How to Select Drought Tolerant Plants

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Drought tolerant plants do well in almost any environment, even moist ones. Selecting drought tolerant plants isn't just about planning for water-starved gardens; they can also be part of a garden plan that involves conserving water to save water or money in an area where water prices are high. Think of drought tolerant plants as part of planning your garden maintenance budget. Consider temperature extremes too. Some drought tolerant plants don't fare well in high temperature areas, or may need extensive shade to do well.

What Drought Tolerant Means

Drought tolerant means a plant grows well without supplemental watering and can go for long periods of time without water if needed. Although cactus plants come to mind when most people hear the term, there are actually thousands of plants and grasses that are drought tolerant. All plants, regardless of their drought tolerance, do need to be watered regularly when they are first planted so they can develop a strong, healthy root system. After they are established—usually three to six months, or after their first growing season—most plants have an established root system and grow well.

How to Select Drought Tolerant Plants

Begin by making an inventory of your current landscape and garden. What plants do you have now that seem to be doing well? What areas are in shade? What areas are in full sun? Temperature ranges and sunlight will also affect your plant's health. Hostas and other drought tolerant plants may do well in a dry area, but the amount of direct sun they receive may negatively impact their growth. If you're not sure what plants you're currently growing, take a picture and contact your local county extension office to help you identify them. Knowing what kind of soil you have, what growing zone you're in, and how much control you have over changing your soil type is part of planning the perfect drought tolerant landscape. Learn all you can about each plant, shrub, or tree you're considering planting and how well it will do in your yard.

Drought Tolerant Grasses

  • Fescue
  • Buffalo grass
  • Bermuda
  • Zoysia

Drought Tolerant Plants And Flowers

  • Native plants: Flowers like Daylilies, Coneflowers, Sedums.
  • Herbs: Most herbs are drought tolerant and more potent when watered less. Rosemary, Sage, Basil, Leeks.
  • Perennials: Hostas, Daiseys, Bleeding Hearts, Sunflowers, Butterfly weed.

Characteristics of Drought Tolerant Plants

If you don't want to carry around a list of the more than 2,000 drought tolerant plants and grasses available, you can look for the characteristics common to most drought resistant plants. Fuzzy or "hairy" leaves, silvery foliage, or a waxy coating feel indicates a drought tolerant plant. Leaf hairs or fuzz help the plant reflect sunlight and cut down on water vapor loss from the plant. Leaves with a waxy feel or coating also slow the loss of water through the leaf surface (think ivy and holly for instance). Plants with taproots are highly drought resistant since the root extends deep into the soil. Keep in mind that butterfly weed and many flowering shrubs also have taproots. Succulents, like Jade, cactus, and aloe are among more than 300 varieties of root, leaf, or stem succulents.