Discover Drought Resistant Plants
With Horticulturist Jacki Cammidge

Drought resistant plants can be a lifesaver to your edible landscape in drought-stricken areas, whether due to the natural climate or due to a new climate condition.

To find out more about these special plants, I've asked Certified Horticulturist Jacki Cammidge of Drought Smart Plants to come talk with us.

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Jacki, what makes these plants different from plants which are not resistant to drought?

Many drought tolerant plants are succulents. This just means that they have water storing cells in their leaves and stems, and usually appear puffy. These types of plants can live a long time without any water, shriveling as they use up their interior stores, and then when it rains again, they replenish the supply until the next drought.

Some plants use a strategy of an extremely wide ranging root system to glean every last drop of moisture from the soil. Roots can be fleshy and thick to retain moisture, or fine and net-like to search out water molecules from under rocks, between sand particles and generally be ready whenever a rainfall occurs.

Rosemary, a drought resistant plant

Some plants have both a long thick taproot and a delicate network close to the surface to take advantage of dew or light showers.

Still other drought resistant plants contain oils to prevent moisture loss – some of the most valuable to us are those that we value as herbs, such as Rosemary, Lavender, thyme and sage.

The characteristically pungent scent indicates the presence of essential oils.

What sorts of drought resistant plants are there to choose from?

Some of the most useful plants if you're gardening in an area that doesn't get reliable rainfall are succulents. They can withstand an amazing amount of abuse, including long periods without water. They relish hot and dry climates, making them the perfect choice for containers that might not get the attention that less drought tolerant plants might need.

Other types of plants to look for are native plants - many of these have adapted to dry conditions by going dormant during droughts and hot spells, only to come alive again for another season of growth after the drought is over.

Old properties can give you some ideas of what non-native plants are most successful in drought prone areas - many plants that were brought from other places and placed with loving care years ago by immigrants still thrive, proof that their drought smart strategies work.

What are your favorite drought resistant plants?

My personal favorite drought tolerant plants are the hardy succulents such as Sedum, Sempervivum, and Jovibarba. These cast iron plants relish heat and dry conditions, shrugging off drought and thriving in lean impoverished soils.

Some of the all time best Sedum or stonecrops are Sedum spurium varieties, which are low growing, with green or mahogany foliage, and then in summer many are covered with white, pink or magenta starry blooms. As an added bonus, as if the gorgeous colors weren’t enough, they are one of the favorite nectar plants for many butterflies and bees.

To continue the display into the fall, look at some of the Sedum spectabile varieties like ‘Purple Emperor’, ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Autumn Joy’. These are all taller, and add great bones to the fall landscape with their persistent stems topped with broccoli like blooms.

Many landscapers have used Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ for this effect combined with ornamental grasses in the New American Landscape style.

Sempervivum or House Leeks have been used for centuries to protect houses from lightening strikes when planted on thatched roofs.

Could this be a nod to their capacity to resist damage from fire due to their moisture filled leaves? No one knows the origin of this whimsical planting scheme, but with green roofs gaining in popularity these days, Sempervivum are making a well earned comeback.

I also use them in many succulent crafts too, like succulent spheres planted with many different varieties, succulent mosaics and topiaries.

Jovibarba are a close relative to Sempervivum, with a few crucial differences. They are just as tough in challenging conditions, and just as textural and colorful. The main way that they differ is how they produce their offsets, some by holding tiny baby ‘rollers’ up out of harms way until the brittle stem breaks and they roll away to form new colonies, or by the crown of the plant itself splitting into several new crowns.

When should you use drought resistant plants in your landscaping?

If you live in a place with water restrictions put in place by your municipality or town, or no reliable source of well water or rain fall, then drought resistant plants may be a good choice for you. They reliably survive through some of the worst conditions, simply going dormant until better times arrive.

If your time is best spent in less demanding pursuits than gardening, the low maintenance landscaping that these plants thrive in will be perfect for those with a busy schedule.

Are there things you should be careful of when using drought resistant plants?

It's very easy to get extremely attached to a collection of drought tolerant plants; the more you know about them, the better you’ll like them. If you’re not prepared to let them into your heart, it’s best to stay away from them.

So what can I do to make sure my drought resistant plants are happy?

Resist the urge to plant hardy succulents in amongst plants that demand a lot of water. Even in well drained soil, excessive moisture is not their favorite type of thing.

The worst that will happen is root rot, but even in highly organic soils with adequate water and good drainage, some of the normally easy care succulents such as Sedum 'Autumn Joy' will tend to overgrow their welcome. This leads to what I refer to as 'baldness' where the outer stems flop over with the weight of the flower heads, leaving the middle of the plant exposed. The fix? Be cruel, and chop them all off – then move the plant to somewhere drier with lean soil. This encourages sturdy new growth that doesn’t get too tall.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Jacki!

If you would like to learn more about drought resistant plants, visit Jacki's website

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