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No problem. You’d be surprised how many of your favorite herbs and perennials are quite drought-tolerant.
Here are six of my favorite xeric plants. All are easy to grow and thrive in well-drained soil. If you have hard clay soil, you may want to grow these drought-tolerant plants in raised beds or containers. They will require regular watering, especially as they are establishing themselves, but they’ll survive with much less irrigation than some of your other plants.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): This aromatic, perennial shrub has been cherished for centuries. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.” In earlier times, rosemary was carried by brides during wedding ceremonies and thrown onto grave sites at funerals to mark important events.
In some gardens, rosemary can grow up to 6 feet tall, but is often shorter. A Mediterranean native, rosemary grows best in well-drained, alkaline soils with full sun or some shade in hot climates. This herb can be grown indoors in a sunny window during winter, and is often shaped into topiaries, providing delicious leaves for all types of culinary dishes. ‘Arp’ and ‘Madeline Hill’ are a few varieties hardy to Zone 6.
Thyme (Thymus spp.): A low-growing, fragrant groundcover, thyme thrives with low water once established. A basic ingredient in many of the world’s cuisines, thyme was used by the Ancient Romans to give aromatic flavor to cheeses and liquors. Today, the herb is used as a key component of the French herbes de Provence. Thyme comes in many different flavors, such as lavender (Thymus thracius); lemon (Thymus × citriodorus) and caraway (Thymus herba-barona). Plant the herb in dry, lean, well-drained soil with full sun, and afternoon shade in hot climates. The drought-tolerant plant grows 6 to 10 inches in height, and flowers with pink, white or lavender blossoms that attract bees.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.): It’s hard not to love lavender. The easy-to-grow herb looks and smells wonderful. Not only that, this hardy, perennial shrub can be used for everything from dried flower arrangements to craft projects and even culinary dishes with the edible flowers.
Plant this aromatic beauty in a sunny spot with excellent drainage. Lavender hates wet feet, so don’t mulch heavily. My garden has well-amended sandy soil, which lavender loves. But if you have clay soil, consider planting lavender in a raised bed. Lavender thrives in dry, lean, alkaline soil and benefits from an annual pruning to maintain its shape. In my garden, lavender reseeds each year, allowing me to transplant these little starts and share with friends.
Yarrow (Achillea spp.): You can’t go wrong with this cheerful perennial. Feathery foliage and long-lasting flowers come in colors from yellow to orange to pink, and bloom summer and well into fall. Hardy in Zones 3 to 10, depending on variety, yarrow tolerates heat and drought conditions with flying colors. This delightful plant is rarely bothered by pests, rabbits or deer.
The original species can be found growing wild throughout North America, including the foothills near my home. Yarrow is tolerant of most soils, but grows best in well-drained soil and full sun. Leave plenty of room around plants to encourage air circulation, and reduce fungal diseases in humid climates. Deadhead this plant regularly to encourage blooms, but leave some flowers for winter interest. Yarrow makes a great filler plant, adding color and carefree beauty to garden beds.
Sedum (Sedum spp.): From the minute they pop out of the ground in spring, these perennials never stop looking stylish in my garden. Sedums are drought-tolerant, easy care plants with flowers that look great fresh or dried. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love the blossoms, which can add visual interest even in winter. Not picky about soil and weather conditions, sedums prefer well-drained soil in full sun. This is a great plant for a beginning gardener, because it’s so easy to grow. Many different sedums are available, from the classic ‘Autumn Joy’ found in my garden, to ‘Angelina,’ a low-growing groundcover with golden leaves that turn orange in autumn.
Poppy: These tough, drought tolerant annuals add color and charm to a cottage-style garden. Each spring, California poppies (Eschsholzia Californica) and Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas) self-seed themselves into tiny nooks and crannies in my yard. Their delicate beauty belies their great strength, and I’ll find poppies growing in the most dry, neglected spots of my garden.
Directly sow poppy seeds in early-spring, during cool temperatures, and keep soil moist as they are germinating. Sometimes poppies take a while to get started, but then do much better the next year at self seeding. If you don’t want poppies spreading, clip off flowers before they go to seed.