Drought tolerant plants in summer flower beds save water

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Last Updated: 
August 1, 2006

CORVALLIS - With water conservation on everyone's mind this low-water year, think about selecting plants that can survive or even thrive with less water for your home landscape. These plants are often called "drought tolerant."

Plants with origins in dry areas of the world – the Mediterranean, central Asia, southern Africa and the American west – will likely do well in drier years. There is a wide choice of drought-tolerant plants with a broad array of colors, shapes, heights and bloom times to keep your garden interesting for months.

Drought-tolerant plants do best in well-drained soil. If your soil is poorly drained, add generous amounts of organic matter and consider making raised beds, which have better drainage.

Gail Gredler, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, offers some suggestions for drought-tolerant plants that will grace a drier garden year-round.

Smaller shrubs and trees provide structure and texture, anchoring other plants that die back during the colder months. Ceanothus, Cistus, western redbud, Amur maple, strawberry tree, madrone, Rugosa rose, cotoneaster and smoke tree are good candidates.

Mediterranean herbs are naturally drought-tolerant, attractive and useful in the kitchen. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and their relatives have both ornamental and culinary value. Most are perennial in much of Oregon.

Tough annuals such as California poppies, Clarkias, Shirley poppies, moss rose, blanket flower and sweet alyssum provide bright patches of color. Poppies often self-sow. Drought-resistant summer perennials include those for sun and those for shade.

Sun lovers include: Yarrow (Achillea), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Coreopsis, purple coneflower (Echinacea), globe thistle (Echinops), snow-in-Summer (Cerastium), red-hot poker (Kniphofia), Russian sage (Perovskia), blanket Flower (Gaillardia), gayfeather or blazing star (Liatris), flax (Linum), four o'clock (Mirabilis japonica) penstemon, evening primrose (Oenothera), sedum, bunch grasses including red and Idaho fescue, Muhlenbergia and needle and thread grass.

For shadier areas plant: Japanese anenome, bleeding heart, hellebore, Jupiter's Beard or Red Valerian (Centranthus), Mexican daisy (Erigeron), yellow corydalis and many types of thyme.

To learn more about some of these plants and what they look like, visit the OSU Department of Horticulture's "Landscape Plants" website at:

This site, created by OSU horticulture professor Pat Breen, self-proclaimed "certified plant nerd," contains photos and information on more than 850 landscape plants listed in alphabetical order by genus, from Abelia to Zelkova.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Gail Gredler, Pat Breen