Drought Tolerant Plants for Sun

Wine Cups

Wine Cups

When last we talked plants, we explored the surpassingly diverse world of plants that tolerate dry shade. Today we visit plants that like it sunny and dry. Once considered a location suitable only for cacti, there are a wide variety of plants that will thrive in desert-like conditions. Below you will find plants that are described as dry/drought tolerant in our catalog and when using our online plant “search by characteristic” tool.

Flowering Perennials

Let’s start with one of everyone’s favorites – Butterfly Weed. Folks seem to love the cheerful bright orange summer blooms of this hardy perennial. They know monarchs will flock to it and so they plant it in their well-tended gardens with abandon. And then it suffers and perhaps even succumbs only to pop up in the most inhospitable of places – in the gravel along a sunny walk-way, along the road edge, on a hot, dry slope where nothing else seems to grow. Do not plant Asclepias tuberosa where you have spent decades amending the soil with your best compost. And make sure you plant this where you want it – Butterfly Weed supports those orange blooms, and is so very drought tolerant, because of an extensive taproot that doesn’t transplant well. It will seed in where happy and support a diverse host of insects.

Butterfly Weed growing happily in the crack of a large boulder

Butterfly Weed growing happily.

The Frost Aster is an underutilized native plant to say the least – have you used it? Aster pilosus is a shrubby aster growing to 4 feet tall. Good news is, though this plant thrives in hot, dry conditions, it will thrive just about any place. So if you are looking for a plant you can plant in many locations throughout the landscape in the interest of continuity, this is one to consider.  Small white flowers cover this perennial for six weeks in autumn providing a late nectar source for many insects before winter sets in.

Frost Aster Flower

Frost Aster Flower

Topping out at 9 inches tall and spreading to 3 feet wide, Winecups are stunning midwestern natives with a creeping habit and wine red flowers that bloom in late summer. Like many other drought-tolerant plants, perennial Callirhoe involucrata develops a large taproot and is difficult to transplant once established.

Wine Cups

Wine Cups

You may already be familiar with Blazing Star, Liatris spicataWhile this perennial with the distinctive purple flower spikes will certainly survive in dry conditions, it is its cousin Scaly Blazing Star, Liatris squarrosa, that will thrive in the challenging conditions of a hot, dry area of the landscape. The purple flowers are the earliest of any of the Liatris and, despite its petite stature, provide all of the ecosystem services you expect from a liatris.

Scaly Blazing Star

Scaly Blazing Star

Goldenrods are common sights in fields and meadows. (Just in case you are still mistaken about what causes allergies in summer – remember it is not goldenrod!) Most do well in drought conditions once established. But one goldenrod, in particular, does well in particularly droughty situations and you may never have heard of it. Grey Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis, will spread by underground rhizomes where happy, filling in gaps in the landscape with bright yellow summer flowers. Never fear though, this will not take over your garden like some of the more aggressive goldenrods have been known to do (Canadian Goldenrod and Sweet Goldenrod – are your ears ringing?) Unlike Butterfly Weed, this poor-soil plant will also do well where you have spent effort improving your garden soil. This small goldenrod blooms later than most other goldenrods supporting insects and, if you leave the seed heads, a variety of migratory and resident birds.

Grey Goldenrod

Grey Goldenrod

Grasses

If your sunny dry location is just screaming out for the grace of grasses, try Sideoats Grama. At just under 3 feet tall, Bouteloua curtipendula, is a diminutive addition to the landscape. Interestingly enough, should you have more problems on your site than just sunny, dry conditions – perhaps you have inherited a brownfield location – this plant has been used in phytoremediation to remediate selected soil contaminates. Wherever you plant this grass you will be rewarded with beautiful arching seed heads in July which will provide food for wild turkeys and upland birds.

Sideoats Grama

Sideoats Grama

Poverty Oatgrass is another option for your dry site. With curly basal growth that greens up early and produces a decorative seed head much before another grasses, this grass tops out at 6 inches tall. Preferring dry, rocky soils, recent investigations show promise for using this plant as a native lawn alternative. Don’t plant Poverty Oatgrass where it will have to compete with more aggressive species, it will not thrive there rather, plant Danthonia spicata in a special location in your landscape and expect to welcome skippers and moths.

Dazzling orange fall color will delight those in the presence of Little Bluestem. Schizachyrium scoparium prefers poor soils. Like Butterfly weed, this perennial warm-season grass languishes in rich soils and tends to flop. Many cultivars of this grass are available and we have quite a few, bred for intense blue color, strict upright habit, or short stature these are all great selections for your sunny, dry location. Not only will Little Bluestem fill your challenging landscape spot but having it there will also invite a variety of skippers and grasshoppers (and the many birds that eat them!)

The many colors of Little Bluestem

The many colors of Little Bluestem

Though there are many plants available that will do well in sunny, dry conditions, these are a few that prefer and thrive in these conditions. Planting these will guarantee multiple seasons of interest and a landscape that will support wildlife year-round. What has succeeded in the sunny, dry areas of your landscapes?

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