Sunday, July 24, 2011
Choose Drought Resistant Plants
After all the excitement to which we greet spring and the energy we put into our gardens and flowers it can be very defeating to witness the slow demise of our beloved plantings due to extreme heat and too little rainfall.
It is always a good idea to add compost to improve soil quality, mulch to retain moisture, and trap rain water from roofs by means of rain barrels. But after weeks of feeling our plants are so dependent on us, the routine can get old and we get tired. Most established plants can tolerate some water stress and just may not grow and flower as well as they would in better conditions. Plant roots go deep and unless we water enough to soak in deep to the roots, we may be doing more harm than good. You don't want the roots turning upwards towards moisture near the surface. Left on their own, roots go deep and send out feelers in their search for water. Potted plants and new plantings definitely need to be watered but as far as your bedding plants the best thing to do is to plant drought resistant plants right from the start.
Here in the northeastern states some of the tougher annuals we have are easy to grow and often reseed every year. These include spider flower (cleome), cosmos, calendula, kiss me over the garden gate, and nasturtiums.
Calendula is also known as pot marigold and is one of the medicinal plants used for making healing salves for skin conditions and wound care. All season long this plant flowers and matures into easy to gather seeds, all while forming new flowers.
Cosmos is one of those plants that can take a beating and keep on going. Branches broken by the weather will still survive unless broken off completely. It is wild and carefree, and tends to look a bit messy by seasons end. Plant where tidiness isn't an issue. In the fall, the flowers dry and form easy to gather seeds.
Cleome is a beautiful plant but just be aware that should you brush up against it or work around the mature plants they tend to be a 'pricky'. In the fall the flowers form 2 - 3 inch pods that dry and split open to reveal pepper-like seeds to spill to the ground.
Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate is an attractive heirloom which is used as a background planting due to its height (5-6 ft). Its dangling pink tassles add appeal and when they dry they scatter to the ground to pop up in various places next
Nasturtiums seem to thrive on neglect. They do fine in average soil and little rainfall once established. I have found these old fashioned flowers do much better in the ground than as a potted plant. These edible leaves and flowers add color and a peppery zing to any salad.
Some summer perennials requiring little care are day lilies, phlox, sedums, fall asters, beebalm, globe thistle and helianthis (wild sunflower).
Day lilies are such a pleasant sight growing along roadsides and unmowed meadows. Each bloom only last for one day but for the month of July they greet the world daily with fresh blooms. The clump forming roots of these flowers are very easy to dig up and transplant into your own garden. They establish themselves quickly and will spread.
Phlox is often confused with the roadside wildflower dames rocket. You can tell the difference by the number of petals. Phlox has five petals, dames rocket has four petals. These flowers are a must for attracting butterflies, such as this swallowtail.
Fall asters hang in there all summer and by late september begin to bloom a splendid display of purple or blue depending on their type. Very well behaved, they grown in mounds which increase in size but are not invasive by any means.
Beebalm (Monarda) is beautiful to look at but has many uses, medicinal, tea (oswego) and an attraction for hummingbirds with its brilliant red blooms.
Globe thistle is an awesome visual if you don't mind a prickly plant. By July it delights the onlooker with numerous metallic blue round balls of color, very attractive to bees. Blue isn't very common a color with flowers so it really stands out. It likes full sun, reaches a height of about four feet, and once established is very drought tolerant. Thistles are a great food source if left to go to seed, finches love them, but they will reseed themselves.
Wild sunflowers (helianthis) are so very cheery and their yellow flowers so welcome. Best to use this plant to naturalize as it will spread.
Growing with the sunflowers are a favorite, coneflower (echinacea). These welcome additions to the medicinal flower garden attract butterflies while in bloom and then dry into an attractive seed cone offering food for winter birds.
Sedum (stonecrops) have fleshy, succulant leaves to sustain them in times of little rain. Their attractive fall blooming pink to mauve flowers attract pollinating insects. As the blooms fade they are pretty enough to leave on the plant for awhile.
Two vines hardy enough to withstand dry spells are annual morning glories and the perennial American honeysuckle.
Morning glories are fast growing plants eager to climb and are used on trellises, mailbox posts, lanterns or to hide unsightly area.
The American honeysuckle is very well behaved compared to the chinese honeysuckle which can become an invasive. Another good choice for someone with the desire to attract hummingbirds.
Finally, ornamental grasses are a great choice and little maintenance. Here we have Maiden grass which grows to about five feet tall and offers shelter and food to the birds. Very decorative in the fall and looks good right into the winter. Cut it back in the spring and look for new growth from the ground up.