GIVEN THE WARM WINTER throughout most of the country, what can be in store for summer? Drought tolerant gardening is one way to prepare for the unexpected. Plants that can survive drought are a tough lot. They can even endure prolonged rain, provided the soil around their roots drains perfectly. If you plant them in standing water, though, they won't make it. Sandy soils work well, as do slopes, rock walls and raised beds.
Here are 10 of my favourite zone 3 dryland perennials, all
described more fully in my book, Dryland Gardening: Plants that Survive and
Thrive in Tough Conditions (Firefly, 2005).
Good luck with some of these sturdy, low-maintenance plants in your garden.
1. The queen of drought survivors is the cactus, and some grow wild on the prairies. From nurseries, look for large-flowered selections of prickly pear, Opuntia polycantha. If you find prickly pears in the wild, don't dig up a plant; just remove a top pad by twisting it with barbecue tongs. Let it callous for a few days in the air, then plant it upright in sandy soil. No need to water. Hardy opuntias flatten in winter, then regain their shape in warmer weather.
2. Like cacti, succulent plants store their own water supply. The most varied garden group is composed of sedums, both trailing and upright. Among the trailing types, S. kamschaticum is widely available and impressive, with big yellow flowers and scalloped leaves. The trailers are excellent in hanging
baskets. Among the upright kinds, I enjoy purple-leafed ones such as 'Hester.'
Divide the upright types every few years.
3. Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum) are another good group of succulents. They create widening mats of circular clusters in shades of green, purple and pink. Bright sun helps bring out the colours.
4. Artemisias, whether short or tall, are grown primarily for their whitish or bluish foliage rather than the small yellow flowers that bloom on lanky stalks. Artemisias can be invasive if put in a delicate place, but spread nicely where other ground covers won't survive. The low, white 'Silver Brocade' can decorate the edge of a sunny border.
5. Yarrows (Achillea) develop flat clusters of long-lasting button
flowers in a variety of colours, on stalks about 30 centimetres (one foot)
6. Alliums small and large are among the more drought tolerant hardy bulbs. Giants like 'Purple Sensation' are show-stoppers in the late spring garden, but the small yellow or pink species will have visitors asking, "What's that?"
7. There are many drought tolerant daisies. Bicoloured petals make gaillardia, called blanket flower, one of the cheeriest. G. aristata is a native of the Western provinces. Cultivated varieties range from 20 to 80 centimetres (eight to 32 inches) tall.
8. Selections of native prairie grasses like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) 'Heavy Metal,' provide windblown beauty through summer's hottest weather.
9. Mullein (Verbascum) varieties with whitish leaves are drought
tolerant. 'Arctic Summer' puts up two-metre (six-foot) wands of yellow flowers
above a rosette of woolly leaves, perfect for the back of a border. If you grow
it from seed, it will bloom in its second summer.
10. There are hundreds of euphorbias, some of which are very drought tolerant. E. polychroma has distinctive lime green flowers that create a beautiful background for flowering bulbs.
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