Drought-Tolerant Shrubs and Woody Groundcovers

Tired of watering?  Aren’t we all!  So it’s a good time to consider plants that need little to no supplemental watering – once they’re established.  (And what does  “once established” mean?  That important disclaimer usually means once a plant’s been in a spot for a whole season, though even in the second year, plants need you to keep an eye on them.)

Drought-tolerant perennials are great (and I’ve covered lots of them – here,  here and here) but shrubs can take up a lot of space in the garden and are the key to making your whole garden low-maintenance one.  So here are some easy, drought-tolerant shrubs recommended by Homestead’s woodies manager, Joseph Panossian.

Acubas (above) are one of the very few evergreen plants that can handle shade, and can be pruned to almost any shape or size (although to reduce your workload, give them enough space for the size they want to be).  They’re also famously easy to propagate by rooting.  One tiny bit of maintenance they present is the removal of a few branches that suffer winter dieback (blackening).

Cotoneasters are loved for their berries, which in turn are loved by birds.  Butterflies and bees are also attracted to cotoneaster but thankfully, deer are not.   Cotoneasters are some of the most versatile shrubs in the garden — you can choose from compact, upright shrubs to groundcovers to big plants ideal for hedges.

Crapemyrtles need no introduction to Homestead Gardens readers, but questions persist – especially about pruning and how to get more blooms from them.  For expert advice on both those subjects there’s no better authority than the National Arboretum’s Crapemyrtle Q&A.  Hint:  They probably need less pruning than you think, but more sun than many gardeners give them.

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Fothergilla, a native to the Southeast, has fragrant white flowers that emerge in late April and early May, before the leaves open, and great fall color, too.   It’s happy in the shade but can take sun, too, and requires no pruning, thanks to its compact growth habit.  It’s related to witch hazels, and equally trouble-free.

Nandinas (above left) are one more of the very few evergreen shrubs that can take shade – total shade, at that.  As well as full sun, though naturally they’re less drought-tolerant in the sun.  They come in a variety of sizes from dwarf to about 5 feet tall, and they stay narrow and often leggy, which is why they’re usually grown in a group for more impact (and to hide their skinny legs).  They’re especially useful filling the narrow difficult-to-grow spots along the sides of houses.  Another great feature is their resistance to deer.  Nandinas are listed as invasive plants in much of the Southeast and concerned gardeners in this area can remove the berries, or grow varieties with no berries.  They do require some cutting back to stay full.

Osmanthus (above right), also known as False Holly, has stunning foliage in an assortment of colors, both solid or variegated.  It also comes in an assortment of heights, so it can be used to fill various niches in the garden. Pruning is seldom required. Osmanthus is evergreen and a sun-lover, so just give it sun and it’ll reward you with its evergreen gorgeousness all year long.

Yucca is as drought-tolerant as you’d imagine for a plant that looks like it belongs in the desert.  And no surprise, they’re native to the arid Southwest, though luckily for us they’re hardy to Zone 6, which is about 10 degrees colder than our winters.  Just give them sun and good drainage.

Junipers come in every imaginable size, from the ground-huggers you see here to 30′ tall trees.  There’s also a huge variety in color, but all are drought-tolerant and, like almost all conifers, evergreen.  Junipers are one tough plant.

More drought-tolerant shrubs listed on Joseph’s hand-out available in the tree and shrub department are:  Barberrry, Brooms, Russian Olive, St.  John’s Wort, Northern Bayberry, and Photinia.

Cotoneaster photo credit.  Russian Olive photo creditFothergilla photo credit. Osmanthus photo credit.

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