Drought Tolerant Plants

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Is it hot out or what?! Going into our fourth consecutive week of the thermometer pushing triple digits, everyone is beginning to feel a bit wilted. No wonder they call these the dog days of summer.

Here on the west coast we have a Mediterranean climate. While that might sound like paradise, what it really means is forget about getting any help from Mother Nature in keeping your summer or early fall garden green. We did receive ample snow and rainfall this past spring, so technically we aren't in a drought. That doesn't change the fact that there has been no precipitation in over a month.

As we lug watering hoses and sprinklers around the yard (an automated watering system is on everyone's wish list!) we are becoming more and more thankful for those wonderful drought tolerant plants in our garden. There are some plants that do look fresh and lush right now, even if they haven't been watered for a few days.

Drought tolerance has become an important garden trait. Water is a precious commodity in many parts of the U.S. and every year there are many regions that experience drought conditions at some point during the summer. Drought isn't limited to the arid southwest. Almost every region has experienced drought in the past 5-10 years. Luckily, there are many plants that adapt quite well to dry conditions.

Not surprisingly, the first plants considered drought tolerant were natives of the desert southwest, including sedums, cacti, delosperma and yuccas. Plants with milky or oily sap also exhibit great drought tolerance. These would include euphorbias and many herbs such as salvias (sages), lavender, rosemary, and agastache.

While these southwestern natives are fantastic garden performers under hot dry conditions, they by no means are the only choices for drought tolerant plants. Prairie wildflowers that also exhibit great drought tolerance include coreopsis, echinacea, gaillardia, penstemon and rudbeckia. These are the plants we truly admire because they act "cool." Even during hot dry weather they continue to produce lush green foliage and bright flowers. Add garden favorites as daylilies, yarrow, butterfly bush and blue mist shrub and you'll have abundant in your garden, even if you miss a watering or two.

Bulbs: The Ultimate Drought Tolerant Plants

We don't normally think about spring-flowering bulbs being drought tolerant because they put on their dazzling display in spring. But most bulbs are the ultimate drought tolerant plants. Most daffodil, tulip, crocus and hyacinth species are native to regions that have a Mediterranean climate (wet winters and hot dry summers). Bulbs are essentially a modified root system that allows plants such as tulips and daffodils to convert sunshine into starchy food. Think of a bulb as a safe deposit box - it saves those valuable reserves needed to get through the lean months and still provide a wonderful 'nest egg' of energy to grow and bloom next spring. And they continue do this for years.

Like bulbs, irises avoid the pressures of drought by using a modified root system called a rhizome. It stores energy in a thickened root mass. Rhizomes are more brazen about their drought tolerance by growing on or near the soil surface, right where the sun can bake them. This doesn't bother them, though, and they even respond by producing beautiful sword-shaped leaves throughout the summer. Some even thumb their noses at drought by reblooming in the fall!

We smile when speaking with Midwestern friends about drought. To them, 2 weeks without rain is a drought! Whatever your definition of drought, it is nice to know that there are plants you can count on to keep your garden green and fresh.

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