Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Find the Right Flowers for the Space You Have
If you are planting in a dry area, finding the proper flowers is crucial to your success. Don't set yourself up to fail by not knowing how each plant is affected when it is forced to have access to very little water. Luckily, there are many, many flowers that can grow, flourish, and aid in the transformation of a tricky, dry area into a gorgeous oasis of color.
Naturally, flowers that are easy to grow in the Seattle, Washington area won't be your flowers of choice if you live in North Dakota, so know your zone and choose accordingly. Just because a flower happens to be your favorite, or one that has sentimental memories tied to it, doesn't necessarily mean you will be able to grow it successfully. I suggest you make a long list of all the flowers you love, then google each one of them and find out the conditions for which they are best suited. Make notes and then cross off all the ones that won't grow wherever you are. If your list if long enough, you should still have plenty to choose from and your garden can be your own personal showcase of style.
Monrovia's Rainbow Sunblaze Rose
Drought-Tolerent Perennials Are Readily Available
I have lived in several places, but my home now is outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, so I naturally started my planting thought process with cactus, yucca, and prickly pear plants and there are some very beautiful ones growing here, but they aren't the only plants you will find in this dry climate. As a matter of fact, I have neighbors with the most gorgeous rose bushes I have ever seen. My husband, Michael McKenney, photographed the miniature Rainbow Sunblaze Rose that is pictured within this article. Who wouldn't want that splash of color out by a walkway? The leaves are my favorite type, a semi-glossy green, creating a gorgeous spectacle of colors. As you can see in the photograph, this particular rose has about 30 small petals on it. The Rainbow Sunblaze Rose is hardy in several zones, including 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. It grows to a height of about 18" and has a spread of 18" as well.
Roses, Roses, Roses...They Love the Sunshine!
Living in a dry climate forces a gardener to search for flowers that have a little bit of "Clint Eastwood" flair to them, and by that I mean they are tough! You need flowers that can withstand drought and any other conditions that Mother Nature decides to toss your way. One of my favorite tough guys is the Balloon Flower. I always grew them because of their colorful flowers, but the Platycodon grandiflorus (in case you need the official botanical name, which means "broad bell") is also easy, and easy flowers are a pleasure to grow.
When a Balloon Flower is open, it has more of a star shape, but when closed resembles (to me) a hot air balloon. But then again, the Hot Air Balloon Festival is held every year in Albuquerque, and for a while everything looks like a balloon as hundreds of them float above the city.
The Balloon Flower is also known as a Chinese Bellflower or a Japanese Bellflower. It is a perennial plant that rarely need to be divided, and if deer getting in your flower garden is a problem for you, you will be happy to know that they are resistant to this beautiful flower. They are hardy in Zones 3-9, but they are late spring flowers, so pay close attention to where you plant them (you don't want to plant something else on top of them accidentally). but remember that they grow best in full sun.
If you plant Balloon Flowers from seed, they are not going to flower the first year, so if you can find some young plants at a nursery, you might want to buy those, depending upon your level of gardening patience.
Don't Shy Away From Beautiful Cactus Plants
Tap Roots vs Fibrous Roots
If you live in a dry area, you will need to acquaint yourself with the term "tap roots" - they are roots that grow vertically downward and branch out with other smaller lateral roots. They are important to you because they have the ability to reach deep into the soil to find moisture that you are not even aware of. They are able to survive drought better than plants with a "fibrous root system," which tends to branch more outward than downward, and...trust me...downward is better when your garden area is often facing drought periods (and eventually all gardens do).
Dandelions have a tap root system, so they are a good choice when planted intentionally enmasse in a garden (not so great in the middle of your green lawn where people do their best to eliminate them), as well as false blue indigo, which provides maximum enjoyment with minimal effort. They grow very tall, so they are best planted in the back area of your garden bed. However, patience is called for when you are planting false blue indigo, as it can take up to three years to get it's extremely deep root system established before you ever see a flower. And, choose your spot wisely, as they don't particularly like to be moved, having a root system that can be about 10 feet deep and several feet wide.
The good news is that once your false blue indigo plants are established, they require very little care and butterflies absolutely love them!
- Phillips, Judith (1995), Plants for Natural Gardens, Southwestern Native and Adaptive Trees, Shrubs, Wildflowers & Grasses, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM
- Wernert, Susan J. (Editor, 1982), North American Wildlife, Reader's Digest, Pleasantville, New York; Montreal
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney