For farmers, there are only two kinds of rainfall: too much and not
enough. Those of us who are into gardening and landscaping can
sympathize with that! However, unlike farmers, most of us don't have
thousands of acres to worry about. That means we can concentrate our
efforts on finding plants that can withstand the prevailing weather
conditions in our (relatively) small patch of soil.
The Plant Man's simple rule of (green) thumb? Select trees and shrubs
whose characteristics match the USDA plant hardiness zone where you
live and the specific moisture conditions of your landscape.
However much you have your heart set on a plant you saw in Taos, New
Mexico, it probably won't thrive in your front yard if you live in
the Pacific northwest. Similarly, plants that grow lush and verdant in
high-precipitation areas are probably doomed in sun-baked Arizona.
In my next column, I'll discuss some trees and shrubs that would be
suitable for planting in soil that ranges from moist to swampy. But
today, let's think about plants that do just fine in dry soil
conditions or can handle lower than average precipitation.
A word of caution: although they incline towards the dry side of the
flora spectrum, none of the plants described here are truly "drought
If you have dry, rocky or windy conditions and soil that is anything
from limestone to acidic, this is probably the tree for you. It looks
good as a stand alone or you can plant them about 6 ft apart to form a
screen or a windbreak. Even in poor, sandy soil, it grows quickly to 75
Resistant to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease, the Princeton seems to do
well in a wide range of weather conditions from the bitter cold of
northern plains to the sweltering heat of Texas. A majestic,
fast-growing shade tree.
Redbud "Don Egolf"
The horticulturist Don Shadow brought this new cultivar to my attention
and he tells me that it tolerates many different soil types and is
especially good in areas that tend to be dry. Don Egolf produces
remarkable rosy-mauve blooms and is ideal for smaller gardens, maturing
at a height of about 9 ft with a 9ft spread.
By the way, if you have trouble tracking down any of the plants I
mention here, drop me an e-mail and I'll see if I can help you.
Honeysuckle, Arnolds Red
This prized cultivar of tartarian honeysuckle puts out bright red
blooms in the spring and makes a beautiful and fragrant natural hedge.
It creates a delightful (and effective) windbreak and withstands
drought and extreme temperatures, doing fine in salt or alkali soil.
Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch'
This isn't strictly drought resistant, but I've included it because
it's a low-growing plant that looks so good in a rock garden or
between stones in a dry stone wall and does just fine in full sun and
dryish, well-drained soil. It has brilliant magenta, clove-scented
blooms and silvery-blue evergreen foliage.
Sedum Golden Carpet
If you want an attractive groundcover but are stuck with dry, sandy
soil, look for Golden Carpet, one of the hardiest of the Sedums. The
bright yellow blooms look great cascading over artfully placed rocks.
"Your results may vary," as they say on TV, and when in doubt, opt
for plants that are native to your geographic area rather than seeking
out exotics. As always, send me an a-mail with a few details such as
location, soil type and desired results and I will be happy to respond
with some specific comments and suggestions.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and
landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org. For resources and additional
information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed
newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org