Dry soil? Six plants that will brighten your landscape

For farmers, there are only two kinds of rainfall: too much and not enough. Those of us who are into gardening and landscaping can sympathize with that! However, unlike farmers, most of us don’t have thousands of acres to worry about. That means we can concentrate our efforts on finding plants that can withstand the prevailing weather conditions in our (relatively) small patch of soil.

The Plant Man’s simple rule of (green) thumb? Select trees and shrubs whose characteristics match the USDA plant hardiness zone where you live and the specific moisture conditions of your landscape.

However much you have your heart set on a plant you saw in Taos, New Mexico, it probably won’t thrive in your front yard if you live in the Pacific northwest. Similarly, plants that grow lush and verdant in high-precipitation areas are probably doomed in sun-baked Arizona.

In my next column, I’ll discuss some trees and shrubs that would be suitable for planting in soil that ranges from moist to swampy. But today, let’s think about plants that do just fine in dry soil conditions or can handle lower than average precipitation.

A word of caution: although they incline towards the dry side of the flora spectrum, none of the plants described here are truly “drought proof.”

Austrian Pine
If you have dry, rocky or windy conditions and soil that is anything from limestone to acidic, this is probably the tree for you. It looks good as a stand alone or you can plant them about 6 ft apart to form a screen or a windbreak. Even in poor, sandy soil, it grows quickly to 75 -100 ft.

Princeton Elm
Resistant to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease, the Princeton seems to do well in a wide range of weather conditions from the bitter cold of northern plains to the sweltering heat of Texas. A majestic, fast-growing shade tree.

Redbud “Don Egolf”
The horticulturist Don Shadow brought this new cultivar to my attention and he tells me that it tolerates many different soil types and is especially good in areas that tend to be dry. Don Egolf produces remarkable rosy-mauve blooms and is ideal for smaller gardens, maturing at a height of about 9 ft with a 9ft spread.

By the way, if you have trouble tracking down any of the plants I mention here, drop me an e-mail and I’ll see if I can help you.

Honeysuckle, Arnolds Red
This prized cultivar of tartarian honeysuckle puts out bright red blooms in the spring and makes a beautiful and fragrant natural hedge. It creates a delightful (and effective) windbreak and withstands drought and extreme temperatures, doing fine in salt or alkali soil.

Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’
This isn’t strictly drought resistant, but I’ve included it because it’s a low-growing plant that looks so good in a rock garden or between stones in a dry stone wall and does just fine in full sun and dryish, well-drained soil. It has brilliant magenta, clove-scented blooms and silvery-blue evergreen foliage.

Sedum Golden Carpet
If you want an attractive groundcover but are stuck with dry, sandy soil, look for Golden Carpet, one of the hardiest of the Sedums. The bright yellow blooms look great cascading over artfully placed rocks.

“Your results may vary,” as they say on TV, and when in doubt, opt for plants that are native to your geographic area rather than seeking out exotics. As always, send me an a-mail with a few details such as location, soil type and desired results and I will be happy to respond with some specific comments and suggestions.