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Gardening News: Plants that can tolerate a drought

August 1, 2012

By Candice Miller
U of I Ogle County Extension Horticulture Educator

It’s really amazing the plants that can grow in very hot, dry conditions. In fact, certain plants seem to thrive in the hot, dry weather. As a gardener, I have tried to use drought-tolerant plants, whenever possible. Here are some plants that have worked well for me over the years.

The old standard annuals seem to do best for me in drought years. These include nicotiana, celosia, marigold, zinnia and petunia. These plants can be watered a couple times a week, and they do fine, considering the conditions.

Nicotiana is also called flowering tobacco. It is easy to grow and especially valuable for hot, humid areas. Plants are 7 to 10 inches tall. Flowers are 1 to 2 inches across with five distinctive petals. “Avalon Bright Pink” was an award winner in 2001, and the nightly aromatic variety “Perfume Deep Purple” won in 2006.

Celosia are also heat- and drought-tolerant. I’ve grown both the plume and crested types. Celosia are so drought-tolerant that they rot if the plant is too wet (or too cold), so they need to be planted in a non-irrigated area.

Marigold and zinnia grow in all types of situations, as long as there is full sun. The Profusion zinnias are particularly nice, especially the Fire and Orange varieties.

My perennial bed in particular is not uniformly watered, and the plants doing well there include black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, yarrow and sedum. This makes a lot of sense, since these are native plants that do well in our dry prairie conditions.

I also have been particularly impressed with a new variety of purple coneflower that has been added this year. Each of the double, pompom-like flowers is sturdy and last for several weeks.

I can also see a difference in the various shrubs in my yard, particularly those where the irrigation heads don’t reach. The burning bush doesn’t like the hot, dry weather and needs additional water. I also have several lilacs that are drying up. My red-twigged dogwoods develop yellow leaves very quickly if not watered almost every day. And, my new hydrangea collection must have extra water to prevent daily wilting.

Obviously, the succulent and cacti planter that I have on my deck thrives in these dry, arid conditions as well, and needs little attention.

I would hope you have some plants in your yard that look good in this year of extremes and may consider planting more of these in years to come.

Keep watering your plants, remembering that thorough, deep watering is better than daily sprinkles. Don’t forget the established trees, especially evergreens, that will need water going into the fall to assure they don’t have major winter injury.

As a rule of thumb, most plants need 1 inch of water per week during the active growing season. But when temperatures climb past 90 degrees, plants may need at least 2 inches of water per week.

The following websites are excellent resources for the latest news and tips on dealing with drought: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/drought/ and http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state/newsdetail.cfm?NewsID=27622.

From the Aug. 1-7, 2012, issue

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