Master Gardener tips for the Panhandle – Week of August 15, 2022

By Elaine Pile, Nebraska Extension Master Gardener

Drought Tolerant Plants

As we once again are experiencing drought this year, we need to consider drought tolerant plants. These plants will persist for three or more years with little or no supplemental watering, and help conserve water, reduce water maintenance and still provide multi-season color and interest. They do best in full sun and well-drained soil. Areas that are difficult to water or are subject to reflected heat and light are good locations for drought-tolerant perennials. 

Size, spacing and form – keep this in mind when planting drought tolerant perennials. The size of your planting space influences your choice of plants. Space perennials for their mature size – it’s easy to put them too close together when they are small. Good spacing allows air circulation, which is essential to allow the foliage to dry, thus reducing disease. Plant forms change as the season progresses. Use bold, contrasting forms as focal points.

Texture and color – what does that have to do with perennials? Color, timing and duration of flowers is important, but foliage color contributes to the design. Many drought-tolerant perennials have silver or gray foliage. It shines in low light and acts as a foil for brighter colors. Lambs ear has gray-green foliage. Warm colors make spaces seem smaller and hotter, such as Black-eyed Susan or Blanket Flower. Cool colors and pastels are tranquil, such as Blue Flax. 

Texture and leaf structure – what does that have to do with drought-tolerant perennials? Unique leaf structure helps these plants reduce water loss through transpiration and adds textural interest. Fine, lacy foliage with reduced leaf surface; thick, waxy succulent foliage; or broad, fuzzy leaf blades can reduce water loss from plants and provide many options for using the texture of perennials to extend the visual interest of the landscape well beyond the bloom period. 

Winter Survival

It’s hard to think of winter when it’s so hot outside. Foliage and seed heads of many drought-tolerant perennials can be left in place well into winter with a backdrop of ornamental grasses or evergreens, providing an extended season of interest. Leaving the foliage in place until spring holds leaves and snow as insulation, protecting roots of plants from winter injury. Don’t let material sit on plant crowns. Good air circulation and drainage are essential for winter survival.