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Drought Tolerant Plants

  Every now and then you have to step back and take an aesthetic inventory of your landscape. My ranking system is pretty simple. It’s either “looks great with very little work or maintenance” or “looks terrible with very little work or maintenance.” I am definitely a big advocate for low-maintenance gardening.

  This year Mother Nature gave us a real test. What plants not only survive but look great with little or no water during a drought? In my garden I have been pleasantly surprised at the type of plants that have been completely unaware that it hasn’t rained. I did some supplemental watering this summer, but overall my garden was on its own. Here are my winners:

Jekell crossvine

  Topping my list this year is Bignonia capreolata, crossvine. This semi-evergreen vine climbs by clinging and twining. The foliage is dark-green in the summer and has a beautiful reddish-purple fall color. I have it growing along my fence in a partially shaded area but it will also grow in full sun. The flowers are shaped like a trumpet and range from brownish-orange to orange-red. Jekyll, a cultivar of crossvine, is now commonly available. The flowers are smaller, orange on the outside, and yellow on the inside. Jekyll is noted for being the most evergreen and cold-tolerant species currently on the market. It is a beautiful plant and is covering my chain link fence with great speed-drought and all.

  A similar looking plant but one that is extremely vigorous and invasive is the trumpet vine, Campsis radicans. This rampant vine will grow in almost any soil and under almost any conditions, including extreme drought. Many gardeners are lured to plant it because it attracts hummingbirds. Those of us who have attempted to control it know you can’t. Eventually it is coming up all over the place. If you have a small yard, plant a crossvine instead. Crossvine is not as weedy and it also attracts hummingbirds.

Wada’s Memory magnolia

  While most of the magnolias I have in my yard seem to have done well through the summer, one in particular appears untouched by the stress of the drought, Magnolia x kewensis, Wada’s Memory. This hybrid magnolia has large white flowers and generally blooms very heavily. The bloom show is indeed spectacular, but my favorite characteristic is when the new growth emerges red and turns green as it matures.

Surprise perennials

  There are two perennials that are very commonly grown throughout Kentucky, and for good reason. You simply can’t kill them-even with complete neglect. They are: Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, and Rudbeckia sp., black-eyed Susan.

  Russian sage is a tall perennial reaching up to 5 feet in many gardens. It prefers full sun and is extremely tolerant of dry, poor soils. The foliage is a grey-blue green and the flowers are blue.
They begin flowering about mid-June and continue until frost. For such a large perennial it provides a light airy feel to any garden.

Black-eyed Susan is also extremely tough. There are many varieties available, ranging from 2 feet to up to 6 feet tall.
Depending on the variety, it can bloom anywhere from early July to frost. The flower is what I would call daisy-like, but it is a combination of orange-colored ray flowers and dark-brown disc flowers. 

Lemon Queen sunflower

  Another perennial in my garden, Helianthus x multifolius, Lemon Queen, is often confused with rudbeckia. While they are both in the same family, Asteraceae Helianthus is a sunflower, and a really tough one at that. Its main growth comes on in mid-summer, when it’s normally hot and dry, blooming every year in late September.

Planting & watering

  One advantage I had this droughty season was that my garden is about four years old and has become established. It can take many trees and shrubs up to three years to become established in your garden, while most grasses and perennials take only about one. For maximum drought tolerance, even for drought-tolerant species, adequate establishment is critical for survival. Planting trees and shrubs in the fall is highly recommended since they take longer to establish and gives you a head start on the following summer’s heated abuse.

  If you have just recently planted your landscape-water, water, and water again if we are not receiving adequate rainfall, regardless of the time of year. Whenever I plant something new I try to keep in mind that lots of hard work and maintenance while plants are young will pay off, and your garden will look great with very little work, even during a terrible drought.

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