How do you spot a drought tolerant plant at your local garden center?
With the way our summer has been going so far, many would wonder why anyone would even be concerned about planting something that doesn’t need a lot of watering. After all, it’s been cool and a lot more rainy than we like summer to be. However, when we’re planting, we can’t plant just for the weather this year. We have to plant for the ‘worst case scenario’ upcoming seasons.
The interesting thing about drought tolerant plants is that they have certain traits which make them easier to spot.
- Colour: they will have grey, silver or white foliage. At least that’s how it appears to the eye. In fact, they are green, but they are covered with a lot of hairs which makes them look much lighter.
- Hairy Leaves: this helps protect the plant from sun and wind exposure and minimizes moisture loss. They reflect sun and heat and the hairs trap moisture from early morning dew.
- Lots of tiny leaves: these small leaves also help minimize moisture loss. Examples are thyme and aubretia.
- Deeply lobed leaves: these serve the same purpose. An example is Acanthus Spinosus.
- Leaves that hug the ground: these plants stay close to the moisture in the ground and keep a low profile out of the drying wind. Their leaves are usually also tiny. Examples are Creeping Phlox, Thyme and Gazania.
- Highly resinous or aromatic leaves: oils in the leaves are volatile. When it’s hot, they generate a protective haze around the plant that helps retain its moisture, preventing it from drying out. Examples are: Lavender, Rosemary, Hyssop and Pine.
- Succulent leaves: deeply fleshy leaves store water enabling the plant to avoid drying out even when no water is available for long periods of time. Their pores open at night and close during the day. These plants don’t like to be watered too much. Examples are Sedums and Rock Purslane.
- Bulbs, Corms and other fleshy root structures: these plants store moisture in their roots which helps them withstand drought. Examples are Daylily, Peony, Liriope and Kniphofia.
- Summer dormant: many spring ephemerals and grasses use this mechanism to protect against hot, dry summers. Grasses will sprout quickly in spring, put down deep roots, go dormant in summer, then go green again in cooler, wet weather. Examples are lawns and Spring Anemones.
- Deep Tap Root: these plants develop roots that can extend deep into the soil searching for water. Examples are carrots, Dandelions, Yucca and Poppies.
- Rhizomes and deep spreading root systems: Examples are Arctic Willow, some trees, Sea Lavender and Heuchera.
- Thorns and Thistles: these appendages are tools that the plants use to capture and store moisture. Examples are Roses and Cotoneaster.
Many plants have developed one or more of the above mechanisms to help them survive and thrive in adverse weather conditions. The amazing thing is that not only are many of these plants great survivors, they’re also beautiful. Take some lavenders for example. They have small, silver, aromatic leaves. Thyme is another example. It also has small, aromatic leaves and the stem hugs the ground.
Stay tuned for our sketches of water wise garden layouts!