jUNE 19, 2006  Plants for hot and dry conditions


          Most of us want flowers but not a huge water bill.  The first phrase which comes to mind is “think native”. These are the plants that have survived our weather, our wind, our dry years, as well as our clay soil.  “XERISCAPING” is a term created by Colorado to encourage less use of water.  (Remember, Colorado averages 14 inches of rain per year compared to the 26 to 28 inches average here in Lincoln.) Nebraska has its share of drouth years and a good deal of it is listed as a marginal region for drouth potential.  However, Lincoln is on the edge of “humid region-vulnerable to short drouths” in a Geological Survey map.

          If you must have a few of the “water lovers” to be happy, try to find a place where all of them can be planted close by.  Then you’ll need extra water in this area only.  If they can be protected from wind they will need less water.  The first priority is to work with your soil. Adding compost gives it the ability to hold water instead of draining away. Another way you can have “water lovers” is to plant them in containers and move them around to suit your style.  They, and not the whole yard, can be watered. 

          The same priority (soil) holds true for your dry garden.  If their roots can grow easily and not have to fight obstacles in their hunt for water, they will do better.  Mulching plants to prevent runoff when it does rain will stop evaporation from the soil as well as hold on to the rainwater when it comes.  Don’t bury the stems as this can cause rotting.  Mulch also prevents weed seeds from seeing light and starting to grow.  You will also need to know the special likes of the plants you select:

·        Do they prefer sandy soil?

·        Can their roots compete?

·        Are they invasive enough to take over an area?

          After you decide on a happy home, remember that all plants getting started will need to be watered some until they adjust.  Your new “dry garden” may take just as much water as ever for the first year.

          Many bulbs do well in a “no watering” garden as they come up and bloom and die back before the hot weather arrives.  What they do need is adequate fall moisture to get them started.  I think of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia pulmonarioides) as a good example.  I have a large bed under the cottonwood coming up early and making a dense blue bed very early.  They are vigorous and come up through bark chips and bloom and disappear by the end of May.  I then move my tables and chairs in there for the rest of the summer.  Tulips bloom early and then rest, as do jonquils thus not requiring any summer watering.

          If you like ornamental grasses, they will fit into your “dry garden” very well after you get them started.  Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) gets very tall for your background, and I like “Karl Foerster” Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) for that also.  This grass blooms early and has a tan shade later in the year. Bunny grass is only 8-10 inches high with fuzzy tails for seed heads. Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindria) will give you a red spot about 18 inches high. 

          The “coneflower” group is a standby for any gardener.  Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) and Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) are probably the best known and both will do fairly well in light shade.  Penstemens of any kind resent wet feet, especially in the winter.  Like the grasses they come in all heights.

          Yarrows of many colors survive with little water.  The Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemem vulgare) you see growing in the ditches are invasive.  As soon as they finish blooming, I pull them up by the root and shake. Enough seeds will have matured to fill in the space for next year.  Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), Jupiters Beard (Centranthus ruber), Coreopsis (Coreopsis species), and Daylilies (Hemerocallis species) are all low water plants.  Gray plants are often watered sparingly.  In fact, Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantine) are killed by wet feet. 

          There are dozens of other plants for you choose from and often after they get started, they can take care of themselves.  Copyright 2006