by Wendy

Planting waterwise perennials will prepare your landscape for the next drought. Featured in this Arizona garden area: Agastache Blue Fortune, Echinacea purpurea Magnus, Nepeta Walker's Low, Potentilla Goldfinger, Asclepias tuberosa and Agastache rupestris. Photo by Pam Koch.

Plant Low-Water Plants Before Another Drought

Thankfully, the crippling drought that has had California in its grips, has been broken by the return of ample winter and spring precipitation. The best time to assess the lessons we've learned about our gardens during a drought is when it's fresh on our minds. Here in my home state of NM, we've been in that same drought since 2010. And for the time being, we too are out of drought as well. As I breathe a huge sigh of relief, as are millions of gardeners across California and the west, there are three important concepts to undertake that I know will help our gardens and landscapes be better prepared to withstand future erratic weather and climate change.

  1. Mellow Yellows Coneflower, Echinacea 'Mellow Yellows'

    Mellow Yellows Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a study in harmony with beautiful blossoms ranging from cream to gold. Blooming from early summer to first frost, Mellow Yellows has...

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    Mellow Yellows Echinacea Mellow Yellows Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Mellow Yellows
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Mellow Yellows Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a study in harmony with beautiful blossoms ranging from cream to gold. Blooming from early summer to first frost, Mellow Yellows has a long-lasting steady supply of blooms, making it an essential garden workhorse. Butterflies, bees, and birds are frequent visitors to Echinacea, and you can leave tall, sturdy flowers up over the winter for visual interest and food supplies. Beautiful for cut flowers on long, sturdy stems.
  2. Blue and Purple Lavandula angustifolia Munstead Violet, Lavandula angustifolia Munstead Violet, Munstead Violet English Lavender

    This HCG introduction is a selection of English lavender has some of the darkest colored flowers you'll ever see making it a stand-out in your garden! Faster growing than other dark ...

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    Munstead Violet English Lavender Munstead Violet English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia Munstead Violet
    As low as $13.99 Sale $11.19
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    This HCG introduction is a selection of English lavender has some of the darkest colored flowers you'll ever see making it a stand-out in your garden! Faster growing than other dark colored Lavender selections like 'Hidcote'.
  3. Desert Sunrise Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop), Agastache Desert Sunrise, Hybrid Hummingbird Mint

    Desert Sunrise Agastache is a hybrid native wildflower that blooms for months with tall spikes of orange and pink tubular flowers. The nectar-rich flowers are highly attractive to hu...

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    Desert Sunrise Agastache Desert Sunrise Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache Desert Sunrise
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Desert Sunrise Agastache is a hybrid native wildflower that blooms for months with tall spikes of orange and pink tubular flowers. The nectar-rich flowers are highly attractive to hummingbirds. The plant has aromatic, mint-scented foliage and flowers.
  4. Purple Salvia sylvestris Little Night, Salvia sylvestris 'Little Night' PPAF, Little Night European Sage - Plant of the Year

    Exclusive. Salvia sylvestris 'Little Night' (Plant Patent #28,925) is a new, dwarf Meadow sage selected for its tight mounding growth habit and fantastic deep indigo blue flower spik...

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    Little Night Salvia Little Night European Sage Salvia sylvestris Little Night PP#28,925
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Exclusive. Salvia sylvestris 'Little Night' (Plant Patent #28,925) is a new, dwarf Meadow sage selected for its tight mounding growth habit and fantastic deep indigo blue flower spikes that cover the plant in late spring and early summer. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric). 10-12" tall x 14-16" wide. 2015 Plant of the Year.

They are:

  1. Plant low-water plants when there is adequate water to help get them established. Planting ahead of the next drought is essential. It's an absolute certainty that there will be more drought. The question is when and for how long? So, it's an excellent strategy to replace dead and damaged plants in your existing garden with waterwise choices. This will make your valuable landscape more resilient and helps you to appreciate your garden plants' ability to withstand tough growing conditions. Drought brings feelings of despair and helplessness as poorly adapted plants go to the "great compost heap in the sky." But planting now gives you the opportunity to replenish and revitalize your landscape when conditions are optimum.
  2. Plant to defend against browsing animals by planting browse-resistant plants. Hungry, thirsty animals caused more damage to my garden and landscape than lack of water! A scarcity of food in the wild drives animals to feed on our domestic plants as a last resort. When choosing new plants, observe the plants around town that avoid animal damage, as well as seeking out less familiar plants that are recommended as browse-resistant. When drought returns, a combination of well-established, browse resistant plants and the use of deer/rabbit repellents will make a huge difference by greatly reducing future damage.
  3. Revitalize Your Soils with organic and natural fertilizers and fungal inoculants. "Feed your soil to feed your plants" is a basic tenant of organic gardening. Drought-damaged soils benefit greatly when we help to feed the soil's organisms. For example, earthworms need food, and drought greatly reduces available organic materials that fall onto the soil for them to feed upon. So using products like Yum Yum Mix, good quality compost, and Planters II will provide sustenance for earthworms and all the other soil flora and fauna, greatly improving soil health and encouraging healthy root growth so vital to healthy transplants.

It can also be very helpful to re-establish mycorrhizal root fungi more quickly by inoculating the soil with Plant Success. Drought kills roots and damages the root-mycorrhizal symbiosis. Using the powdered inoculants when planting or watering transplants ensures that these young plant roots can quickly connect with these beneficial fungi.

Understanding The Interaction of Soil and Plants as Affected by Drought

Plants and soil have a biologically interdependent relationship. Plant health and nutrition is closely linked with biological activity in the soil. The soil has its own underground ecology, which depends on a vast array of micro-organisms, insects, and invertebrates (earthworms) to decompose organic materials, create humates and provide nutrients vital to plant life. The most overlooked effects of drought occur out of sight and under the ground. Drought harms the soil's organisms and limits the soil's ability to hold water, facilitate oxygen infiltration and break down organic materials. This is detrimental to plant health and the ability of plants to live through the drought.

When precipitation is sufficient to overcome drought, the soil is revitalized as it comes back to life. This is highly beneficial to helping plants establish themselves after transplanting. Trying to establish new plantings in drought is folly. Take advantage of moist, vital soil conditions to get your gardens and landscapes back into shape, filling holes left by dead plants and converting to more regionally suitable, waterwise (xeric) plants.

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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.