Foliage: Drought-resistant plants

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Updated Jun 3, 2022
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Drought-resistant plants have a unique ability to withstand dry conditions through drought avoidance or drought tolerance. Drought avoidance is the way plants delay moisture stress.

Certain traits help promote this characteristic in plants, including adaptations in the root system that increase water absorption and waxy leaf surfaces that work to reduce water loss. Drought tolerance is the plant’s physiological ability to actually withstand dry conditions, meaning that the plant’s cell integrity isn’t compromised during moisture stress.

It’s important to evaluate your client’s landscape before selecting drought-resistant plants. Most of them are sun-lovers, but many will also tolerate shade. However, fewer will tolerate soils that hold moisture, so if you are working with a clay soil, the majority of these plants are not a good fit. Remember that many plants can have drought-resistant features, even if they aren’t classified as such.

Groundcovers

  • Common periwinkle (Vinca minor) is a viney broadleaf evergreen used as a groundcover. It can grow in partial shade but flowers best in full sun and can spread up to 2 feet and grow 3 to 6 inches tall. Choose from cultivars featuring white, purple or blue blooms.
  • Ice plant (Delosperma cooperi), as the name suggests, is hardy in colder climates and fares well in Zones 6 to 10. Its blooms are bright pinkish-purple flowers, and the plant performs best in sun. It will spread to 24 inches and grow 6 inches tall.

Ornamental annuals

  • Common geranium (Pelargonium hortorum) is not only a plant that will flower all summer long, but it will do so while tolerating full sun and minimal water. Choose from cultivars featuring pink, red, salmon, white or even bi-colored blooms. Geraniums will grow 12 to 24 inches tall.
  • Common zinnia (Zinnia elegans) come in a variety of bright colors ranging from orange to pink, red, white, yellow and purple. They grow up to 36 inches tall and perform best in full sun, blooming from late spring to early fall.

Perennials

  • Coneflower (Echinacea) can be planted in the spring or fall and will grow in full sun or light shade. These plants are hardy in zones 3 to 9 and bloom from midsummer to fall, reaching 36 to 48 inches tall.
  • Hens & chicks (Sempervivum tectorum). Surprisingly hardy (Zones 3 through 11), these plants are evergreens that produce clusters of rosettes and will grow in full sun to partial shade, reaching a height of only 4 inches but a spread of 24 inches or more. Foliage can be red, green or a mixture.

Ornamental grasses

  • Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and features white or pinkish plumes in the late summer that can reach a height of 12 feet. It grows quickly and prefers sun.
  • Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) gets its name from its wide, green leaves that sport yellow, horizontal bands. It will grow in sun or partial shade to a height of 5 to 8 feet.
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