Lisa’s favorite drought-tolerant perennials

In our last installment of blog stories about drought-tolerant perennials (previously here and here), this time I’m featuring the favorites of Homestead perennials specialist and Anne Arundel County Master Gardener Lisa Winters.  Lisa will be giving two free talks this weekend at our Perennial Affair – about groundcovers on Saturday at 10, and low-maintenance gardening on Sunday at 10:30.

Achillea (L) and Gaura (R)

Above left is just one of many colors of Achillea, commonly known as Yarrow – it’s just as nice in white, pink, orange and red.  Its blooms make excellent cut flowers, and in the garden it can be deadheaded for almost continuous color throughout the summer.  Gardeners also enjoy its fern-like, fragrant foliage.

And Lisa loves Gaura, which is a plant I’ve recently discovered and can’t get enough of. Native to the South Central U.S. and Mexico, it’s still surprisingly hardy – to Zone 6 (colder than Maryland is).  This sun-lover tolerates not just drought but heat extremely well, thanks to its long taproot.  (That taproot also makes it very happy about being moved, so plant it where it can stay put.)  Its blooms last for weeks, and can be cut it back to encourage reblooming.

From left, Switch grass 'Shenandoah', 'Karl Foerster' and Little Bluestem

Ornamental grasses as a group offer lots of drought-tolerant choices, and Lisa’s favorites are two American natives (Little Bluestem and Switchgrass) plus Karl Foerster, the hybrid of two native grasses that was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001.   All are medium-height clumping grasses that prefer full sun, are unbothered by disease, and simply need chopping down in early spring.

Daylilies with purple coneflowers, and all by themselves

And finally we come to two drought-tolerant and all-around easy-care perennials beloved by Maryland gardeners, me included – daylilies and purple coneflower.  Daylilies come in thousands of varieties that can be mixed and matched or grown singly for a dramatic mass – like the foundation planting here on the right.  They require no more care than lifting the dead leaves in the fall after the first hard frost and dividing every few years when the clumps get thick and crowded.

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are American natives that seemingly appear in new colors and varieties every year, though I prefer the standard purple myself, which self-seeds freely to produce large sweeps or extras to give away.  Be sure to leave the seedheads up for the winter because they’re great at attracting goldfinches.   Here you see purple coneflowers growing in my curbside garden with other tough plants that can survive that spot – daylilies, late-blooming Miscanthus grass, and unseen in the photo, sedums.

Photo credits:  Achillea by Ocean of Stars.  Gaura by Wallygrom. Switch grass and Little Bluestem thanks to Sandy’s Plants. Karl Foerster by Daryl Mitchell. Lower photos by Susan Harris.

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