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Posted at 11:03 AM ET, 05/03/2012

Beat the drought with this arsenal of tough garden perennials

Over the last week, rain has been about half of normal over the D.C. area (High Plains Regional Climate Center)
With the dry conditions of late, it’s easy for a gardener to feel picked on. But I am not complaining...yet. After all, that super soaker we got 10 days ago was a real salvation for our area. The second blessing for our gardens has been the cooler than normal readings, helping plants to take full advantage of the rains that were received.

Still, as you can see on the map to the right, we’re back in the fast lane to drought. Since March 1, we’ve received less than half our normal rain. Looking at Matt Ross’ forecast for the summer yesterday was certainly not very encouraging either. With that in mind I think I will concentrate on putting in dry weather plants anywhere I can this season.

Fear not, for there are plenty of plants that will stand up to just about the worst dryness that the season can offer up. But please Mother Nature, that is not a challenge! I am going to concentrate on the perennial side of things for the most part because I am looking for less planting and more pretty as I get older and saner.

Achillea, commonly known as yarrow, is one I have often turned to in tough spots. It stands fairly tall, two to three feet, so it is best not to place it in too windy a spot. The flower heads last a long time and come in bright hot yellows and oranges as well as more peaceful whites and pinks.

Another great choice is Centaurea Montana which is about a foot tall and has loads of spidery blooms ranging from the deepest burgundy through the blues to white. They spread moderately to fill in tough to grow spaces with a big burst of hardy blooms in the late spring/early summer.

Ice plant
Looking for a great ground cover? Try Alyssum Compactum, not the annual but the perennial. Its soft yellow green feathery foliage is a delight and is covered in yellow blooms in late spring. The stuff breaks off at the lightest touch but fills in promptly. Those broken off stems will often self-root, which I like, but be forewarned if you want to keep it contained. Another great one is Delosperma or ice plant. It has the same growth habits as the Alyssum but much longer bloom period, coming in pinks and purples all through the late spring and much of summer. There are tons of Sedum varieties that will give great foliage to the point that you won’t care if they bloom or not.

For a little different kind of plant, try Euphorbia, their “blooms” are really leaf bracts with tiny flowers in the middle. Their great quality is not only the eye-catching ability but also a very long lived display, from late spring through the summer.

In the grasses department, any Miscanthus is a work horse with heights ranging from two to 6 feet and a variety of seed heads to suit a variety of tastes. For a more demure grass, try Pennisetum, which also comes in lots of forms but is mainly in the one to two foot height range.

One of my all-time drought hardy plants is Lavender. Its great scent comes from an abundance of purple blooms through the summer that beckons bumble bees and hummingbirds in droves. It also looks great in formal settings. A plant with similar blooms and attracts the hummers too is the back of the border, three to 5 foot Perovskia, Russian Sage. It has airy foliage so is best planted behind some denser growth. A front of the border shorter and denser look alike is Salvia.

As you can see there are a myriad of choices and I have only touched on some of my favorites. With any of these choices you can take the dryness in flying colors, literally. I would really like to hear what your favorites are too!

By  |  11:03 AM ET, 05/03/2012

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