Landscaping that can survive drought


Xeriscaping means landscaping that doesn’t need much water to look nice. For people who live out West, it’s a way of life. We’re used to the lush, moist climate of the Ohio valley and all the green, but we still can have dry summers so we’ve found dozens of perennials, shrubs and trees that can tolerate the occasional drought and still thrive.

Certain plants have qualities that help them survive drought better than others, once they are established. Some plants retain water very well, like Sedum, Portulaca, Purslane and other succulents. Others, like the oak, have “tap roots” that can find water deep in the soil. Another survival technique is leaves that don’t allow much evaporation. Plants with this characteristic are often silvery or gray in color and have fine hairs on their leaves, like Dusty Miller and Lavender. Blue-gray evergreens like juniper and blue spruce have a protective coating that acts as a sunscreen, reducing moisture loss.

We’re not suggesting that you start planting saguaro cactus and prickly pear in your landscape. These plants are native to the southwest and wouldn’t do well here anyway. The lesson here is that, to have the best chance to survive drought, your landscape plants should be native to this part of Ohio.

This may mean that we have to find beauty in trees like thornless Honeylocust, Hornbeam and Hawthorn. These have amazing survival ability, but they don’t have the glamour and name recognition of the more fragile Dogwood and Red Maple. Trees like Gingko, American Holly, Sycamore, ornamental Pear, and Zelkova will tolerate drought better than average. That’s why they are so often used for street tree plantings, where they must survive surrounded by hot, dry pavement.

In southern Ohio woods you’ll see native sumac, serviceberry, euonymus, hackberry, redbud and viburnum. This is a clue that hybrids of these species will survive here. Suggested shrub families for xeriscaping include Barberry, Boxwood, Smokebush, Cotoneaster, Deutzia, Juniper, Taxus, Russian Olive, Privet, Honeysuckle, Ninebark, Potentilla, Buckthorn, Rosa Rugosa (shrub rose), Spirea, Lilac, Viburnum and Euonymus (burning bush).

Here’s a list of preferred perennials for dry conditions: Aster, Coneflower, Daylily, Coneflower, Epimedium, Iris, Lavender, Leucanthemum, Rudbeckia, Sage, Sedum, and Yarrow. We can suggest many more perennials over a broad spectrum of colors we could call a “xeriscape paintbox”. Add to this a long list of drought-tolerant annuals such as geranium, marigold, cleome, portulaca and petunia, and you can have a pretty spectacular garden all through the long, hot summer.

One word of caution is that some of the most drought-tolerant plants actually need more frequent watering when they are first planted. Black-eyed Susans are a great example. Container grown Black-eyed Susans and coneflowers sometimes need watering twice a day when first planted. A year later they are fresh and perky on the hottest afternoon.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at For more information is available at or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

By Steve Boehme

Contributing Columnist

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