Favorite drought-tolerant perennials – Salvia and Lamb’s Ears

Sea of Salvia in Chicago's Millenium Park

When the summer drought comes we’ll all be wishing we had more drought-tolerant plants in our garden – at least I know I will.  Not that all my plants have to be succulents, mind you, but I like to keep the thirsty plants to a minimum – vegetables, and everything in pots – so that most of my garden can take care of itself.   After all, climate change means not just warmer temperatures but longer droughts, and water restrictions are being imposed even here in the wetter East Coast states (Georgia especially, where population growth around Atlanta has out-paced supplies of water and led to severe restrictions on the use of water for gardens).

So while Maryland gardeners are still free to grow the plants they wish, they’re increasingly interested in less thirsty ones, and this is the first in a series of blog stories about them.  Today I’m raving about two of my favorite drought-tolerant perennials.

Salvia: ‘May Night’ and other hardy varieties

Salvias are happiest in full sun but will still bloom in part shade.  They’re only 2-3 tall and wide and won’t spread thuggishly throughout the border.  Their peak bloom time is now in May but they’ll rebloom if the spent flowers are removed.  The National Arboretum’s Scott Aker suggests interplanting early bloomers like ‘May Night’ with a late-bloomer like Salvia chamaedryoides.

Salvia attract the wildlife we love – butterflies and hummingbirds – while repelling deer and rabbits – yay!  The popular variety ‘May Night’ was named the 1997 “Perennial Plant of the Year”.

Salvia in a small front yard garden

 

Salvia at Brookside Gardens.

In late November

My Lamb's Ears in December

Lamb’s Ears (Stachys)

One of my favorite groundcovers for sunny spots, Lamb’s Ears are tough and their silver, (mostly) evergreen leaves make this plant a focal point at the front of the border. The popular variety ‘Helene von Stein’ doesn’t bloom at all but its foliage holds up extremely well into late summer and fall.  With varieties that DO bloom, many gardeners remove the spike-shaped blooms because it helps keep the foliage looking great all season.   Lamb’s Ears require sun, at least half a day of it.

Care of Lamb’s Ears involves minimal watering and removing any rotted foliage, especially in late winter.  Notice in the photo right how great it can look as late as December!  However, after being covered with snow for extended periods, the leaves do look worse for wear – rotted – but are easily removed, often by simply picking them up.

In my garden, Lamb's Ears are the skirt in front of Salvia

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