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Drought Tolerant Rock Star Plants

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Need drought tolerant plant ideas for your garden?

drought tolerant garden

As our climate continues to change, bringing longer, hotter, drier summers, it’s evermore important to select garden plants that not only tolerate hot and dry, but also thrive and perhaps offer us some respite from the broiling sun. The 2015 summer in Seattle was a perfect time to push the limits on plants to determine which can take the heat and which need the most supplemental water to survive when the ground is parched and the sun just won’t stop.

Following are a few rock star plants that shine bright in drought:

A tree, a shrub, a grass(like), a ground cover and a perennial. And, yes, they all look great together!

Acer griseum: This tough-as-nails little maple has consistently been one of our top tree choices. We’ve known it can thrive in direct sunlight. It even does well in urban settings where extra heat builds and reflects onto it from sidewalks and street asphalt. Plus, it looks fantastic all year long.

>blooming Acer griseum
This year we watched ours closely for watering needs and found they didn’t require watering at all. Not one watering! Even as succulent Sedum groundcovers below them shriveled into mid-summer dormancy, these trees didn’t need to be watered at all. Now, keep in mind, they’ve been in the ground for almost a decade and were well watered in infancy to ensure they’d root. But, we’ve hardly watered them in years. If you add them to your garden, be sure to keep them watered sufficiently until yours are fully established. Then, you’ll have a low-maintenance, easy-care, gorgeous small tree whose shade may help take care of you in the long, hot summers ahead.

Physocarpus ‘Diablo’: The cultivar name of this ninebark hints at its ability to love the heat, and indeed it does. If you’re looking for a large, deciduous, sun-loving shrub with four seasons of interest, this beauty may be perfect.

blooming Physocarpus

In fact, you almost can’t kill this thing. We love to use late winter tree trimmings for pea and bean towers, but we’ll never use this devil’s spawn that way again. Seriously, shove a stick from this in the soil, and it will sprout. And, if you’re trying to use it as a pea trellis, well, don’t. It’ll suck the life out of any seedling struggling to get a start near this powerhouse. If you add this shrub to your garden, watering it while young may not be critical, but watering while young is the insurance policy you’ll buy to guarantee a long-lived shrub with lots of drought tolerant year ’round interest in the hot, dry future.

Carex testacea: Love the look of landscape grasses? Try this sedge (shown above) instead. It’s evergreen. Or, rather, it’s ever-orange and green. And, it looks fantastic with the two aforementioned woody plants as well as the ground cover and perennial below. And it loves the hot, hot heat. In fact, several thrived for us under our Acer griseum and beside sedums that shriveled. Yep, those that received no water did just fine. The ones that did get summer water did even better. This carex loves the sun, but it’ll do great in a bit of dappled sunlight as well. Water when you plant it and intermittently while its young. And, don’t let it get soggy or it may rot out. And, in some of the colder micro-climates of the PacNW, ask your local garden center about its performance before you buy.

Sedum ‘Angelina’: This ground cover sedum is unstoppable. But that’s a good thing. It’s easy to plant, replicates itself rapidly and it’s easy to lift and move to new locations in your garden.

bee on Sedum 'Angelina'

It carpets the ground in bright yellow that takes on hints of green in shadier spots and reddish tones under stress. It too grows under our Acer griseum where it survived zero supplemental water all summer. It shriveled a bit, but never died, and the minute it rained just a bit, Angelina’s leaves became brilliant and turgid again. A little bit goes a very long way with this beauty!

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’: We can’t sing the praises of this tall, perennial sedum loud enough. It did great this record-breaking summer, standing tall and blooming better than a number of other varieties of tall sedums in our garden.

blooming sedum Autumn Joy

And, yes, it continues to bloom beautifully in spots where we provided little or no supplemental summer water — like in the hot, reflected street heat near a thirsty, mature tree. It also did quite well in deep, dry shade. Sure, it’s known as a sun perennial, but it’ll do beautifully in some shade too.

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