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Attractive Shrubs for a Drought Tolerant Garden

Creating a garden filled with plants that are drought tolerant is more environmentally friendly than one that contains thirsty plants – particularly if you live in an area that is experiencing drought.  You would probably be surprised to hear that in addition to California and the Southwest, some areas in the Northwest and Southeast are also experiencing drought conditions.

Even if drought is not affecting your area, using plants that can survive on less water makes sense, because they are generally lower maintenance and better able to weather dry conditions as they may occur in your area.

In previous posts, we have shown you some beautiful, drought tolerant choices for ground covers and perennials.  Today, let’s look at some attractive shrubs – some of which you may surprised to find are drought resistant.

Lilac Shrubs

Lilac Shrubs

The fragrance of lilacs perfume the air in late spring.  Even when not in flower, lilac shrubs are attractive.  Lilacs like fertile soil that is well-drained – they don’t do well in soggy soil.  For maximum flowering, plant in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day.

Most lilacs grow in zones 4 to 7, however, there are some varieties that will grow in zones 8 and 9.  Because lilac shrubs can grow quite large, they make great informal hedges along a property line or as a foundation plant.  Be sure to note how large the variety you select will grow to at maturity and allow enough room for them to spread out.  Lilacs don’t do well in the deep South or desert.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Lovely flowers in spring followed by colorful berries in fall make beautyberry a favorite of many gardeners.  I bet you didn’t know that this perennial shrub is also drought tolerant.  The species Callicarpa americana, is hardy in zones 7 to 11 while several species native to Asia are hardy to zone 5 gardens.  Beautyberry is a great choice for those who want to add an attractive shrub to the landscape that is pest and disease resistant.  In addition, it doesn’t require supplemental fertilizer.

A large shrub, beautyberry grows to 4 – 6 feet high and wide, which makes it a great choice to use for screening out an undesirable view, covering a wall or fence.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

A culinary favorite, rosemary is well known in the garden as a small shrub or ground cover in the landscape in zones 7 – 10.  Fragrant leaves cover stiff stems and small, light blue flowers burst forth in late winter in zones 9 and above while appearing a bit later in cooler zones.  The less you fuss with rosemary, the better it does.  It does best in most soils, except for heavy clay, thrives in full sun and usually doesn’t need supplemental fertilizer.   An added benefit is that rosemary attracts butterflies and is deer resistant.

For those who live in zone 6 on up, there is a new variety of rosemary that can survive subzero winters called ‘Alcade Cold Hardy’.  Even if you cannot grow rosemary outdoors all year, it does make a great container plant that you can bring indoors during the winter.  Both bush and ground cover varieties will be certain to add beauty to your garden and great tasting food to your table.

Boxwood (Buxus sp.)

Boxwood (Buxus sp.)

Many people are surprised to find boxwood shrubs on a drought tolerant list of plants.  But in the more temperate regions of the country, boxwood are considered drought tolerant, once established in the garden.  Boxwood shrubs have long been used in the American landscape since they were brought over in the 1600′s and since then have been used for edging, creating borders and for screening.

American, English and Japanese species of boxwood are most commonly grown in the United States and all can be used in zones 5 and above.  They do best in well-drained, fertile soil and although they will grow in full sun, a location with partial shade is best.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

The distinctive spiky shape of Russian sage with its lavender blue flowers stands alone in the garden.  Native to Afghanistan (not Russia), this small shrub is often treated as a perennial in the garden.  Its silvery stems and leaves are fragrant and its flowers can appear as early as late spring and all the way into early fall, depending on your zone.  Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are all attracted to this small shrub, but deer and rabbits are not.

Russian sage can be grown in a wide variety of climates all the way from zone 3 up to zone 10.  In colder climates, it will die back to the ground only to reappear in spring.  Those who live in the warmer zones of 8 and above will be able to enjoy the presence of this shrub all year long.  Extremely drought tolerant, Russian sage needs well-drained soil neutral to slightly alkaline soil, full sun and hot summers to look its best.

As you can see, some plants that you were already familiar with are also drought tolerant and deserve a place in your garden.  You can also select drought resistant plants that also will attract birds to your garden.  Check out our article “Drought Resistant Plants for Birds” for a list of plants that will add beauty to your garden while attracting feathered friends.

House Finches and Eye Disease

Rob Ripma

Most people that feed birds and live in an area that has House Finches, have seen one of these finches with eye disease. It was widely believed that this bacteria only effected a few species of feeder birds but a new study that has been released by Cornell University, shows that this is not the case. In addition to other feeder birds, Wood Thrushes were found to have the bacteria which shows that feeders are not the only way that this disease is spread as this species does not come to feeders. You can read more about the study and what they found on Cornell’s All About Birds blog.

Although chickadees don't show the outward signs of this disease, they were found to be infected by it.

Although chickadees don’t show the outward signs of this disease, they were found to be infected by it.

To me, the big message for backyard bird feeders is to be sure that you are keeping your feeders clean especially if you see a House Finch with the eye disease. I recommend cleaning your feeders a few times per year using hot, soapy water. If you have seen birds with eye disease in your yard, you should immediately clean your feeders using a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. This will help to stop the spread of disease among the feeder birds in your yard. Whenever you are using bleach, be sure to rinse the feeder thoroughly.

Monarch Butterfly 2014 Update

Jill Staake

If you’re a butterfly gardener, there’s no doubt you already know about the plight of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). The last few years have seen a precipitous decline in the numbers of the major migratory population, with scientists estimating a drop of a whopping 90% in the last 20 years. In a recent press release, Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity tried to put that statistic into perspective, saying, “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

Monarchs 2014

A monarch rests on the sand in Michigan.

Scientists agree that the biggest threat to these butterflies is loss of habitat. As most folks know by now, Monarchs require milkweed for their caterpillars. While native to most areas of the U.S. and Canada, milkweed is considered a weed to commercial farmers and ranchers. In recent years, herbicide-resistant forms of crops like corn and soybean have been bred and planted extensively, allowing farmers to spray their fields indiscriminately with Roundup, killing milkweed (and other weeds and wildflowers) and leaving huge areas in the middle of the country devoid of the one plant monarchs really need. (Learn more here, including why milkweed in Texas is especially important.)

Monarchs 2014

Common Milkweed abounds in northern Michigan, as did Monarch spottings recently.

It’s not all bad news, though. Sometimes it takes something really major to get the public’s attention, and this information could be it. A group of scientists and organizations is now pushing to have the Monarch listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, which would provide special protection to this butterfly and its habitat. In Mexico, the government has moved to protect the winter roosting sites. Closer to home, local butterfly gardeners are doing all they can to help, adding milkweed to home and public gardens and spreading the word along the way.

On a recent trip to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park in western Michigan, I was thrilled to see large stands of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) everywhere. Even better was the sight of dozens of monarchs flying around the area. By late August, this generation is the one that will soon begin its migration to Mexico. They’ll need all the help they can get to make their 2,000 mile journey, so if you live in the eastern half of the U.S., now’s the time to fill your butterfly garden with late-blooming flowers to sustain them along the way.

Have you spotted monarch butterflies or caterpillars on your milkweed this year? Drop by our Community forums and share your sightings to help Birds & Blooms track where the monarchs were in 2014.

Beautiful Drought Tolerant Ground Covers

With many areas in the United States experiencing drought conditions, replacing thirsty plants with those that need less water is not only becoming more popular – in many cases, it is a necessity with many city governments instituting water restrictions.

If the idea of drought tolerant plants bring to mind a garden filled with boring plants or prickly cacti, then you are in for a pleasant surprise.  Drought tolerant plants can be beautiful!

Earlier this week, I shared with you five drought resistant perennials for the garden.  Today, I’ll show you some lovely, flowering ground covers that you’ll be rushing out to add to your garden whether your areas is experiencing drought or not.

Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)

For a carpet of beautiful flowers, moss phlox is hard to beat.  Small needly-shaped leaves are covered in masses of flowers ranging from white, pink and purple throughout the spring.  This flowering beauty isn’t fussy and can grow in acidic to alkaline soil and thrives in sandy, loam and clay soils.  Moss phlox has one important requirement which is a spot in the garden that receives full sun.

Ground covers can be quite versatile in the garden and moss phlox is no exception.  It can grow in planting zones 2 – 9 and is often used in containers, rock gardens or allowed to spill over a raised bed.  Did I mention that the flowers are fragrant too?

Angelita Daisy/Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis, formerly Hyemonxys acaulis)

Angelita Daisy/Perky Sue (Tetraneuris acaulis, formerly Hyemonxys acaulis)

Adding yellow flowering plants is a great way to add a spot of sunshine to the garden, even on a cloudy day.  The flowers of angelita daisy look like miniature suns with their yellow centers and rays.  This clumping ground cover has dark green leaves that resemble grass.  The flowers bloom from spring into early fall in zones 5 through 7 gardens.  If you live in zone 8 or higher, this drought tolerant ground cover blooms all year long, with the heaviest blooms occurring in spring.

Angelita daisy isn’t fussy and can grow in nutrient poor soils, but does appreciate well-drained soil.  Plant in groups of 3 to 5 for greatest effect in full sun or light shade along pathways, around the base of your mailbox or in containers.

Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Snow in Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

The silvery gray foliage of snow in summer provides great color contrast when used near plants with darker green leaves.  White flowers appear in late spring on into early summer.  This drought tolerant perennial is a favorite in gardeners who live in the cooler zones of 3 to 7.  This attractive ground cover does best in full sun, but can handle some light shade.

Snow in summer can be used in a rain garden, rock garden or even planted on slopes.  Even when not in flower, the silvery foliage will continue to add beauty to your garden.  This ground cover will spread rapidly, so be sure to plant at least 2 feet apart to allow them room to grow.

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)

The arrival of spring transforms the dark green, needlelike foliage of damiantia into golden yellow.  Flowering occurs sporadically throughout the summer and into fall.  Like many drought tolerant ground covers, damianita is not fussy and grows in poor soils without the need for supplemental fertilizer.

Plant along driveways, next to boulders, on slopes or nearby swimming pools where its sunny color can be enjoyed.  This Southwestern native does need well-drained soil and full sun to grow in zone 7 to 10 gardens.

Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis)

Attractive green foliage covered in pretty flowers from spring through fall make trailing lantana a must have for many gardens.  Although this ground cover can only be grown outdoors year round in zone 9 gardens and above, it is a very popular plant in cooler climates as well where it is treated as an annual.  Adapted to acidic to alkaline soils, trailing lantana does best in well-drained soil in full sun to light shade.

In frost free climates, the flowers appear all year long.  In colder climates, it will begin flowering in spring until the first frost.  Suitable for containers, hanging baskets, rock gardens or as a bedding plant – adult butterflies will be sure to seek out the flowers of trailing lantana.  Unlike other forms of lantana, trailing lantana does not self seed and therefore is not invasive in tropical climates.  It’s important to note that all parts of lantana are poisonous.

As you can see, drought tolerant plants aren’t fussy and can add beauty to your landscape while helping you save water by using them to replace thirsty plants.

Need more choices for drought tolerant plants for your garden?  Check out our list of “40+ Drought Resistant Flowers and Plants”.

 

 

Friday Funny Photography: Barred Owl and Owlet

Lorie

Friday Funny Photography: Barred Owl and Owlet

Birds & Blooms’ Friday Fun Photography snapshot for Aug 29, 2014: Barred Owl and Owlet by Diane Miller of Bruce Township, Michigan.

Do you have a clever caption for this fun photo? We’d love to hear it!

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