dry conditions is a smart choice. You’ll spend less time dragging a hose across the yard and more time relaxing in your garden. Plus, you’ll be thankful for drought-tolerant plants when the water bill arrives! The key to creating a garden that requires less water is to choose plants wisely.
Select the Right Plant
If you want to create a sustainable garden design, a bit of research goes a long way. While we’re all familiar with typical water-wise plants, like succulents, you’ll find many, less obvious options available at your favorite garden center.
Select plants with features that minimize water loss and encourage water uptake. Leaves often provide a good indicator for a plant’s drought tolerance. Generally, thick, fleshy leaves, very narrow leaves, or waxy, spiny, and hairy leaves all help reduce the amount of water loss during dry conditions. Look for plants with these features when browsing at nurseries, but always check the plant’s information tag to determine its watering needs.
Acclimate the Plant
While drought-tolerant perennials will thrive during dry periods once established, they still need water—and extra attention the first year. Pamper your new plants to make sure their roots grow strong. Remember, like all plants, drought-tolerant additions to your landscape still need time to acclimate to their new home. Please don’t dig a hole, plant your perennial, water it once and walk away. The first year is crucial to the healthy development of your perennial. Even drought-tolerant plants need a little TLC during the first year in your garden.
During periods with steady rainfall, your plants should receive enough water to grow well. However, when drought conditions prevail during the first year, check the plants regularly. The easiest way to know whether your new plants need a drink is to stick your index finger about an inch into the soil near the base of the plant. Is it moist? No need to water. If it’s dry, though, it’s time to give your new babies a drink.
Once your plant is well established after the first year, it will reward you with a beautiful show and less neediness.
Group Plants with Similar Needs
When creating a garden design or simply planting a perennial bed, group plants with similar growing needs together. Place drought-tolerant plants in a bed, for instance, to avoid accidentally overwatering plants that dislike wet feet, which can result in root rot. If you adore certain perennials with high watering needs, group those plants in a separate area of the garden so you can efficiently water them without harming your drought-tolerant plants. Thoughtful plant groupings help avoid wasted water.
Terrific Drought-Tolerant Perennials
With many options for drought-tolerant plants, where do you begin? To get you started, these four perennials offer a sustainable foundation for your garden:
If you love gorgeous bursts of color in the landscape and also adore watching pollinators play, add yarrow to your garden. This isn’t your grandmother’s yarrow. Common yarrow, Achillea millefolium, typically grows tall and spindly, drooping in a heavy rainstorm and turning mushy in high humidity. Instead, new varieties like ‘Ritzy Ruby’ offer the same drought tolerance of common yarrow but in a more compact, attractive form. ‘Ritzy Ruby’ adds vibrant red flowers with bright center eyes to the garden. She flowers in late spring and blooms though August. Along with ‘Ritzy Ruby’, you’ll find many colors and sizes of yarrow on our website. Plant several varieties, because yarrow also looks lovely in vases.
With more than 300 species available, bellflowers offer a diversity of colors, sizes, and forms for drought-tolerant gardens. For a burst of beautiful blue color in garden borders, containers, or hanging baskets, try Campanula Blue Waterfall. With a vigorous, low growing, spreading habit, this pretty drought-tolerant bellflower blooms throughout the summer, with some autumn regrowth as well. Plus, if you love hummingbirds, you’ll want to add Blue Waterfall to your garden, as they adore the pretty bell-shaped blooms.
Bachelor’s Buttons (Centaurea)
When bright blue bachelor’s buttons appear in meadows and alongside roads, you know spring arrived. Over the years, this charming, drought-tolerant wildflower grew up, with interesting new cultivars available, like Centaurea ‘Amethyst Dream’, recently featured on The Spruce. The stunning purple blooms from spring through early summer, with silky lavender tubular petals radiating from royal purple centers. Bees and butterflies adore the flowers, while deer avoid the plant. As an added bonus, the pretty flowers make a perfect addition to bouquets!
Beard Tongue (Penstemon)
Want to attract more pollinators to your garden? Add beard tongue to your beds. A tough perennial that dislikes wet garden soil, Penstemon offers the perfect addition to dry garden conditions. With hundreds of species available, you’ll find a wide range of colors and sizes. Try Penstemon ‘Prairie Twilight’, a mid-size (21-inch) perennial with dense clusters of delicate, tubular pink flowers with white tips and throats. Blooming from May through August, you’ll enjoy the lovely flowers—and so will the bees and hummingbirds.
With our recommended drought-tolerant perennials as a foundation for your garden, you’ll soon enjoy a lush landscape filled with perennials and pollinators. And, the lower water bills will delight you, too.
For more gardening inspiration, be sure to join Rozanne’s Inner Circle!