Practically any plant needs some water in order to get its roots down and get accustomed to its soil. Since they are usually small to start, hand watering is possible if they are in a “desert area”. Many of my drought resistant ones are planted in the parkway, between the sidewalk and the street, where the area dries rapidly.

          “Achillea” (compositae) is doing well there for me. In fact the ones in the backyard grow too fast and often need staking. There are many colors from white to red, and some change colors as they age. They can be cut back quite severely and will bloom again in about a month.  Squeeze the leaves between your fingers as they are aromatic. Do this very cautiously the first time as some people develop a skin rash on contact. In history they have been used to treat wounds, control pain and reduce fevers.

          In general plants with gray leaves or fuzzy ones are likely to have low water needs. “Lambs Ears” (stachys) will die out if their roots remain wet for very long.  Some even recommend cutting the foliage off after frost so that it will not mat and keep roots wet during winter.  I have two kinds of fuzzy gray “Lambs Ears”. The new one has bigger and thicker fuzz on the leaves.  I have never been impressed by the blooms so cut them off as soon as they appear.  They spread by runners and can be divided in spring.  Kids like to “pet” the leaves.

          Another family of gray leaves is the “Artemisias” (compositae). There are many in this group of all sizes.  None of which can stand wet roots, especially in winter.  Most of mine are planted in the “hell strip” between the sidewalk and the street.  This is the area where I have my “gray garden”. My favorite is the “ Powis Castle ” growing to about 2 feet high and three wide.  It is not listed as hardy in zone 5 but most years mine returns.  I do cut it back almost to the ground every fall.  To make sure I have a plant in the spring, I take fall cuttings as late as possible (to keep them small) and keep over winter inn the greenhouse.

          “Silver Mound” is another “petting" plant 12 to 18 inches high and wide. It has a tendency to flop in the center.  Just the opposite in size is “Morning Light” which will grow to 6 feet tall if you let it.  It has bi-colored leaves and sends out many!!! root runners to surprise you the next spring.  During the summer I cut it back at least twice which makes it branch very thickly.  No weeds can survive below this! I like it as a background for the deep purple “Wave Petunias” (solanacea).

          “Coneflowers” (Rudbeckias) of all kinds are drought resistant once they have a good start and there are some new and different ones to choose from.  In a good location they will seed to expand their territory. They are also called “Black-eyed Susans” in spite of being different species.  There are single and double flowered ones ranging from 10 inches (Becky) to giant “Rudbeckia maxima” which gets 9 feet tall in my yard with bluish foliage.  I like “Indian Summer” with its huge golden blooms.  It sometimes acts as an annual in Nebraska but many times it come up again for several years.  I have another with a green cone called “Irish Spring”

          The “Purple Coneflowers” are native Americans, very hardy to zone 3, and are in the genus “Echinacea”. The Greek “echinos” means hedgehog.  Just run your fingers over that cone and you will see why. “White Swan” is a shorter plant, about 2 feet tall and not as likely to come back every year. They are prairie natives and can stand heat and drought because of their deep tap root.  The plains Indians used the root on wounds, insect bites and as a mouthwash. They also made a tea and drank it to treat a number of diseases. “Pale Coneflower” has a lighter pink flower whose petals drop downward.

          One of the brightest early summer bloomers is “Butterfly Milkweed” (Asilepsias tuberosa). The flowers are an orange-red and the plant grows between 2 to 3 feet tall. It is beloved by Monarch butterflies and has a deep taproot. This makes it difficult to transplant but protects it from drought.  Mine do best in full sun in the parkway between the sidewalk and the street.  We need more plantings for the Monarchs as they travel north in summer and back south for the winter. This is one of the few plants in Nebraska they use to deposit their eggs as they come and go. After the eggs hatch out into caterpillars, they love to feed on the milkweed, and this insures us having a next generation. Remember, if you want butterflies, do not kill the caterpillars but let them feed so they can turn into beautiful butterflies.

          “Russian Sage” (Perouskin atriplicifolia) is another gray plant that has tiny purple flowers on long spikes that last a long time.  They grow about 3 feet high in zone 5 with silvery foliage. There is now a shorter version but it is just as fussy about having wet feet-becoming fatal if it occurs during winter. The roots are so tough it’s almost impossible to divide without hurting the plant but you can start cuttings for new plants. They also have small off sets you can dig up.  You will have trouble finding any seeds and if you do, the offspring will not be exactly like your original plant.

Copyright 2009