Drought tolerant plants

Thu. Jul. 16, 2020

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show: Drought tolerant plants

Are we in the tropics? It sure felt like it these last couple of weeks. Now, as we head into the driest part of summer when lawns begin to crackle and people melt, I thought we should review some drought tolerant plants. I know you folks in Wisconsin had a ton of rain… but you know it’s gonna get dry!

Hail to the ‘dog days’ of Summer. But not hail like in a hail storm!!

Characterisitics of a drought tolerant plant:

  • fuzzy leaves – fine little hairs capture water
  • gray leaves – their light color reflects sunlight
  • large fleshy roots – below ground storage units
  • succulent leaves – above ground storage units
Lamb’s Ear
Lamb’s Ear – capture the moisture! 

Fuzzy leaves like those on Lamb’s Ears help prevent water loss due to the fine little hairs that capture any moisture and hold it.  Gray leaves like those on Artemesia or Russian Sage reflect sunlight which helps reduce moisture loss.  An annual that’s great for containers is Dicondra ‘Silver Falls’.  

Russian Sage – photo by growjoy
Dicondra ‘Silver Falls’ by Proven Winners

Large fleshy roots are below-ground water storage units.  The Yucca filamentosa plant is a great example of this. Hardy to zone 4, it’s super tropical looking. ‘Adams Needle’ and ‘Golden Sword’ are two cultivars.

Yucca ‘Adams Needle’ photo from Nature Hills

While large fleshy roots hold water underground, succulent leaves like those on Sedums, hold their water above ground.  ‘Autumn Joy’ is probably the most popular sedum.

Painted Ladies butterflies ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum

But there are a bunch! Many are groundcovers.

Aralia cordata with various sedum by Teri Knight

I had a ‘Dragon’s Blood’ that survived winter in a small container only partially buried in the ground. It’s leaves turn red in the Fall. 

Dragons blood

An annual that’s drought tolerant and tasty too is Rosemary.  It’s waxy leaves are coated with a dense barrier preventing water loss.


For dry shade areas, choose Wild Ginger, Goatsbeard, Lady’s Mantle and the clematis ‘Virgin’s Bower’

Clematis ‘Virgin’s Bower’ Minnesota wildflower – grown on a tomato cage!
Wild ginger around a tree