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Tried and tested drought-tolerant plants

Shrubs

Buddleia – their flowering period may be a bit truncated but they seem happy to give it a go

Callistemon, bottle brush, a bit of a marmite shrub due to its spiky foliage, but definitely a heat lover.

Caryopteris – welcome pale blue flowers at the end of the summer

Cistus – should be able to cope unless planted in the last couple of years, when you may need to chuck a bucket of water at it every couple of weeks

Colutea – bladder senna. The commonest species is Colutea arborescens which grows into a small tree but I have the smaller Colutea persica var. buhsei which copes really well with a hot dry site. Lovely yellow/orange two tone pea-like flowers (scented and bumble bee friendly) followed by bladder fruits – pretty pinnate foliage – whats not to like?

Convolvulus cneorum – the hotter it gets the more this silver leaved convolvulus likes it!

Euphorbia – with their semi succulent stems most garden euphorbias seem to stand up well to heat and drought. The smaller, prostrate ones such as E.myrsinites seem to actually revel in it, with the taller characias types also coping well. An exception wood be E.dulcis which is a more fragile woodlander, whose stems need to be cut right down after a dry spell.

Genista and Cytisus brooms prefer the hotter spots in the garden

Grevillea – the cultivar ‘Canberra Gem’ seems particularly happy in my gravel garden this summer.

Hibiscus

Hypericum – My ‘Rowallane’ bushes look as happy as they did at the start of June. Beware of H. calycinum, though, which can be very invasive.

Lagerstroemia indica crepe myrtle- this shrub/small tree actually needs a good whack of heat to produce its stunning clusters of late summer flowers – mine (I think it’s ‘Braise d’Ete’) also has amazing red autumn colour.

Lavender and rosemary – very drought resistant in the ground – less so in a pot.

Nandina domestica, heavenly bamboo – not a true bamboo but looks like one but much better behaved, this rugged little shrub seems to use water very efficiently, still produced creamy panicles of flowers in the hottest spells which lead onto clusters of red berries in autumn.

Nerium oleander

PhlomisP. fruticosa with yellow hooded flowers or P. italica with pink flowers. Also the pale yellow russelliana

Potentilla – not one of my personal favourites but pretty drought tolerant

Tree poppy- Romneya coulterii – but the same warning about a suckering habit applies!

Roses – Being very deep rooted, most roses will survive a drought but the only ones in my garden that look supremely happy in a heatwave are the scotch briar roses Rosa spinosissima I have a double form, and Louise rates the creamy cultivar ‘Dunwich Rose’ – I bought Caroline and I one each named ‘Mary Queen of Scot’s’ in the sell off from the Binnys Plant stand at Chelsea this year, and it’s still looking remarkably chipper even though it’s still encased in its original small pot. They only flower once in early summer but have lovely ferny foliage and small dark hips. Beware though – if they’re happy they sucker like mad, so best grown in isolation

Shrubby salvias like Salvia x jamensis

Sambucus – All my ornamental elders such as ‘Black Lace’ are faring very well without water, and providing glossy and striking foliage among the perennials.

Santolina chaemaecyparissus – lavender cotton. a low evergreen shrub with silvery leaves (and a rather odd scent if you rub them!)

Sphaeralcea ‘Sour Up’, and ‘Childerley’ – these need a mild climate, but will flower for months in a hot, sunny summer.

Tamarix – often grown in hot windy seaside locations.

Teucrium chaemadrys – wall germander – low-growing late summer flowers looking like a glossy heather – seems impervious to heat or drought – very attractive to bees

Tree ferns

Trees

Albizia julibrissin, the Persian silk tree, thank you to one of our followers who has put forward this little tree, that performs brilliantly in a heatwave

Catalpa – Indian bean tree. Can get big, but ours has lovely large leaves and gorgeous summer flowers, so if you do have the space, I can recommend it.

Eucalyptus – most have the ideal foliage for heat, and many have very attractive bark

Gleditzia triacanthos – the Honey Locust – we’ve never seen ours looking so happy!

The evergreen Magnolia grandiflora looks supremely happy in the heat, but it’s a whopping great thing – there is a dwarf version ‘Little Gem’ that would be more manageable in a smaller garden

Olive trees – these are becoming more of a common site planted in the ground in Southern England – they may lose their leaves in a late winter beast from the east, but seem to recover. Even in a pot they seem to exist happily on very little water

Ground cover

Armeria – thrift is okay in a hot spot

Bergenia – elephants ears also tolerate drought once they’re ‘dug in’

Epimedium for shady areas

Geranium macrrorhizum will provide good ground cover in semi-shaded places with scented foliage

Helianthemum – rock roses

Thyme and grounding hugging sedums for sunny areas

Climbers

Clematis nepalensis – a rare clematis that actually loses all its leaves and goes dormant in the summer months (so avoids drought damage but does look alarming dead! ) but then springs to life in the autumn and flowers over the winter months

Ivies – their tough leathery leaves seem impervious to weather extremes and can also act as natural air conditioning if planted against a house wall.

Perennial sweet peas – Lathyrus species- seems very tolerant of heat and dryness, though they will go to seed quicker. This the very opposite of the annual species who loathe having dry feet!

Trachelospermum – evergreen either the white or there is a pretty creamy coloured one – very scented

Herbaceous plants

Achillea

Agastache

Alstroemeria

Althaea cannabina – I can’t speak too highly of this wonderful hollyhock relative that shoots up in midsummer to present a diaphanous cloud of small pink flowers, dancing gaily no matter how hot it gets. Seeds itself around when happy.

Callirhoe involucrata – the purple poppy-mallow


Cardoon Cynara cardunculus

Catanache

Crocosmia

Diascia personata – recommended by one of our followers, apparently this has flowered non- stop throughout the heatwave

the perennial foxglove Digitalis ferruginea has been a lifesaver in my garden this summer, providing pretty bee-friendly vertical accents when others have faltered.

Echinacea – we’re getting reports from our followers that echinacea are coping well with the heat with Pallida, White Swan, Pink Parasol and Tomato Soup all getting the thumbs up

Echinops – globe thistles. They look right at home in the sun.

Echium – one of readers has reminded us that if your garden is mild enough to sustain them over winter several species of echium including the towering E. pininana will cope with heat and drought

Erodium – related to geraniums and pelargoniums these diminutive alpines form satisfying mounds of ferny foliage and flower all summer long on hot walls or crevices. There are lots of different species and cultivars, but beware, collecting them can be a bit addictive (but you’ll be in good company – my current favourite is the sulphur yellow Erodium chrysanthum)

Eryngium. With their deep tap root, referred to as ‘the old world’ species (E. plenum, alpinum, bourgatii, giganteum etc) they seem to thrive in drought, whereas the new world species (E. yuccifolium and pandanifolium) have shallower root systems that can struggle in prolonged drought, with the exception being the huge E. pandanifolium ‘Physic Purple’ which seems to need a long hot summer to prompt its massive flower spikes to make the effort

Gaura lindheimeri

Hyelotelephium – Sedum – succulent stems and flowers protect them beautifully

Ipomopsis rubra – a flowering plant of the phlox family, also known as the standing cypress, or Texas plume

Kniphofia – red hot pokers, as their name suggests they like it hot!

Nepeta – catmint. I cut mine back in the middle of this year’s very hot July, and it’s full of flowers (and hundreds of bees and butterflies) again now, without being given a drop of water.

Origanum – marjoram

Oenothera ( rests up during the day and comes to life at night)

Papaver rupifragum, the Spanish poppy – the name says it all, very happy in baking soil.

Perovskia – pruned hard in late spring to a woody framework, this will withstand really hot conditions with pale purple flowers for weeks in August and September

Verbena bonariensis – the plant that never falters!

Zauschneria – a species of willow herb from the dry slopes of California.

Annuals and biennials

Chicory, Cichorium intybus 

Eschscholtzia – Californian poppies

Galactites tomentosa – the purple milk thistle. There is also a very refined white form

Verbascum – giant mulleins, producing a basal rosette in the first year and a huge flowering spike in the second summer. The cultivar ‘Arctic Summer’ comes highly recommended by one of our followers, and has apparently flowered magnificently in the heat wave

Grasses

Briza maxima, quaking grass – can self-seed invasively but very happy (and pretty) in very poor soil

Dwarf Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ also good

Miscanthus nepalensis – a smallish slightly tender grass that produces gorgeous coppery golden tassels in a hot summer, common name the Himalayan fairy grass and also quite happy in a pot

Most grasses have evolved in hot, dry prairie situations so will cope with a British heatwave. The low-growing Stipa tenuissima is particularly joyful as is its taller cousin Stipa gigantea.

Bulbs, tubers etc.

Agapanthus – love the heat but will need a decent amount of water if grown in a pot

Crinum powellii – despite their large strappy leaves crinums are sun worshippers and will produce stunning white or pink scented lily-like flowers in early autumn if planted in the right place. They will however need a small mechanical digger to shift their enormous bulbs if ever you tire of them

Dahlia coccinea

Summer-dormant bulbs such as nerines and Amaryllis belladonna – soak up the heat and flower in the autumn

Pot plants

Aeonium

Aloe

Echeveria

Oleander

Pelargonium – obviously!

Sempervivum – house leeks

We’d love to hear about any other drought tolerant plants you could add to our list!

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

12 replies on “Tried and tested drought-tolerant plants”

Thanks so much, a really useful list of drought friendly planting. My favourites in our dry south facing garden are agapanthus, nepeta, echinops, lavender and one I don’t think you mentioned, gaura. Also want to expand on the grasses…

Hi Charlie, Laura here, lovely to hear from you and glad you approve of our list! I always think of a very successful group of plants at the side entrance to the Cowdray farm shop in Midhurst (for the benefit of others Charlie and I used to work together in Midhurst …) that was just Gaura, Verbena bonariensis, Stipa tenuissima and a perovskia – it looked fantastic and flowered for ages in the most arid, sunny and windy site. Hope to see you soon Laura x (think gaura is already on our list, but just as a stand alone name without the gushing endorsement it deserves!)

Hi Alison, that’s such a good plant isn’t it, I know Louise rates it really highly which is always a fantastic endorsement for a plant to have. She gave me one too a few years back but I seem to have lost it so I’ll have to drop some heavy hints and hope she might take pity and give me another! We’ll add to our list 👍 best wishes Laura

I also have a dahlia Gerrie Hoek which is coping well. I planted two into the herbaceous border and although they were eaten almost to the ground by slugs initially, I gave them a bit of water a month or so ago and now there are no slugs they are doing brilliantly!

Hi Maggie, agreed – every cloud has a silver lining and at least the drought has put paid to the slugs! I suppose the dahlias have their tubers to use as a water store in the same way as succulents use their stems and leaves – mine are hanging in but I wouldn’t say enjoying life. ‘Gerry Hoek’ looks lovely though and it’s definitely going on my list for next year! Best wishes Laura

I’ve enjoyed a couple of giants this year that seem to thrive in this weather and are great if you’ve got a large space to fill. Verbascum Arctic summer leaves a meter across with an initial flower spike 7ft high followed by multiple smaller spikes it’s been flowering since May just coming to an end just as the cardoon is starting to flower it’s it’s first year so only 6 foot tall and I’ve got great hope next year for the echium and vipers bugloss seedlings that are going in in the autumn. The red hot poker’s have enjoyed the weather as well. All doing well on very little raj this year

Hello Jan, these are all great additions to our list! Agreed about the verbascum and cardoons and although my garden is too cold to over winter echiums outside I’ve seen them growing in coastal gardens in the driest and most inhospitable places imaginable. My red hot pokers are newly planted and have struggled a bit in the heat but we’ll take your word for their heat tolerating qualities and add them too. Thanks very much for taking the time to give us these excellent suggestions best wishes Laura

Caryopteris has come through the drought and is now flowering (in Seaford, East Sussex), olive trees are fine, surprisingly our tree fern is looking good. I agree with you about roses, the pot ones needed some TLC but the ground planted ones are doing well. Alstroemerias seemed to cope well too.

Thank you for writing in – some super additions to our list. `I suppose it might be expected that olive trees would be okay in an arid summer, but tree ferns are more of a surprise! I haven’t had a caryopteris for many years, don’t really know why because I always enjoyed those soft blue flowers right at the end of the summer. Perhaps I should get another one……oh dear, another one to add to the list! All the best, Elaine

Had a terrible shock this summer so driven to explore low water/no water gardens (am in the arid east). My top favourite, by a long way, has been the lovely sphaeralcea amigua (?) ‘Childerley’. Any of the sphaeralceas have been generally good in east anglia mind. Months of flowering lushness. In orange. Also with generally peachy theme – western agastaches (such as Apricot Sprite and what I always referred to as Californian fuchsia – zauschnerias (I think mine is ‘Western Hills’). Finally, a shout out for callirhoe involucrata, catanache and ipomopsis rubra – along with the shrubby salvias, these have salvaged a summer (after asters, rudbeckias, zinnias et al. failed), leaving me with lots of pale blues and lilacs but few warm and cheerful tones.The dahlias were surprisingly stalwart – especially d.coccinea.

Hi Suzy, Elaine here. Thank you so much for writing in. What fabulous suggestions to add to our list of drought-tolerant plants! I have the lovely Sphaeralcea called ‘Sour Up’, on the recommendation of our columnist Louise, and it has indeed been very happy this summer. I have just looked up S. ambigua ‘Childerley’ and it looks utterly lovely – it will be added to my wish list directly! Pale blues and lilacs actually do look rather wonderful with autumnal colours, don’t they – there’s a very satisfying tonal contrast that makes them glow and almost’sing’. What a lot a scorching summer has taught us! With best wishes.

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