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Drought-resistant plants

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last updated Feb 4, 2014
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Drought-resistant planting. Credit: RHS Advisory

As climate change presents us with the challenge of gardening with less water, choosing plants to suit our growing conditions becomes paramount.

Introduction Back to top

With some conditioning of the soil and careful watering, there is a considerable range of plants that can tolerate dry conditions once they are established.

Practical considerations Back to top

  • Plant any silver leaved, less hardy, sun lovers in April so they establish their roots well before winter arrives
  • Try to plant small specimens so that they get used to their growing environment gradually as they develop
  • Adding organic matter to the soil before planting can help to improve both water availability and drainage, but do not add fertiliser, as this can encourage too much lush growth which may flop in summer, require extra watering, and be affected by frost in the winter
  • Use mulches to retain moisture in the soil

Suitable plants Back to top

Many drought tolerant plants have silver or grey-green leaves, their light leaf colour reflecting the harsh rays of the sun. Some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems, helping to trap moisture around the plant tissues. Below is a selection of plants with good drought-tolerant properties.

Trees

Acacia dealbata (mimosa) AGM: Height 15-30m (50-100ft); spread 15m (50ft)
Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) AGM: Height and spread 10m (30ft)
Koelreuteria paniculata (golden rain tree) AGM: Height and spread 10m (30ft)
Ptelea trifoliata ‘Aurea’ (hop tree) AGM: Height: 5m (15ft)

Conifers

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson cypress): Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Cupressus arizonica var. glabra: 10-15m x 4-5m (30-50ft x 12-15ft)
Juniperus: Height and spread variable according to species and cultivar
Pinus: Height and spread variable according to species and cultivar

Palms

Cordyline australis AGM: 3-10m x 1-4m (10-30ft x 3-13ft)
Trachycarpus fortunei AGM: (20m x 2.5m (70ft x 8ft)

Small shrubs

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ AGM: 60cm x 90cm (2ft x 3ft)
Halimium: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Hebe: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Lavandula (lavender): Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Nandina domestica (sacred bamboo) AGM: 2m x 1.5m (6ft x 5ft)
Ozothamnus ledifolius AGM: 1m x 1m (3ft x 3ft)
Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ AGM: 1.2m x 1m (4ft x 3ft)
Santolina chamaecyparissus AGM: 50cm x 50cm (20in x 3ft)

Medium-large shrubs

Abelia × grandiflora AGM: 3m x 4m (10ft x 12ft)
Arbutus unedo AGM: 8m x 8m (25ft x 25ft)
Callistemon citrinus: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Elaeagnus angustifolia AGM: 6m x 6m (20ft x 20ft)
Olearia macrodonta AGM: 6m x 5m (20ft x 15ft)
Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius  ‘Silver Jubilee’ AGM: 2-3m x 1.5m (6-10ft x 5ft)
Vitex agnus-castus: 2-8m x 2-8m (6-25ft x 6-25ft)

Climbers

Campsis: 10m (30ft)
Eccremocarpus scaber AGM: 3-5m (10-15ft)
Jasminum officinale: 12m (40ft)
Passiflora caerulea (e.g. ‘Constance Elliott’ AGM): 10m (30ft)
Solanum crispum: 6m (20ft)

Herbaceous perennials

Baptisia australis AGM: 1.5m x 60cm (5ft x 2ft)
Euphorbia: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Eryngium: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Echinops: Height and spread variable according to cultivar
Osteospermum jucundum AGM: Height 10-50cm (4-20in) Spread 50-90cm (20in-3ft)
Verbena including V. rigida AGM and V. bonariensis AGM:  Height and spread variable according to cultivar

Grasses

Cortaderia selloana: 2.5 -3m x 1.5m (8-10ft x 5ft)
Panicum virgatum: 1m x 75cm (3ft x 30in)
Pennisetum alopecuroides: 0.6-1.5 x 0.6-1.2m (2-5ft x 2-4ft)
Stipa gigantea: AGM 2.5m x 1.2m (8ft x 4ft)
Briza media
Pennisetum rubrum

Containers and borders

Alonsoa
Amaranthus
Arctotis
Argyranthemum
Bidens
Brachyscome
Calendula officinalis
(pot marigold)
Cerinthe major
Convolvulus sabatius
Cosmos bipinnatus
Diascia

Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy)
Felicia
Gazania
Gomphrena globosa
Helianthus
(sunflower)
Helichrysum petiolare
Heliotropium
Helipterum roseum (syn.
Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)
Ipomoea purpurea
Lantana camara
Lavandula multifida, L. dentata
Limnanthes douglasii
Limonium sinuatum
Mesembryanthemum
Mirabilis jalapa
Nemesia
Nicotiana
Nigella damascena
Osteospermum
Papaver somniferum
Pelargonium
Plectranthus
Portulaca grandiflora
Senecio maritima
Silybum marianum
Tithonia rotundifolia
Tropaeolum majus
Verbena
Zaluzianskya ovata
(night phlox)

Half-hardy succulents

Aeonium
Aloe
Delosperma cooperi
Drosanthemum
Lampranthus

Hanging basket plants

Bidens
Brachyscome
Convolvulus sabatius
Diascia
Felicia
Nemesia
Pelargonium
- trailing and zonal
Tropaeolum majus
Verbena

Links

RHS Plant Selector
RHS Plant Finder

Eryngium giganteum. Credit: RHS Advisory

Eryngium giganteum

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