Whether in a rather hot, dry garden spot or in the root-bound soil under shade trees, finding attractive perennials that prosper in dry conditions is challenging but not impossible. Nurseries and garden centres often have display areas with plants specific for growing conditions. While tolerant of drought, some perennials respond favourably to moisture in the heat of summer as long as the soil is well-drained.
Dry, Sunny Areas
Among the most tolerant of dry soils are hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp.). Stonecrops (Sedum spp.) grow well, too, but must have a humus-rich, fertile soil if expected to look their best in extremely dry soils. Iowa State University also recommends yarrow (Achillea spp.), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), wormwood (Artemesia spp.) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). Many more perennials exist and are available in regions where they are winter hardy. You may also be able to acquire lamb's ears (Stachys spp.), prickly pears (Opuntia spp.), daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), blazing star (Liatris spicata), blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.) and butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.). Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) and starflower (Ipheion spp.) are ideal spring flowering bulbous perennials. Also look into native wildflowers that prosper in dry soils.
Dry, Shaded Areas
Perhaps the most frustrating garden area is that dry soil under large, thirsty-rooted shade trees. Several perennials grow nicely in these conditions but are best planted before the tree roots create a thick matrix difficult to dig into. The University of Delaware Extension mentions sound perennial choices: bugle weed (Aguga spp.), cast iron plant (Aspidistra spp.), barrenwort (Epimedium spp.), sedges (Carex spp.), spurge (Pachysandra spp.), Lenten rose (Helleborus spp.) and coral bells (Heuchera spp.). Spring-flowering bulbs good in this setting include snowdrop (Galanthus spp.), squills (Scilla spp. and Hyacinthoides spp.), starflower (Ipheion spp.), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa spp.) and winter aconite (Eranthis spp.).
In regions where winter frosts never occur, subtropical and tropical plants are grown in both sunny and shaded garden beds. Choices for sunny dry areas are crown of thorns (Euphorbia spp.), beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) kalanchoe, lantana, dryland bromeliads (Hechtia spp. and Dyckia spp.) and tropical hens-and-chicks (Echeveria spp.). Dry shade locales can grow many other bromeliads that retain water in their lower leaf bases, especially those in the genus Aechmea or Neoregelia.
- Iowa State University: Perennials Tolerant of Dry Conditions
- University of Delaware Extension: Plants/Shrubs for Dry Shade
- "A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants"; Rufino Osorio; 2001
- "Tropical Flowering Plants"; Kirsten Albrecht Llamas; 2003