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No Rain, No Pain: Easy Drought-Tolerant Plants

By Brie Cadman
May 8, 2012; 7:57 AM ET
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Photo courtesy of lord_bute

It seems that water shortages and droughts are the new norm for certain parts of the United States, especially in the western, southwestern, and southern regions. From California to Texas, farmers are plowing under fields, mandatory water restrictions are in place or about to be enforced, and customers are urged to conserve, conserve, conserve. Yet, it's still common to see large stretches of lawn or other water-thirsty plants in front of homes, business, and retail spaces. Since the EPA estimates that landscape irrigation uses up almost seven billion gallons of water per day, our yards seem a likely place to make tangible changes. Planting drought-tolerant plants is a good place to start.

Not All Prickly Pears
Many people assume that a drought-tolerant yard is one consisting of lava rocks and cactus. Xeriscaping, which refers to gardening and landscaping that minimizes the amount of water used, focuses on plants that are well adapted to the climates in which they are being planted. This results in yards that span the board in terms of color, foliage, form, and fragrance. And unlike tender ornamentals and needy lawns, these drought-tolerant plants are almost always less maintenance.

The best place to look for plants that don't need a lot of extra water or help is with a native plant nursery. Whatever grows naturally in your area is already adapted to it; that means it can thrive in summer dry, hot, or harsh climates. Natives are also usually more disease-resistant and they attract native pollinators, so expect to see more butterflies, hummingbirds, and beneficial insects in your yard.

Looking outside of your own range, choosing plants that have similar climate adaptations to your own should also work. For instance, if you live in summer dry areas like parts of the West and Southwest, you can usually pick from areas that are similar, meaning Baja, the Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. Not all plants from other regions or microclimates will survive in yours, so be sure to check growing requirements.

Pretty Perennials
Perennials are those plants that stick around all year, but usually flower for a few seasons. For this reason, it's important to pick the perennial not just for the flower, but also the leaves. These are a few of my favorites.

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