Drought-Tolerant Flowers for Hot, Dry Spells

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Best flowering perennials for dry weather

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If some of your plants struggle with summer’s hot, dry spells, get to know 10 great summer-blooming perennials that seem to thrive on neglect and easily adapt to searing heat. 

Much of the United States has experienced hot, dry weather this summer. However, some perennial plants thrive in arid conditions so it’s worth paying more attention to which plants you choose.

Ever noticed the tough rugosa roses that flourish along sandy seashores? Or, the rugged alpine plants that survive mountaintop weather extremes? How about wildflowers like black-eyed Susans, sweetfern, milkweed, or goldenrod which grow in waste areas with no gardener’s help?

Plants native to the hot dry areas of the world like the Mediterranean coast, South Africa, Australia, and our own prairie and desert southwest are naturally adapted to arid conditions. Some are not winter hardy in colder climates and have to be grown as annuals but many are tough-as-nails perennials that are not only drought-tolerant but also have attractive foliage, a long bloom season, and are not bothered by pests or diseases.

10 Plants for Hot, Dry Weather

To avoid having plant die from the heat in your garden, here are 10 great summer-blooming perennials for the hot spots in your garden:

  1. Achillea: Yarrow is a fast growing perennial that can withstand drought and infertile soil. Several cultivars to look for are ‘Moonshine’ which grows to be about 18” tall with lemon yellow flowers that are good for cutting or drying. It has attractive finely cut, gray foliage. ‘Coronation Gold’ is a taller variety reaching 3 feet high with bright yellow flowers, and shorter ‘Oertel’s Rose’ growing 1-2 feet tall, has purple-pink flowers. ‘Summerwine’, an A. millefolium type, has burgundy-red blossoms. All are easily grown, bloom from June through September, and can be readily divided.

    Wild yarrow is white but there are many colored cultivars including pink, yellow, red and purple.
  2. Asclepias tuberosa: Butterfly weed is a long-lived native plant in the milkweed family. A tap-rooted perennial, once it is established it should not be moved. Bright orange and yellow flowers make it irresistible to butterflies. Growing 2-3 feet tall, it will bloom over a long period of time beginning in late spring and continuing through late summer.

    Butterfly weed is popular with bees as well as butterflies.
  3. Coreopsis verticillata: Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ is a compact, thread-leaf variety with lacy foliage and pale yellow flowers. ‘Zagreb’, also compact, grows to 12-18 inches tall but has brighter yellow blossoms. They bloom continuously if deadheaded. Though delicate looking, these rugged, dependable plants native to dry coastal areas are practically bulletproof. 

    Coreopsis likes dry soil and will take all the sun it can get.
  4. Echinacea purpurea: A tough prairie native, the coneflower is the queen of low maintenance gardens. Their long-lasting, purple, daisy-like flowers are borne on sturdy 3-4 foot tall stems that can withstand the harshest wind and weather. They self-seed and are reliable performers that bloom despite heat or drought.

    Coneflowers can stand up to dry prairie conditions.
  5. Echinops ritro: Globe thistles are tough, tap-rooted plants that grow to be about 4 feet tall and have round, spiny, purple flowerheads and jagged gray leaves. Great for their architectural quality, they combine well with other drought tolerant plants but are showy enough to stand alone. A favorite of bees and butterflies, once established globe thistles are very long-lived and heat resistant.

    Globe thistle is a favorite with native pollinators.
  6. Gaillardia grandiflora: Called blanket flower because the plants are blanketed with flowers all summer long. Look for AAS winner ‘Arizona Sun’ which has wide, mahogany-red petals tipped with yellow or ‘Fanfare’ whose tubular red and yellow petals flare like little trumpets. Both are hybrids of two prairie natives and grow to be about a foot tall.

    Blanket flower will blanket your dry spots with color.
  7. Hemerocallis: Daylilies come in thousands of varieties; there is a color, size, and shape to suit every gardener. Planting early, mid, and late season bloomers along with ever-blooming types, makes it possible to have daylilies flowering all season long. Try ever-bloomers like lemon yellow ‘Happy Returns’ or deep pink ‘Rosy Returns’. Daylilies, especially the older varieties, will tolerate poor soil and dry conditions.

    There is a daylily for every garden.
  8. Perovskia atriplicifolia: Russian sage has airy, soft gray foliage that provides a great background for other drought tolerant plants like agastache, rudbeckia, and penstemon. Often called the backbone of the summer garden, its long branches are covered with sprays of small blue flowers in mid to late summer. The plants can grow to be 5 feet tall, but become woody with age and will benefit from being cut back hard in the spring. For small spaces try dwarf ‘Little Spire’ which grows 18-24 inches tall, for dark blue flowers look for ‘Blue Spires’, and for very upright, finely cut foliage and light blue flowers check out ‘Filigran’.

    Feathery blue Russian sage is tougher than it looks.
  9. Rudbeckia hirta: Native to the mid-west, black-eyed Susans have naturalized across the U.S. and Canada. They bear yellow flowers with brown centers atop 2-4 foot tall, wiry stems. Tireless performers, they bloom profusely over the whole summer into the fall, even under the most adverse conditions. Though the plants are short-lived as perennials, they self-seed readily. Look for R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ for long blooming, large flowers.

    Black-eyed Susans are a natural for hot dry settings.
  10. Solidago: Goldenrod is often blamed for people’s hay fever symptoms but actually the pollen is too heavy to be airborne. An easy to grow native plant, it blooms late in the season when the garden could use a splash of gold, pairing nicely with purple coneflowers. For a spectacular show look for S. rugosa ‘Fireworks’ which has arching branches covered with yellow flowers or dwarf S. sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’ which grows to only 15 inches tall but still blooms profusely.

Pollinators will make a bee-line to your goldenrod!

More Drought-Tolerant Perennials

Lots of other perennials do well in dry, hot conditions, adding good looks with little fuss:

  • Asters, baby’s breath, beebalm, rose campion, evening primrose, penstemon, feverfew, marguerites, lamb’s ears, yucca, and baptisia

Herbs for Dry Spots

Also, most herbs are well suited to dry sunny locations. Some to consider adding to your low maintenance landscape are:

  • Lavender, thyme, sage, tansy, catmint, hyssop, chamomile, marjoram, santolina, and artemisia.

Annuals for Hot Locations

Many annuals don’t do well without adequate amounts of water since they have to make all their growth in one year on tender new roots. Some exceptions are:

  • poppies, cosmos, portulaca, salvia, alyssum, cleome, calendula, and verbena. 

Choose annuals for their bright colors, giving your garden a bold look that won’t fade away even on the hottest day.

Don’t forget sedums and succulents; these plants are the camels of the plant world. Their fleshy leaves hold lots of water to get them through the longest dry spell.

  • Sedums ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Matrona’, hens and chicks, and other stonecrops are all good choices.

No matter how hot and dry it gets this summer, you can have a gorgeous garden that is also water thrifty and easy to maintain by using plants that are naturally adapted to hot, dry conditions. See tips for coping as a gardener in extreme weather.

Are you a food gardener, too? See our best vegetables to grow in hot weather.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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