Who can forget the fires in California? Nature is telling us something, and we need to listen. If the future turns out as dry as it looks now, for big parts of the country, then we gardeners need to start adapting. More and more people are making the choice to plant gardens that don’t consume our increasingly precious water resources – and some areas are banning hoses and irrigation, so the choice is going away. Adapting to Xeric gardening – growing with minimal or no supplementary watering – is something that many of us will have to do, but it doesn’t have to be a step down. Switching to Xeric gardening can be an exciting time, when you discover a whole world of fascinating and beautiful plants you didn’t know. Plants that might look out of place and odd in a garden of green lawn and lush bushes suddenly look right at home – and gorgeous – when planted among rocks and gravel, in the Xeric style, which is not only a growing method, but a landscape look as well.
We have blogged before about gardening with less water, and of course a big part of it is choosing plants that need less water – growing them is the simplest way to reduce the time you spend out watering, avoid the cost of an irrigation system, and help reduce our consumption of increasingly-precious fresh water reserves. Let’s look at some plants that come ‘pre-packaged’ for Xeric gardens, already adapted to growing without regular watering.
5 Hot Plants for Your Xeric Garden
- Texas Red Yucca – a striking plant loved by hummingbirds
- Color Guard Yucca – sure to please with its brilliant yellow leaves
- Ponderosa Pine – the perfect xeric tree, and great at the seaside too
- Butterfly Bush – choose a non-seeding variety so it can’t spread around
- Elijah Blue Fescue – perfect for edging and ground cover among gravel
Texas Red Yucca
Honestly, I got excited when I learned we had this rare beauty coming into our stock. Also called samandoque, or hummingbird Yucca, you will find this plant growing wild in one of the driest places in America – the Chihuahuan Desert of west Texas – so it’s an obvious choice for a Xeric garden. Forming a clump of slender leaves without thorns that are graceful, elegant and striking, if anyone says xeric plants are ugly, change their mind with this one. The good news is that it is hardy even in zone 5, so you don’t have to live in the desert to grow plants from it.
The brilliant red flowers have pink interiors and they are carried on 6-foot branching stems that rise architecturally over the top of the leaves. Yes, hummingbirds do love them, and flowering happens all through the summer months. Not a true yucca, botanists call it Hesperaloe parviflora, and this beautiful plant is super-xeric, but it will grow in any well-drained soil, even in a ‘regular’ garden. Check it out in our catalogue.
Color Guard Yucca
This one is a true yucca, and another plant that proves ‘xeric’ definitely doesn’t equal ‘boring’. Just as in the regular garden colored foliage brings year-round brightness. Among the many different yucca plants available, the Color Guard Yucca really brings a bright splash. The upright, spiky leaves are often 3 feet long, and down their center is a bold yellow stripe like a sunbeam. In colder weather the leaves often become blushed with pink too. Lots of color indeed on this bright clump that can be 4 feet across. Older plants send up amazing 6-foot flower stems in summer or fall, topped with creamy-white hanging bells that are incredibly fragrant. Check out this great plant.
This is another super-tough drought resistant plant, that stores water in its fleshy roots so it can take months and months of absolute dryness without a care – a great xeric choice. A variety of Yucca filamentosa, it is just one of the many yucca plants, in lots of colors and striping variations. These should be a big part of any xeric garden, and the amazing thing is, most can be grown even in zone 3, so there are great for regular gardens anyway as well.
In a larger space you need some height too, and few trees look more natural and right at home in a rocky place than pine trees. When looking for xeric pines, why not go native too, and choose Pinus ponderosa, a tree that you would find all through the west, from Canada to Mexico. It will welcome some extra watering when young, but once established it will take long drought periods. It also isn’t bothered by salt-spray, and it makes a great screening plant for a xeric beach cottage garden. The needles are in dense, stiff bunches, and the rugged bark soon becomes an imposing trunk. Remember to plant to the north of your xeric garden, or it will throw unwelcome shade on your yuccas and other sun-lovers when it grows taller. Why not try your hand at giant bonsai, and do some training of the branches to spread out lower, and trim back to keep it shorter? It will soon look like one of those pines in a Japanese garden.
Before you freak out and start yelling, ‘Invasive!’, there are today lots of varieties of butterfly bushes that don’t produce seed, so can’t spread anywhere. Really – even the state of Oregon, which has banned them, allows these new varieties, sold there are ‘nectar bush’, to be grown. Relax, and enjoy one of the best flowering shrubs for xeric gardens. There are some great new dwarf varieties of Buddleja, as well as some non-seeding taller varieties. Take a look at the Flutterby range on our Butterfly Bush page for them, and for other non-seeding varieties. These plants always do best in well-drained spots, especially in colder zones, and they are amazingly drought-resistant after a bit of ‘water help’ during that critical first year. You do need to be prepared to water a little during the first year, and perhaps the second too, when establishing a xeric garden. In nature 99% of seedlings die, and only a lucky few survive, and that approach won’t work in your garden!
Elijah Blue Fescue
There are grasses for every garden situation, from swamp to desert, and blue fescue is one of the best. This is the perfect plant for making a ‘xeric lawn’ in your dry garden, or for edging and planting at the front. This grass grows naturally in dry and rocky places, and the variety called ‘Elijah Blue’ has been chosen for its outstanding blue coloring, because most seedlings are greenish. It’s bold silver-blue leaves are at their most silver in sun and dry soil, so it always looks best in xeric conditions.