On the dry side

Features - Plants

These drought-tolerant plants offer beauty and valuable traits that will resonate with both commercial customers and consumers.

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Whether or not your region deals with drought and water availability, the amount of water used during production and how much it needs in the landscape is a consideration that some consumers regard as important. (See the story about consumer research on page 10.) Nurseries that use water conservation practices or those that grow drought-tolerant plants can use that information to market new varieties to consumers and potentially charge a higher price.

Consider adding these drought-tolerant selections to your production lineup.

Amorpha nana

The dwarf leadplant is quite unusual in that it can take nitrogen from the air and transform it into a nitrate fertilizer with the help of a symbiotic soil-dwelling microbe called Rhizobium. As a result, this dryland shrub looks green and healthy even in the most impoverished soils. Beyond its drought tolerance and air-cleaning abilities, it offers spikes of honey-scented purple flowers in June. It performs well in full sun. Growing 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, it’s hardy in Zones 3-6.

A. nana is purportedly deer resistant and good for pollinators. It was added to the Plant Select program in 2020.

Source: Plant Select; Photo courtesy of Plant Select

Bouteloua curtipendula

This native prairie grass not only offers drought tolerance, but also the ability to tackle soil conditions from sandy to clay. Growing in a mounding, slightly upright shape, long stalks emerge that produce hanging spikelets tinged with purple and red. In the landscape, its best planted in large sweeps for the most ornamental impact. The hanging flowers last all summer when moisture is present.

Also called side-oats grama, B. curtipendula grows up to 3 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 4-9.

Source: Hoffman Nursery; Photo by Hoffman Nursery Inc.

Bergenia crassifolia

Also known as leather bergenia and pigsqueak, this groundcover has large, glossy evergreen leaves produced in spreading clumps. Although it is considered drought-tolerant, the leaves will dry out if the soil is allowed to remain dry for an extended period. It typically flowers from March to May, however, when grown in the southernmost areas, it can bloom as early as December.

Growing best in soil with high organic matter, it will also flourish in a variety of soils, even clay.

It’s hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8.

Source: North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension; Photo by H Zell