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No rain? No problem! Some Virginia plants tolerate thirst

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Drought-tolerant plants may be the solution to withstanding scorching Virginia summers while keeping the garden in bloom.

This spring, instead of planting flowers that require watering every couple of days, try including some known for needing less.

There are several flowering annuals and perennials ideal for the conscientious gardener, noted Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulturalist. “Things like portulaca, a succulent-looking plant that has a really pretty flower. It’s low-growing and can be a good ground cover.”

Others include the rudbeckia, or black-eyed Susan, and the wild columbine with red and yellow tubular flowers. There’s also lantana with butterfly-attracting flowers, and sedum, another flowering succulent that can grow in just about any landscape.

“Then there are two with fragrances: sage and lavender,” Mullins added. “There are different types of sage, and Mexican sage has a nice aroma and flowers. Those can be what you consider drought-tolerant and don’t need as much water as some.”

Ornamental grasses also make a nice addition. Grasses are more drought-tolerant because they use a type of photosynthesis that allows them to hold onto water and use it more efficiently.

Zebra grass, with clusters of dappled blades, can add height and interest to a garden or landscape. Little bluestem grass, known for spiky blueish stems that change to an orangy-rust in the fall, can add color throughout the seasons. Pampas grass, on the other hand, can add drama with silvery white, plume-like flowers.

These plants also have a wide range of sustainable and economic advantages.

“The main benefit is reduced water usage,” said Karin Stretchko, agriculture specialist for J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College’s Horticulture Technology program. “This can lead to lower water bills, less runoff from watering and irrigation systems and reduced maintenance for landscaping.”

With deeper, extended root systems, these plants help control erosion and provide better options for soils that have low water-holding capabilities. Some can even be more disease- and pest-resistant, Stretchko added.

The idea of creating a drought-tolerant, sustainable landscape that’s also maintenance-free is an incentive for those planning their gardens.

“It makes perfect sense because you’re going to have drought more often than not,” Mullins said. “You’re not out there watering all the time, and it’s more carefree. Also, a lot of these drought-tolerant plants are beautiful, so it’s not like people are giving up too much.”

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