Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Drought Tolerant Landscape Plants for the Northeast

Drought Tolerant Plants for the Northeast
In some cases landscape design calls for plantings which are more "drought tolerant". Plants defined as 'drought tolerant" require watering until established and then can survive on minimal water from natural rainwater and occasional irrigation in hotter climates. The goal is to create a space which is both aesthetically pleasing and low maintenance at the same time.  In this article I am going to focus on "drought tolerant" selections that I have found to be most productive here on Long Island (Zone 7) and that are hardy in a range of zones from 3-9. 
Coreopsis 'Zagreb'

The first in a line of drought tolerant perennials is Coreopsis 'Zagreb'.  This daisy-like flower grows on fine stalks and displays yellow blooms from June until late September. Coreopsis grows to approximately 15 inches in height and prefers a well-drained, slightly acidic soil and full sun.
Sedum 'Aurea' and Daylily
  Next is Sedum 'Aurea'.  Sedum is very drought tolerant and serves nicely in rock gardens as seen here.  It is accompanied by Daylily 'Stella D' Oro', which is drought tolerant once established.  Sedum 'Aurea' only grows to approximately 4 inches in height while 'Stella D Oro' grows to 12-18 inches in height.  Both prefer a well-drained soil and full sun.
Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
  Gaillardia or Blanket Flower is known for its drought tolerance and display of vibrant yellow-red blooms lasting from June until August. Gaillardia grows to a height of 12-15 inches and prefers a slightly acidic, well -drained dry soil in full sun.  Here on Long Island I have found Gaillardia to be reliable once established but not as long lived as the other perennials mentioned (average lifespan three to four years).
Perennial Geranium
Perennial Geranium tolerates a variety of conditions (full sun to partial shade) and displays violet blue flowers from June until frost and grows to a height of approximately 15-18 inches. Once established it seems to thrive on neglect.
Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum'
Rudbeckia is another drought tolerant perennial that seems to thrive on neglect.  Plant it in an area where there is plenty of space.  Rudbeckia is perfect for informal mass plantings such as along and woodland border and prefer full sun to partial shade and a well-drained slightly acidic soil.  Rudbeckia will re-seed themselves and spread quickly. Bloom time is from late summer into fall.
Nepeta 'Mussinii'
 Nepeta is available in a number of heights ranging from 18-36 inches and is very hardy to zones 3-8. It displays lavender-blue flowers from June to fall. For smaller spaces, 'Walkers Low' is a newer variety only growing 12-18 inches tall. Nepeta thrives in a range of conditions, prefers full sun to partial shade and is drought tolerant. 
Sedum 'Brilliant' (Pink)
Sedum forms clumps of orange-pink flowers on large heads in late summer into fall and require little watering.  The variety shown here is Sedum 'Brilliant', a more compact variety that grows to approximately 12-18 inches tall. Sedum is complemented nicely by ornamental grasses.
Barberry 'Rosy Glow' 

Barberry is a deciduous drought tolerant shrub with deep burgundy foliage that lasts from spring into fall.  There are many varieties of Barberry ranging from 'Royal Burgundy' which grows to 2-3 feet in height to 'Rosy Glow' (shown above) that reaches to 5-6 feet.   Barberry requires full direct sun and a slightly acidic, well drained soil. It is nicely complemented by some of the perennials listed here such as Coreopsis and Nepeta.  *Update (2015):  Barberry has been labeled as invasive in some states.  Alternatives for dwarf barberry are Dwarf Weigelia 'Spilled Wine', 'Wine and Roses', 'Midnight Wine', 'Dark Horse' or Fine Wine.  Alternatives for regular sized Barberry are Eastern Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) 'Summer Wine' or 'Diablo' or Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria). 
Fountain Grass

Ornamental grasses add movement and grace to any landscape. Ranging in a number of varieties and sizes, fountain grasses are hardy to a range of zones from 5-9 and prefer full sun and a dry, well-drained soil. Grasses are often used in xeriscaping, requiring little irrigation.
Juniperus 'Blue Star'
    Juniperus 'Blue Star' is a beautiful blue-green evergreen that thrives in a slightly-acidic, well drained soil.  Once established it requires little to no watering and it serves nicely in either a formal or informal garden.   This small juniper grows to a mature height and width of 2-3 feet.
 Pinus 'Mugo'

 Mugo Pine is another evergreen that stays relatively compact (mature height and width of approximately 3 feet) and thrives in a slightly acidic, well drained, dry soil.  It is drought tolerant once established and serves nicely in a rock garden planting. 

 Other "drought tolerant" plantings not mentioned above include Spirea 'Vanhoutte' (Bridal Wreath), Buddleia (Butterfly Bush),Vibernum 'Carlesii', Lilac, Lavender, Liatris, Stachys (Lamb's Ear), Yarrow, Salvia, and Russian Sage. With the movement towards sustainable landscaping these drought tolerant varieties are colorful and low maintenance additions to either the residential or commercial garden.

As Always...Happy Gardening!



A Guide to Northeastern Gardening: Journeys of a Garden Designer Zones 3-9

Author: Lee@A Guide To Northeastern Gardening, Copyright 2013. All rights reserved


  1. Thank you for a very informative post! I was so pleased to see that I have many of the perennials you mention.

  2. Thank you for visiting! Good to hear you have some of these. I have found these shrubs and perennials to hold up quite well in my own garden in the areas that get less water. They are all pretty hardy.

  3. I have quite a few of these, and am adding to my list some that I don't! I never thought of putting sedum next to daylilies - very pretty!

  4. Same here, you have many listed I use often. The way the climate has been changing, it is all the more important to include those that weather the summers.I like your website too, just came from there.

  5. Thank you for your comments. I agree about getting more of these into the garden. The past few summers have been getting hotter and drier than usual and the "drought tolerant" species take the change better. Even the winters here have been drier...less snow.

  6. Ahhh, Finally! I have been searching endlessly for information to help me give some local memorial gardens some love, and here you are in my backyard! Almost literally! Thank you for the information, I can't wait to garden with some success this time!

    1. Hi Lisa. Glad I could help. All of these work very well and I have used them on slopes as well where it is difficult for water to penetrate the roots. Keep in mind that even though these plants can take much drier conditions that they need to be on some kind of watering schedule until their roots get established. After that they are drought tolerant with minimal watering when there are long periods of no rain.

  7. How long before roots get established? One season?

    1. It typically takes about two months for the plants to develop feeder roots as long as they have proper watering. Even though they are drought tolerant they will need regular watering to get them going...then they are "tolerant" of dry conditions.


Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!


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