Plants that can take the dry heat

April 28, 2002

With due concern about the region's dwindling water supply, rethinking what you plant has become a priority.

Xeriscaping, or gardening in dry conditions, is a growing trend in areas where rain is scarce and the rising cost of water has forced gardeners to choose plants that can survive in dry soil.

Many plant species have evolved in ways that make them adaptable to a range of conditions. They will thrive in moist soil or searing dry heat, and some can survive brief periods in standing water.

Durable plants come in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures, making it easy for plant lovers to have colorful, interesting gardens that require minimal care.

Plants that fare well in dry soil have developed characteristics that help defend against drought and heat. Among the most rugged are those with thick, fleshy roots that absorb and store water to keep themselves hydrated through dry spells. Day lilies (Hemerocallis) and their relatives are prime examples. In addition to their water-retention capabilities, their dense, arched foliage shades the soil around the roots and protects against evaporation.

Plants that grow from rhizomes, tubers, bulbs or corms also are able to flourish in dry soil, sustaining themselves on stored water. The rhizomes of bearded iris grow on top of the soil and enjoy a summer baking.

Species that have developed tap roots that bore deep into the soil to find water also stand up well to dry conditions. These include hollyhocks, whose towering flower spikes rise above mounds of large leaves, adding an element of height to the garden. Baptisia, also known as false indigo, is another worthy choice.

Several drought-tolerant species have gray or silvery foliage that reflects light and heat to keep themselves cool and minimize moisture loss through their leaves, a process known as transpiration. Others have developed leaves covered with fine hairs or fuzz that shade leaf surfaces from the drying effects of sun, heat and wind. Try the silvery non-flowering artemesias for textural interest, and velvety white lamb's ears (stachys), whose purple flower spikes are a favorite of bees and other pollinators.

Woody-stemmed plants, including many herbs, are tolerant of dry soil, as the aromatic oils in their leaves help reduce moisture loss. Tiny-leaved creeping thymes make excellent ground covers, some sages have variegated leaves for a splash of pastel color in the garden, and the spiked blooms of lavender make excellent cut flowers.

In contrast to plants that hide their water-storing capabilities underground, sedums and their succulent relatives are a nearly indestructible group that flaunts its drought tolerance. Thick, rubbery leaves and stems store enough water to see them through the most arid summer with plenty of energy to produce large flower heads in autumn.

Every gardener should leave plenty of room in the garden for native plants, including wildflowers and their hybrids. Because they are indigenous, they have adapted themselves to the climate and soil conditions of the region, and they cope well with nature's whims.

Three things to do

Here are some ways to help your garden survive the drought:

1. Make a rain barrel. You can buy a 55-gallon barrel from Pepsi-Cola for $5. For directions to the Baltimore bottling facility, call 410-366-3500. Get step-by step, illustrated instructions by logging on to www.dnr.state.md. us / smartgrowth / greenbuilding / rainbarrel.html.

2. Buy water-absorbing polymer crystals (sold under brand names like Soil Moist, TerraSorb, Broadleaf P4 and Hydrosource) from garden stores or catalog retailers, including:

* Gardener's Supply Co. www.gardeners.com or 800-427-3363.

* Jung Quality Seeds. 800-247-5864, or www.jungseed.com.

* Jackson & Perkins. www.jacksonandperkins.com or 800-292-4769.

3. Get information on native plant species and a list of recommended reading by logging on to the Bayscapes Web site at www.acb-online.org, or call the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay at 717-236-8825.

Restrictions

Here is how the state-mandated water restrictions, in effect in central Maryland, are affecting gardeners. Baltimore city and areas served by its water supply are not included in the ban, but residents are asked to voluntarily comply.

* Ornamental fountains must be turned off, except when they are used in fish ponds to filter and recirculate water.

* Using outdoor sprinklers is banned, but hand-held hoses are still permitted for watering plants. Hoses must be equipped with nozzles that stop the flow of water when they are unattended. Drip irrigation is permitted.

* Watering lawns and hosing down concrete or paved areas such as patios and sidewalks is prohibited.

For more information on Maryland's water restrictions and tips for water conservation, log on to www.mde.state.md.us, the Maryland Department of the Environment Web site, or the University of Maryland's Home and Garden Information Center at www.agnr.umd.edu / users / hgic.

Plant list

Thes flowers are drought-tolerant and easily grown from seed:

These flowers are drought-tolerant and easily grown from seed:

1. Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

2. Nemophila (Baby blue-eyes)

3. Gaillardia (Blanketflower)

4. Cornflower

5. Corn poppy

6. Hesperis (Dame's rocket)

7. Coreopsis

8. Foxglove

9. Larkspur

10. Yarrow

11. Echinacea

12. Sweet William

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