by Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95)
The heat wave we’ve been experiencing the last few weeks really makes me appreciate the drought tolerant or xeriscape plants in the landscape- the beautiful, tough performers that keep things looking great in spite of scorching heat.
Learning about drought tolerant plants from San Diego
My experience with drought tolerant plants began in my native southern California which is considered a semi-arid region (receiving less than 12 inches of rain annually). There the rocky hills are covered with scrub brush, chaparral and dry seasonal grasses.
Native or “wild” San Diego is only green for a brief period in the spring and fall during the “rainy” season. These rains bring brief periods of amazing bloom that last only a few weeks as the plants perform their full life cycle in just a matter of days but the massive bloom is all the more beautiful for its intensity, like golden California poppies blue lupine or yellow mustard spread across acres of normally bare hills, as if painted by a huge brush.
Just over the Laguna mountains from San Diego is the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, renowned for its intense desert bloom in February or March (depending on rainfall). For a few brief weeks the seemingly dead dried-up vegetation bursts into bloom – red chuparosa (choop-a-rosa or hummingbird bush), ocotillo (oc-o-tiyo) with flaming blossoms at their tips, yucca with creamy candles of bloom 10 to 20 feet tall, desert willows with delicate purple orchid-like blooms, the palo verde tree with its green bark and bevy of yellow flowers as if to make up for the months spent in dormancy.
Learning about drought tolerant plants in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the Great Basin in Utah
When I lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills, I became acquainted with manzanita (Spanish for little apples), with its smooth red bark and small urn-shaped flowers. Then I fell in love with the crinkled petals of the Matilija poppies. When I lived in the Wasatch mountains of the Great Basin in Utah, it was the quaking aspen that was the star, able to take the heat, cold, wind and minimal rainfall and turn a beautiful gold in the fall. When I volunteered for a highway wildflower planting project in upstate New York, it was the yarrow that outperformed the other flowers so well that, at the end of three years, it was one of the only flowers of the original planting left.
Learning about drought tolerant plants in North Carolina
Here in North Carolina this year we’ve had 9 days over the 100-degree mark but I still expect a lot from my plants. I still want them to be trouble free – no insect pests and no supplemental water and lots of bloom – I want it all! And the stars of my garden were many. In the flower beds, the sunny daisy types, the rudbeckia and echinacea bloomed better for the heat. The sunflowers thrived. The hibiscus (Althea “Blue Bird”) bloomed unphased by the damage done by marauding Japanese beetles earlier in the summer.
But the real stars were the daylilies!
Unwatered, not bothered by pests, they bloomed and bloomed in spite of the heat.
I have to confess, they’re my favorite not only for beauty, shape, and color but for toughness! What are some of your best performers this summer?