No matter where you live, being water wise is the smart way to garden. And if you live in drought stricken or prone areas, it’s a must. While I love a gorgeous hydrangea, and roses are amazing, there are plenty of flowering plants that don’t suck down our water resources. These ten no fail perennials for low water gardens fit the bill, are gorgeous as stand alone plants, and come back every year! (Remember, perennials may die back to their roots in a cold winter, but they come back in the spring). Here at TGG, we have a high desert garden, so we have either grown most of these ourselves, or had direct experience with them, so watch for our tips throughout this article to help them look their best, and grow to their potential! These plants can be grown in most areas of the U.S. Here are our picks!
Photo below shows red Penstemon, Russian Sage and ornamental grasses. By ‘Creative Landscapes‘.
This photo by ‘BHG‘ shows Yarrow and Coneflower in the foreground, with Russian Sage in the back.
Yarrow (Achillea) Zones 3-8
Yarrow has long been one of our fav plants because of its strong architectural feel, long bloom time, low water needs and attractive, feathery foliage. There are many varieties, including ones in pink, red, coral and white, but our favorite is still the bold yellow “Coronation Gold’. Grows to 3 feet, is a great cut and dried flower, and brightens up any garden. Blooms all summer, full sun. Very easy to grow.
Photo by ‘BHG‘.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) Zones 3-8
Purple Coneflower has gone from being a wildflower grown in natural gardens, to one of the most popular perennials around thanks to some amazing new hybrids. Minis from one foot all the way up to four foot tall varieties exist, in every color from purple to white to green, and every sunset color in between. They generally bloom from mid summer through fall, though some start as early as June. Full sun. Butterflies and birds love them! Great cut flower. There are too many to choose a favorite, so we will do our best by recommending “Glowing Dream“. This variety is smaller at 18 inches, can be used in garden bed or containers, and has the most incredible watermelon pink color!
TGG Tip: Cut back old flowers a couple times a week, and you will be rewarded with many more blooms and a neater plant.
Russian Sage (Perovskia) Zones 4-9
We love Russian Sage and grow it quite prolifically in our gardens, and it is a tough, beautiful blue plant that should be a backbone of a drought tolerant garden. However, take note of the word “prolific”. The species can get quite large, quite fast, and you might find yourself cutting it back more often than you would like. (Which should be done in later fall, to within 1 foot of the ground). However, this dwarf variety “Peek-a Blue” lets you have all the advantages of this plant, with a little less of the only downside. Looks amazing next to Black Eyed Susan or with yellow Yarrow. Full sun, to mostly sunny. Blooms mid summer through fall.
TGG Tip: If you do get your hands on the larger version, and find that it it too big by mid summer, we found that if you cut it back by two thirds, it will quickly rebound and give you another bloom flush by late summer.
Ornamental grasses vary a lot, from thirsty sedges to drought tolerant fountain grass. Our pick for today is a fountain grass (Pennisetum) “Hameln”. Well behaved and neatly mounded with fine strappy foliage, this grass grows to 2 feet and sends up stalks of white plumes in early-mid summer. This grass is an easy grower in full sun, and loves a hot, dry spot. This variety does not reseed. Zones 5-9. What’s not to love!
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) Zones 5-9
Ok, a lot of you are going to write us and tell us how this plant is a devil plant, sent to clog the streams and invade the ecosystem. First of all, if any plant is invasive to the point of being a danger to your community, obviously, don’t plant it. But for many areas, especially more arid ones in the west, butterfly bush is an amazing landscape plant that can offer substantial size and bloom in just one season. The butterflies and hummingbirds love it, and it’s GORG in bloom. And it is an important source of nectar. Check out this rant on the controversy from, well, ‘Garden Rant‘! So step one, check with your local nursery to find out if its a pest in your area. Then, make sure you plant a cultivar, not the species. You can even cut back the flowers before they go to seed to prevent spreading. Our choice? We love “Miss Molly” for its almost red blooms.
TGG Tip: These grow to 6 feet, but in late winter, they need to be cut back to 1-2 feet from the ground, Trust me, by June, you will never know, and it will repay you with a healthier plant with better blooms.
Coreopsis (Verticillata) Zones 3-9
Coreopsis is a happy and sunny daisy like flower for the garden, fine with hot, dry spots and blooming from spring through fall. Though several cultivars exist, including a pink one, we love “Moonbeam” for it’s buttery yellow blooms. Full sun to part sun, 18 inches tall.
TGG Tip: Instead of having to deadhead the old blooms one at a time, coreopsis will take a shearing back of one third of the plant with garden shears, then will quickly rebloom.
Beardtongue (Penstemon) Zones 5-9
Penstemon is a native wildflower, available in many cultivars in red, blues and pinks. A tubular flower over semi evergreen foliage makes this a winner in the garden, and has won its share of coveted awards as well. Full to part sun, it likes well drained soil, and blooms all summer long. 18 inches to 2 1/2 feet high depending on variety, you will find hummingbirds can’t resist this beauty! Our favorite is “Red Rocks“. We’re guessing you didn’t realize there were so many gorgeous perennials for low water gardens, right?
Stonecrop (Sedum) Zones 4-9
Sedum is a plant with fleshy leaves that tolerates low water well, and their flowers are star shaped beauties that cover the plants late summer through fall. There are two basic types, creeping sedums that make amazing ground covers, and upright sedums that are perfect garden plants to bring some freshness to the late summer garden. Upright varieties can remain well into early winter for four season interest, and the birds love them! Full sun to part sun. Our favorite creeping variety is “Angelina“, which is a fresh green to yellow green, and has pretty yellowish flowers mid summer. Four inches high, this stuff spreads, but in a good way. Easy to pull out if is plants itself in unwanted areas, this delicate looking but tough as nails plant quickly makes a garden look established or covers bare ground. Our upright choice is the old favorite “Autumn Joy“with a flat pink flowerhead, it grows to 2 feet. The flowers slowly turn to rust as the season progresses, and this looks amazing with ornamental grasses in the fall.
Wormwood (Artemisia) Zones 4-9
Wormwood is one of those near perfect plants, though its grown mainly for its foliage. Tolerant of low water, poor soil and high humidity, it’s ferny, grayish green leaves are the perfect backdrop for any flowering plant. Once established, needs very little additional water, and very pest resistant. Full sun to part shade, we love “Powis Castle” that grows into a mound to 3 feet high and wide. Aromatic.
TGG Tip: Flower stalks are insignificant, cut off any that appear. Photo from ‘Knibb Design‘.
Wand Flower (Gaura) Zones 5-9
Gaura is one of our new favorite plants, being used in our high desert area in high end gardens as elegant yet modern pops of color. Wand flower is aptly named, as these butterfly shaped flowers are held up to 3 feet high on long wand like stems all summer. Need good winter drainage. Puts down a tap root, so make sure you are happy with their placement before they get established. “Whirling Butterflies” is a mostly white variety with a touch of red on the sepal, but we love “Siskiyou Pink” and “RosyJane” as well! Full sun to mostly sunny, the hummingbirds and butterflies love this!
If you can’t find a way to make a drought tolerant garden gorgeous with these perennials for low water gardens, then we can’t help you! Do you have a favorite low water garden plant you want to share? Comment! And then check out our posts on How to Grow Lavender Like the French or How to Grow a Wildflower Garden.Image Credits: Bluestone, Creative Landscapes, BHG, BHG, Bluestone Perennials, Bluestone, Wayside, White Flower Farm, Knibb Design, Bluestone