A Georgia garden man shares drought-tolerant perennials
My area last Friday, Saturday and Sunday had fluctuating 78 to 90 percent chances of rain. In fact, the weather was overcast and gloomy with fog throughout the three days, however, there was no heavy rainfall to relieve the drought in Garden Guy’s home.
The next drought monitoring map or report will be on Thursday, but most are not expecting major changes. My friend Dr. Allen Owings said Louisiana has had a good 3 to 5 inches of rain in areas, but the university lakes in Louisiana are completely dry.
With almost no rain in much of the South and Southeast this past summer, many of us are back to thinking about hardy plants as well as water conservation. I was looking through my photos from last summer and was blown away by the beautiful flowers. The reason is because I felt like I worked my ass off. It’s been the most miserable summer.
But while azaleas were weakening or dying here and hydrangeas were wilting there, some hardy perennials and annuals were strutting their stuff as “drought all-stars.” I’ve written about many of these things over the past couple of years, but never from the perspective of simply being a survivor of a brutal summer.
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I’m in the hot and humid Southeast, so I was always picking flowers that could handle the heat, were beautiful and brought in pollinators. I never thought about drought tolerance. I usually worry more if I have good enough drainage so the plants don’t drown. We don’t have drought here.
That is, until this year.
The drought stars did so well that they taught me a lesson: I pampered the plants too much. Examples include Meant to Bee Queen Nectarine and the new Royal Raspberry agastache. They enjoyed last summer so much that they formed tight groups that predicted great things in the spring. The same goes for the upscale bee balm Red Velvet and Pink Chenille as well as the colour-coded Echinacea, all of which have indigenous DNA throughout.
One plant that has consistently exceeded all expectations is Augusta Lavender Heliotrope. I planted it in a dirt spot on the side of a slope that is impossible to water even when it’s not in drought. But it has blossomed and is thriving now in December. The Augusta Lavender Heliotrope is a stunning plant that is perennial in zone 8 and warmer.
These luscious lantanas may be the toughest flowers on the planet and are the leaders of the All Stars of the Drought team. I’m on my 4th year with Luscious Royale Cosmo, Marmalade, Golden Gate, Citron, and Citrus Blend. I have never seen a single wilt. They seem to be celebrating the heat and drought of 2023 with their gorgeous blooms.
Rockin Playin’ the Blues salvia was a champion at every site I planted as well as the one my son James used. I wrote this column on December 4th, and they are thriving. Blue is simply the most attractive color in the landscape. It makes sense that these are rugged perennials in zones 7 and warmer, as both of their parents are native to Mexico, Texas and New Mexico.
Finally you have to say hello to the Truffula Pink gomphrena. These also form a tight clump that makes me think they may come back in the spring even though it is considered an annual in my area. I’ve been guilty of spoiling this prize winner too, but I’ll be enjoying the abundant water supply in all of these, next year.
As the drought stars taught me something, a frightening thought crossed my mind. What if that’s the case next year? What if we were in a period like Colorado in the late 1970s? This is exactly what prompted the Denver Water Department to develop the term “xeriscape” in 1981 along with its seven basic principles.
Most of us felt that drought would never affect us. Unfortunately, many find themselves in one now and no one knows when it will subside. The drought monitoring map shows that this experience was an epic event. With continued severe drought, should we reconsider our landscape design, plant selection and irrigation methods for 2024?
All the drought stars I mentioned above are a good place to start for beauty, hardiness and pollinators.
Follow Norman Winter on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration. See more columns by Norman at SavannahNow.com/lifestyle/home-garden/.