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Extend your garden’s life with drought-resistant plants

Extend your garden’s life with drought-resistant plants

Virginia is known for its fickle climate. With heat waves, periods of little rain and generally unpredictable weather patterns, flora and fauna alike are at the mercy of Mother Nature—especially during the summer.

A hot Virginia summer without any rain can be brutal on gardens, turning lush landscapes into brittle, brown eyesores.

Drought-tolerant plants may be the solution to withstanding scorching summers while keeping a garden looking good. During the spring, instead of planting flowers that require watering every couple of days, try including some known for needing less.

There are several flowering annuals and perennials ideal for the conscientious gardener, noted Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulturalist. “Things like portulaca, a succulent-looking plant that has a really pretty flower. It’s low-growing and can be a good ground cover.”

Another is the rudbeckia, or black-eyed Susan, a hardy, daisy-like plant found in many gardens, and the wild columbine, a plant with red and yellow tubular, bell-shaped flowers. There’s also lantana with its butterfly-attracting flowers, and sedum, another flowering succulent that can grow in just about any landscape.

“Then there are two with fragrances: sage and lavender,” Mullins added. “There are different types of sage, and Mexican sage has a nice aroma and flowers. Those can be what you consider drought-tolerant and don’t need as much water as some.”

Ornamental grasses also make a nice addition. By nature, grasses are more drought-tolerant because they use a type of photosynthesis that allows them to hold onto water and use it more efficiently.

Zebra grass, with its clusters of dappled blades, can add height and interest to a garden or landscape. Little bluestem grass is known for its tight, spiky blueish stems that change to an orangy-rust in the fall and can add color throughout the seasons. Pampas grass, on the other hand, can add drama with its silvery white, plume-like flowers. 

Not only will they make the garden look great, but these plants also have a wide range of sustainable and economic advantages.

“The main benefit is reduced water usage,” said Karin Stretchko, agriculture specialist for J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College’s Horticulture Technology program. “This can lead to lower water bills, less runoff from watering and irrigation systems and reduced maintenance for landscaping.”

They also have deeper, extended root systems, which can help control erosion and provide better options for soils that have low water-holding capabilities. Some can even be more disease and pest-resistant, Stretchko added.

The idea of creating a drought-tolerant, sustainable landscape that’s also maintenance-free is an incentive for those planning what to put in their gardens this spring.

“It makes perfect sense because you’re going to have drought more often than not,” Mullins said. “You’re not out there watering all the time, and it’s more carefree. Also, a lot of these drought-tolerant plants are beautiful, so it’s not like people are giving up too much.”