Why Plant These Drought Resistant Perennials? (Especially If You Travel!)

There are several things a travel-lover can do to ensure that her garden stays happy while she’s away. One of them is xeriscaping. This garden design technique relies in part on selecting drought-resistant perennials and other plants that require infrequent watering.

Read on to learn which plants will resist wilting (or worse, dying) in dry spells or while you’re off having fun on vacation. Your garden will look so good, your neighbors won’t even realize you’re away.

Drought resistant perennials in a garden

CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn about Xeriscaping and how you can incorporate drought-tolerant plants into your garden.

  • What is Xeriscaping?
  • Which Drought-Resistant Perennials for Dry, Sunny Locations?
    • Yarrow
    • Blanket Flower
    • Russian Sage
    • Coreopsis
    • Daylily
    • Stonecrop
    • Other Drought-Tolerant Perennials for Sun
  • Which Drought-Resistant Perennials for Dry, Shady Locations?
    • Bugleweed
    • Lily-of-the-Valley
    • Periwinkle
    • Bergenia
  • Which Annuals are Drought-Tolerant?
    • Moss Rose
    • Dianthus
  • Drought-Tolerant Trees and Shrubs
    • Smoke Tree
    • Scarlet Firethorn
    • Cinquefoil (Potentilla)
    • Other Drought-Tolerant Shrubs
  • The Most Important Thing to Know About Drought Resistant Plants
    • Planting Tips for Drought Resistant Perennials
  • Final Thoughts
  • Resources

What is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping is a term based on the Greek word xeros, meaning “dry.” It is a garden designing technique in which any plants rely largely on natural rainfall rather than heavy irrigation. It’s especially popular in the Southwestern US which experiences severe drought and desert conditions. Not only is xeriscaping design an ecologically responsible choice, it also frees up a gardener to travel or enjoy other activities.

7 Principles of Xeriscaping

There are seven principles of low-water garden design you should be aware of:

  1. Planning and Design
  2. Soil Improvement
  3. Limited Turf Area
  4. Efficient Irrigation
  5. Mulching
  6. Low Water-Use Plants
  7. Low Maintenance

It may sound complicated, but incorporating drought tolerant plants will actually save you time, money, and of course, water!

The following are some of the best low water-use plants for you to consider in your own landscape. They includes drought-resistant perennials, annuals, ground covers, shrubs, and trees.

Note: Because my home base is in Boston (USDA Zone 5), you’ll find the varieties that follow are ones I have in my own garden. They also work within a range of other USDA Plant Hardiness Zones.

Choosing Perennials for Dry Sunny Locations

You’ll find plenty of drought resistant perennials well-suited to sunny locations. I recommend incorporating a few (or even all) into your garden to lower watering requirements. It makes good sense from an ecological standpoint, too.

Yarrow

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎3 to 9

Drought resistant perennial: pink yarrow (achillea)

The Yarrow (Achillea) species has flat flower heads comprised of many tiny flowers atop two- to three-foot stems and ferny foliage. Yarrow makes a great impression in big swaths.

The native perennial is carefree and white. You’ll find Yarrow naturally thriving in fields, meadows, and roadsides. Garden cultivars bloom in bright shades of yellow, gold, white, pink, and red. Beneficial bugs love carefree Yarrow—no doubt you will too.

Blanket Flower

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎3 to 9

Drought resistant perennial: Blanket Flower

Another drought-tolerant perennial for sun is Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora). It’s multi-colored, daisy-like blooms seems to thrive upon neglect.

You’ll find even a single blossom is quite colorful, having concentric bands of color in red, yellow, orange, and maroon, depending on variety.

Butterflies love these nectar-rich, vibrant flowers, which retain their brilliance through much of the summer. Can you blame them?

Russian Sage

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎5 to 9

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) grows 3- to 5-feet tall with long branches and sprays of tiny blue flowers. It’s airy gray-green foliage adds to its visual appeal.

These beauties thrive in poor soil and can tolerate temperature extremes in the high-desert. It’s among the most drought-tolerant perennials, adding soft spikes of color to complement any landscape design. 

Coreopsis

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 9 (depending on cultivar)

Field of coreopsis with a view of a lighthouse and the ocecan

Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata) is a drought-tolerant favorite, especially because of its extensive bloom time–almost 3 months. (Imagine, you could travel all summer without a care!)

The “Moonbeam” variety (C. verticillata) has 1-inch, butter yellow, daisy-like flowers and grows in a mound that’s about a foot-and-a-half high. “Sunburst” (C. grandiflora) are fluffy, gold, and fringed.

Daylily

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 9

Bright red daylilies - Drought tolerant plants

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) adapt to almost any situation, including drought. As their name implies, they bloom with multiple trumpet-like flowers that open in succession each day. Traditionally, Daylilies have orange flowers, but you’ll find varieties showcasing every color except pure white and blue.

They look best planted in long stretches or toward the rear of perennials beds, where they sprout tall flowering stalks. Another incentive to add Daylilies to your garden is that they multiply well, year-after-year, and are relatively pest-free.   

Stonecrop

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 9

Sedum Autumn Joy in bloom

Stonecrop (Sedum) is an excellent choice when considering drought-tolerant options.

The creeping variety, like the whirled, drought tolerant ground cover sedum  humifusum, blossoms in June cheery yellow star-shaped flowers.

The upright variety, like the Sedum “Autumn Joy,” develops showy flower heads that turn from green to pink to red to brown as the season progresses. Even the dried seed heads add structure to the winter garden, if left intact. 

Other Drought-Tolerant, Sun-Loving Perennials You Might Consider

A field of lavender, a drought-tolerant perennial

You may want to consider these other excellent perennial choices for drought-tolerance in sunny locations, too:

  • Aster (Asteraceae)
  • Lavender (Lavandula)
  • Blazing Star (Liatris)

Drought Tolerant Plants for Shade

Shady spots present more of a challenge during dry spells. You can look to these groundcovers that provide the staying power to keep the garden interesting while you’re away.

Bugleweed

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 11

Bugleweed (ajuga reptans) produces 6-inch spiky purple flowers that emerge from scalloped foliage in mid to late spring. This evergreen groundcover spreads by runner to create a dense mat of foliage that turns shades of burgundy in Fall. It couldn’t be any more carefree.  

Lily-of-the-Valley

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎2 to 9

White Lily-of-the-Valley, a drought-tolerant ground cover

Lily-of-the-Valley (convallaria majalis) perfumes the air in Spring, and despite the delicate nodding stems of cupped flowers, it’s surprisingly tough. It typically flowers in white, but you can also find this drought-tolerant beauty with soft pink cups.

Once their intoxicating bloom comes to an end, Lily-of-the-Valley provides a dense green layer of foliage to sustain its value. (Plus, a handful of flower sprigs make a lovely scented bouquet!)

Periwinkle (Creeping Myrtle, Dwarf Myrtle)

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 9

Vinca minor or "Periwinkle," a drought tolerant ground cover

Creeping Myrtle (vinca minor) also does well in dry shade, with its glossy, forest green, almond-shaped foliage. In early spring, it dons a beautiful sprinking of 1-inch purple stars in blue or white. Myrtle is a tenacious drought tolerant ground cover that will grow in the most unwelcoming spaces.

In fact, it may even crowd out more delicate perennials, given the chance. It’s a reliable, drought-tolerant option that takes root where few others would survive, such as in the deep, dry shade under at the food of a swamp maple tree. 

Bergenia

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎3 to 8

Heartleaf Bergenia. with pink bell-shaped flowers, tolerates drought

Heartleaf Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) has leathery evergreen (heart-shaped) leaves. From them, arise ½-inch white or pink bell-shaped flowers above 2-foot stocks in late spring. It’s known for its incredible hardiness and vigor, so a little drought hardly presents an issue for this beautiful perennial.

Adding Lasting Color with Drought-Tolerant Annuals

Compliment a transient perennial display with the long-lasting color and blooms of drought tolerant annuals. You can pick from a number of alternatives to the high-maintenance “old standbys,” which tend to wither at the first sign of neglect. 

Moss Rose

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎2 to 11 (Annual)

Succulent Moss Rose (Portulaca), with needle-like foliage and dainty 1-inch rosettes blooms in mixed colors, including white, yellow, pink, red, and magenta. They are a perfect drought-tolerent option for window boxes and as an accent in the front of perennial beds. You will be pleased with their on-going performance! 

Dianthus (“Pinks”)

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎3 to 9 (Annual)

A border of annual dianthus, with gray green foliage and brilliant one-inch fringed flowers are like mini-carnations. The shallow-rooted but hearty plant, also known as “pinks,” blossom in shades of white, pink, and red and. You’ll find they can really can take the heat!

Choosing Drought Tolerant Shrubs and Shrubs

Don’t overlook drought-tolerant trees and shrubs when adding structural interest to the garden that supports your travel lifestyle.

Smoke Tree

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 8

You might consider an “unusual” addition to your landscape, such as the Smoke Tree (cotinus coggygria). Another drought-tolerant option, tis tree displays puffs of burgundy “smoke,” adding texture in the form of fuzzy hairs as its flowers fade. You might also appreciate its peak seasonal appeal of striking yellow or orange-red foliage in autumn.

Scarlet Firethorn

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎6 to 9 (depending on cultivar)

Scarlet Firethorn (Pyracantha) grows to 15 feet and offers a profusion of small white flowers in spring, followed by brilliant pea-sized orange-red berries. This drought-tolerant, care-free shrub looks good throughout multiple seasons. It’s especially popular with birds.

Wintercreeper

USDA Hardiness Zones‎: ‎4 to 9

Looking for something to provide landscape interest year round? Wintercreeper (euonymus fortunei) is an evergreen with stiff, sometimes variegated almond-shaped 1-inch leaves upon woody branches. Varieties range in stature from ground cover to shrub. All are drought-tolerant.

Selecting Other Drought Tolerant Shrubs

Other drought-tolerant shrubs you might want to look into include:

  • Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa
  • Honeysuckle (genus Lonicera)
  • Blue Rug Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

The Most Important Thing: The First Year

Even though these plants withstand drought conditions, you will need to sufficiently water them in the first year so they establish a strong root system.  So, if more traveling is in your future, now is a perfect time to establish a garden that will do well without coddling. 

Planting Tips for Drought Resistant Perennials

Here are a few tricks to start your plants off right:

  • Amend soil with a compost, aged manure, or other soil additives to enhance its nutritive value. 
  • Add natural or synthetic soil polymers, such as Tarawet ®  or Soil Moist ® crystals that absorb and hold excess water until it’s needed by the plant roots. 
  • Plant a wet clump of long fibered sphagnum moss right in the planting hole. The moss holds water.
  • Give new plantings special attention to make sure they don’t dry out during that critical first year. This will establish a strong root system and a healthy plant that can resist pests and disease.

Final Thoughts

Whether you design an entire landscape around drought tolerance or simply have hopes of your beautiful garden thriving while you’re off on a weekend road trip, breathe a sigh of relief. By adding these varieties to you’re garden, you can travel without worrying too much about watering. Who knows, it may even come to rival the world’s best botanical gardens.

Do you have any of these drought-resistant plants in your garden? Will you add some?

Don’t forget to pin this for later on Pinterest!

This article is may contain affiliate links. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure. It originally appeared in print in The Country Gazette newspaper titled, “Drought Tolerant Plants Make Good Sense” by Jackie Gately.

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Jackie Gately

Jackie Gately is a seasoned travel writer, photographer, and marketing consultant who is passionate about travel. She loves casual-luxury experiences, coastal getaways, cultural attractions, and local, wholesome food and wine pairings. A perfect day ends with her toes in the sand or by chasing the sunset with her camera--ideally both.

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