Top 10 Water-Wise Perennials

Calamagrostis Karl Foerster mass planting

'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutifolia) with 'Blue Spires' Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia).

I like lists. That's how I do my grocery shopping and organize the day's "To Do" items. Lists are a great way to boil things down to the basics. Put it in a list and I can read what I need to know in less than a minute. So I find lists to invaluable for gardening. With so many variables to consider when planning and planting a landscape or flower bed, breaking down pages of plants into their own category lists is a great way to organize and sort your potential choices.

When asked what I recommend as the best low care, grow-most- anywhere perennials, I offer these two lists of cold hardy perennials. All of these plants are:

  • Water-wise
  • Easy-to-grow and are successful in a wide range of growing conditions
  • Long-lived
  • Rabbit and deer resistant
  • Long or repeat-blooming

Top 10 Old World Water-wise Perennials

These are ornamental plants that are native to Europe, the Mediterranean and western Asia. They can be grown across most of the US. And these perennials are a fantastic sources of nectar and pollen for honeybees and bumblebees (except Feather Reed Grass).

Here is my list in no particular order as they are all great:

  1. 'Blue Spires' Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  2. 'Coronation Gold' Yarrow (Achillea fillipendulina)
  3. 'Dark Knight' Blue Mist Spirea (Caryopteris clandonensis)
  4. 'Blue Glow' Globe Thistle (Echinops banaticus)
  5. 'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutifolia)
  6. 'May Night' Sage (Saliva nemerosa)
  7. 'Moonshine' Yarrow (Achillea hybrid)
  8. 'Powis Castle' Sage (Artemisia hybrid)
  9. 'Select Blue' Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii)
  10. 'Vera' English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Agastache rupestris with Caryopteris clandonensis

Locorice Mint (Agastache rupestris) with 'Dark Knight' Blue Mist Spirea (Caryopteris clandonensis).

Top 10 Native Water-wise Perennials

These are many of the plants that I include when designing water-wise landscapes for the drier parts of the country, west of the Mississippi River. They will do best when planted in a region that gets less than 25 inches of precipitation annually. They are also excellent for feeding pollinators, especially native bees and hummingbirds (*).

Again, they are in no particular order as they are all winners:

  1. 'Blonde Ambition' Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis)
  2. 'Desert Solstice' Hummingbird Mint (Agastache hybrid) *
  3. 'Gold on Blue' Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)
  4. Licorice Mint Hyssop (Agastache rupestris) *
  5. 'Perfect Pink' Santa Fe Phlox (Phlox nana)
  6. Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius & cultivars) *
  7. 'Raspberry Delight' Hybrid Bush Sage (Salvia hybrid) *
  8. 'Santa Fe' Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliana)
  9. Silver Ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri v. leucophylla)
  10. Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum & cultivars)

Remember, these Old World perennials can be mixed in with our native species and vice versa. I just like to organize my recommendations into lists that provide additional information about their origins.

Drought Resistant Perennials | >> View All

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  • Mesa Peach Blanket Flower Gaillardia Mesa™ Peach


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Text and Photos by David Salman

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8 thoughts on “Top 10 Water-Wise Perennials”

  • Liz

    I love making top 10 lists and I use them at work with clients - something about top 10 lists resonates! Here is one from my work - plants I use in almost every yard here in SLC - my client friendly list!. 1. Blue Oat Grass 2. Blue Mist Spirea, 3. Zauschneria Garrettii - ( Hummingbird Trumpet/Firechalice - too many common names!) 4. Catmint 'Walker Low' 5. Sulfur Buckwheat' Kannah Creek' 6. Sunset Hyssop 7. Lydia Broom if there's a slope 8. Summer Wine Ninebark or related variety, 9. 'Shimmer' Evening Primrose, 10. Some kind of Penstemon - whichever is appropriate! 11. Prairie Beebalm/Monarda Fistulosa when I can find it 12. Yellow Coneflower/Echinacea paradoxa - Its tough! Okay so that's 12... Thanks for all your great work and amazing plants that continue to make my work more beautiful, fun and interesting!

    • David Salman
      David Salman 06/23/14 at 10:53 am

      That's a dozen powerhouse perennials and shrubs! I think every gardener has a list of favorites and it's nice to pass them along to others who might not yet have their list put together. Or who might just be in a rut using the same few plants.

  • Craig Campbell
    Craig Campbell 06/11/14 at 6:58 am

    My problem with Russian Sage is their prolific suckering; coming up through rock walls, up through brick and other paver joints, etc. It is really hard to control. A beautiful and tough plant, otherwise - but I will not be planting any more of them!

    • David Salman
      David Salman 06/23/14 at 10:52 am

      Russian Sage (Perovskia) does sucker readily, especially in clay soils. Here are some taller blue flowered perennials and shrubs you can try that don't sucker. These include Blue Mist Spirea (Caryopteris), Prairie Sage (Salvia azurea), Lavender 'Gros Bleu' (Lavandula intermedia) and 'Walker's Low' Catmint (Nepeta)

  • Ann Kollock
    Ann Kollock 06/11/14 at 1:52 pm

    I like your 10 recommended water-wise plants as they are also rabbit-resistant. Would they survive in the Pac NW? We get a lot of rain around here even though we don't get as much snow.

    • David Salman
      David Salman 06/23/14 at 10:51 am

      Most of our HCG plants will do well in the PNW. The long, dry summers are a good match. But the wet winters can be a problem if the soil where they are planted is heavy and wet. But, as long as the soil they're planted into is well drained and that these sun lovers are given maximum exposure to the sun (i,e, all day) They will do well.

  • Donna C. Matthews
    Donna C. Matthews 06/12/14 at 2:02 am

    Thank you for your wonderful catalog. Not many catalogs take such care to grow the rights plants for the right places. Southwest Nebraska is a rough place for flowers to grow, and I am very pleased and grateful that you offer water wise plants for us. My Sedum that I ordered from you is doing well. I don't have much money so I can't order as often as I like, but it is good to know that you are there when I am ready to order again! Thank you again! Donna C. Matthews

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