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Homegrown for Oct. 01 2009

Drought-resistant Perenials, Part 1

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- Fall is a great time to plant perennials, so they can become established while the soil is still warm.  Most of Huerfano County is in USDA planting zone 5B.  Precipitation here is low, temperature fluctuations can be extreme, and wind and sun scorch can be additional challenges for your landscape. Yet there are some perennials which will perform admirably under all of these conditions.  This week, we’ll look at the shrubby varieties and grasses.  And in the next column, we’ll consider herbaceous varieties.  

Harrison’s Yellow Rose, or Yellow Rose of Texas, is a spreading/climbing shrub that thrives in dry soils and gives a stunning display of small yellow flowers in late spring.  Blue Mist Spirea, a deciduous shrub, adapts to dry conditions and gives a lovely show of blue flowers in late summer.  It attracts butterflies and bees to your garden, and the seed heads provide winter food for birds.  Basket of Gold, or Aurinia, makes a showy planting and thrives in infertile soils and on hillsides and other places where establishing plantings is difficult.  The bright yellow clumps of flowers bloom in early spring.  Russian Sage, or Perovskia, looks like a cloud of lavender-blue when it blooms in late summer.  It prefers low-water locations and full sun.  This is a deer resistant plant.  Standing to a foot in height, the native Sulphur Flower blooms with yellow clusters in early to mid-summer and withstands wind well.

    Blue Fescue, or Festuca, is a silvery-blue ornamental grass that forms clumps and works well as an accent plant.  Festuca does not spread, and once established, only requires supplemental water to look its best.  Fountain Grass will grow to three feet in height and diameter and tolerates wind, heat and most soils.  The flowers form on shoots in mid to late summer and look like fox tails.  Indian Ricegrass grows one to two feet tall, prefers full sun, and tolerates drought and heat.     

    Although all the plants in this perennial series will perform in our local soils, they’ll be more successful if you do a little work on your soils before transplanting.  Dig and loosen compacted soils.  Slightly amend poor soils with compost or well rotted manure.  After transplanting, water your perennials thoroughly.  

    Don’t keep your drought tolerant plants wet.  Too much water can cause them to become leggy and fall over or may even cause root rot.  On the other hand, even the sturdiest drought-resistant plants require some water year-round in our area.  During long dry periods, even during winters of low snowfall, make sure to deep water your shrubs and grasses occasionally, perhaps once a month or so, to ensure their survival.