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Drought-Tolerant Plants For Water-Wise Gardening

By Dawn Oldfield, CCMGA Public Relations Chairperson

Temperatures can warm quickly in Texas. Summer seems to be hotter and longer each year. Water restrictions are the new normal. The winter storm of 2021 brought Arctic cold, snow, and ice, and the string of triple-digit days in 2022 afflicted great damage to landscapes across Collin County. Trees lost limbs, shrubs suffered freeze damage, and some perennials perished. Now the big question is what to replant and what not to?

Following water restrictions needs to be a part of every Texan's lifestyle. A growing population and inadequate rainfall can quickly put our area in a water deficit. Before purchasing replacement plants, do your research. If they are water guzzlers, cross them off your list. Select varieties that can survive without excess irrigation.

Water-wise landscapes conjure images of rocks, cacti, and plastic flowers. However, you don't have to sacrifice curb appeal to have a beautiful and water-conserving landscape. Many drought-tolerant plants, including natives, adapted plants, perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses attract birds and butterflies, and their diverse blooms and foliage weave a tapestry of color through the garden.

There are factors to consider when selecting water-wise plants for your landscape. First, watch your sun pattern, particularly in the summer. Shade and sun patterns change dramatically from early spring to late summer. Some plants that have not been "proven" in our area will state that they are still suitable for full sun but are unable to stand up to our western exposure in the summer. Second, check for "boggy" areas or areas that receive irrigation from lawn sprinkler heads. Some plants will die if the soil retains excessive moisture.

Drum roll please…some of the top research-proven perennial and annual favorites for our area are:

Flame Acanthus  Fall Aster  Butterfly Bush "Nanho Blue"  Gregg's Mist Flower  Guara
 Red Yucca  Yellow Flowered Yucca  Lantana  Turk's Cap  Blackfoot Daisy
 Catmint  Augusta Duelberg Sage  Henry Duelberg Sage  Salvia Greggii  Mexican Bush Sage
 Mystic Spires Salvia  Lavendar Cotton  Mexican Mint Marigold  Esparanza yellow bells  Germander
 Coneflower  Moss Rose  Portulaca  Mexican Heather  Wine Cup
 Yarrow Zexmenia      

Not only are these plants hardy and beautiful, they are all hummingbird and butterfly magnets! Perennials may be a more expensive investment initially, but they pay for themselves by returning year after year.

If you're looking for trees or shrubs, be sure to consider space allocations. That said, you can't go wrong with Lacebark Elm, Hollies, Shantung Maple, Oaks, Pecan, Mexican Plum, Redbud, Vitex, Abelia, Crape Myrle, Elaeagnus, hollies, and Texas Sage to name a few. Good ground covers include Ajuga, Artemesia, Lambs Ears, Liriope, Pegionberry, Santolina, Sedum, and Thrift. Looking for a lively climber? Carolina Jessamine, Crossvine, Coral Honeysuckle, Passion, and Trumpet Vines fit the water-wise bill.

Establishing perennials depends on the time of year they are planted. Fall is the best because the temperatures are cooler, and we usually receive more rainfall. However, if planted in the spring, when many nurseries have their best selection, ensure they are watered through the first two months (but don't overwater!). Most perennials are low maintenance, needing little supplemental watering or fertilizer. Some look better with mid-season shearing to encourage additional blooms, but it is unnecessary. The biggest maintenance occurs during late winter or early spring when dead stems need to be cut back.

Looking for seasonal color to brighten beds and containers? Annuals (a plant whose lifecycle is only one year) are fairly inexpensive and bring long-lasting color to the garden. In addition, several varieties, once established, have low water requirements and stand up to our brutal summer heat like warriors.

In addition to drought-tolerant plants, homeowners need to implement other water-saving strategies for their landscapes:

  1. Amend the soil by incorporating organic compost to add nutrients and improve drainage.
  2. Plant the right plant in the right place! Group plants according to light and water needs.
  3. Reduce lawn size. Most people over-water anyway.
  4. Control weeds. They steal water needed by desired plants.
  5. Upgrade your irrigation system to meet new standards.
  6. Water deeply but infrequently. This encourages deep roots for healthy, hardy plants.
  7. Water efficiently and only when needed. Turn off the timer!
  8. Mulch! A 2"-3' layer of mulch keeps weeds at bay, conserves soil moisture, and keeps root temperatures cooler.


For more information about the best water-wise plants for our area, visit these sites:
Earth-Kind® Landscaping 
Water-wise Checklist For Texas Home Lawns
Water My Yard – for free weekly custom emailed water recommendations
Texas Superstar® Plant Selector website
2023 Texas Superstar® Brochure
AgriLife Water University's Top 100 Plants for North Texas



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