Embracing drought-tolerant plants

Hot summer temperatures coupled with minimal rainfall can be a challenge for plants. To create a vibrant landscape while conserving water, opt for drought-tolerant plants. These species, well-suited for hot, arid summers, thrive without the need for daily watering or extensive maintenance. Despite their resilience, these plants offer both aesthetic beauty and practical functionality in the garden.

A lack of water is a major stressor for plants. Although plants experience water stress due to a lack of rainfall or routine watering, they also lose water naturally through the pores in their leaves. During this process, known as transpiration, the pores open to let carbon dioxide into the leaves for photosynthesis, but the open pores also allow water vapor to escape (evaporate). Signs a plant is stressed due to lack of water include curling leaves, chlorosis (yellowing), stunted growth and leaf scorch or drop.

Drought-tolerant plants are adapted to dry conditions based on their ability to increase water absorption and conservation. With deep, developed root systems, these plants resource water deeper in the soil, which is beneficial during dry conditions.

Many drought-tolerant plants also have smaller leaves, which reduces the leaf surface area; less surface area means less exposure to evaporation (water loss). Leaves are also protected from evaporation by either a wax coating or tiny hairs on leaves — both trap water and reduce the amount of water lost.

Regardless of growing conditions, selecting the right plant for the right place is the key to success in any garden. Always consider sunlight, soil and site conditions before choosing plants for your landscape. Drought-tolerant plants thrive in hot, dry conditions.

Some dependable perennial plants that tolerate drought conditions include baptisia, Joe-pye weed, Russian sage, sedum, thread leaf coreopsis, showy goldenrod, liatris, little bluestem, purple coneflower and monarda.

Although tough and dependable, these plants require some care and maintenance. Just like any newly placed plant, water well the first year. Watering deeply but less frequently is better than shallow, more frequent watering; deep watering encourages the roots to grow deeper. Most plants grow best with at least 1 inch of water per week. After drought-tolerant plants are established, watering will only be necessary to keep plants healthy if there is a prolonged period of dry weather.

Most drought-tolerant plants prefer well-drained soil — this soil type encourages roots to spread as water drains away. Despite a preference for well-drained soil, some soil moisture is still needed. Maintain soil moisture and cooler soil temperatures with shredded hardwood mulch.

To reduce competition for soil water and nutrients, maintain a weed-free environment. Given these conditions, drought-tolerant plants need minimal fertilizer to thrive. Give your watering can a rest and incorporate drought-tolerant plants into your landscape.