Tag Archives: drought-tolerant plants

11 Lively Lovelies Can Turn Sunny Sea of Rocks Into Show-Stopping Meadow

Magenta prairie winecups, with runners extending up to 30 inches, are ideal for covering rock. They're also one of the longest blooming plants you'll encounter. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Magenta prairie winecups, with runners extending up to 30 inches, are ideal for covering rock. They’re also one of the longest blooming plants you’ll encounter. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

“Water, water everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.”

You’ve probably read this verse from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’s an apt description of the river rock mulch in my yard.

This year, I spent weeks digging rock out of the soil in my back yard so I can begin planting next year. I still have more to go. On top of that, I spent about 10 days last September expelling tons of rock mulch and landscaping fabric from my front yard.

There’s also a sea of rocks along the west side of my house and all the way to the back property line. It’s ugly. Am I going to remove that tonnage, as well? Not a chance. I may develop a small area for a vegetable garden, but the rest of the rock will stay. Life is too short.

Ralph's Creeper ground cover rose, nestled here in pink soapwort blooms and deep-cut prairie winecup leaves, is a drought-tolerant repeat bloomer that explodes with color. Use it to keep dogs from pooping in your beds.

Ralph’s Creeper ground cover rose, nestled here in pink soapwort blooms and deep-cut prairie winecup leaves, is a drought-tolerant repeat bloomer that explodes with color. Use it to keep dogs from pooping in your beds.

If you, too, find yourself drowning in a sea of rocks, what can you do?

You can create a meadow of spreading ground covers and other perennials. Just move some of the rock out of the way, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, amend the soil with a little compost, and install seeds or baby plants.

If your area has a western or southern exposure with lots of sun, you can use plants such as these 11 lively lovelies:

  • Prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata). This long-blooming ground cover, a Plant Select winner, sends out runners up to 30 inches long. Because it grows about five inches high, it’s tall enough to hide rocks. Plant this puppy, and it will reward you with stunning magenta blooms from early summer till frost. In the fall, prairie winecups will produce small wagon wheels of seeds. Spread the seeds around, and you’ll have lots of babies by the following spring.
  • Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides). When this evergreen ground cover is happy, it spreads far and wide. I have one exceptionally happy pink soapwort in my front yard that has grown into a plate that measures 40 inches wide and four inches high. After blooming in the spring, soapwort produces hundreds of seeds, which you can pull off and scatter to produce baby plants. Or you can simply wait for soapwort to self-sow and produce babies on its own for transplanting. Soapwort comes in both pink and white. I’ve found that the pink variety is more robust than the white.

    To install plants in a rock reservoir, simply move some rock aside, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, work compost into the soil, and transplant a small plant, such as this rugged little candytuft. It's still trying to bloom in December. Candytuft loves sun, but will tolerate some shade.

    To install plants in a rock reservoir, simply move some rock aside, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, work compost into the soil, and transplant a small plant, such as this rugged little candytuft. It’s still trying to bloom in December. Candytuft loves sun, but will tolerate some shade.

  • Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). This tough, evergreen beauty erupts with masses of tiny white flowers in early to mid spring. It will spread 12 to 18 inches. If you sheer it after it blooms in the spring, it may rebloom in the fall.
  • Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne). Another long bloomer, Rozanne grows about 18 inches wide and 24 inches tall. This ground cover’s purple blooms are simply stunning. You may have to cut it back in late summer if it becomes leggy, but it will rebloom till frost.
  • Sedums. Some of our beloved sedums, such as autumn joy, have been reclassified as the genus Hylotelephium for ease of pronunciation. Autumn joy (Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ Autumn Joy) produces pink blooms and grows 18 to 24 inches high. Low-growing Angelina sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is one of my favorites, with its lime green summer color and orange/red fall/winter color. At three to six inches high, it’s tall enough to cover river rock.
  • Orange carpet hummingbird (Zauscheria garrettii). If you like neon orange, you’ll love orange carpet hummingbird. The plant explodes with tubular flowers in July and keeps pumping out blooms till frost. It grows four to six inches tall and 15 to 18 inches wide. Hummingbirds went gaga over this ground cover in my yard last year.
  • Ground cover roses. Some are hardier and more drought-tolerant than others. I’ve found that seafoam, a gorgeous white ground cover rose that grows about 30” tall, tolerates all kinds of abuse. One disadvantage is that white roses tend to turn brown in intense sun. So you might get away with a white rose in southern exposure, but I don’t recommend one in a western exposure unless it gets occasional shade, especially in the afternoon. Ralph’s creeper, on the other hand, produces vibrant red blooms throughout the summer. No brownout problems with this guy. I planted one in my west-facing tree lawn in Denver and rarely watered it, yet it bloomed like a banshee. If you have an area with lots of foot traffic nearby, ground cover roses will keep dogs from pooping in your yard.
  • Irises. With their strong upright form, irises provide a welcome contrast when you surround them with low spreading ground covers. The same goes for snapdragons. I’ve seen irises grow in the most godawful conditions, so a rock bed isn’t likely to intimidate them.
  • Snapdragons. These colorful biennials already populate my future rock-based meadow, thanks to the efforts of the previous homeowner. I just let their seeds drop in the fall and wait for new plants to emerge.
  • Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphilla). One of my newest favorites, Mojave sage is sometimes described as having silvery green foliage. Maybe my soil is different, but the Mojave sage in my garden has wonderful silvery foliage that happens to be blue. Although the plant displays showy mauve brachts surrounding violet-blue flowers, I actually prefer the foliage to the flowers and regard my Mojave sages more as small shrubs than as perennials. They grow 18 to 24 inches high and 24 to 30 inches wide.
  • Color Guard yucca. For drama and architectural form, it’s hard to beat evergreen Color Guard yucca. With its variegated, yellow-and-green leaves and masses of creamy white flowers on stalks, this plant is a showpiece. In Colorado, the plant grows in a clump two to four feet tall and two to three feet wide. However, its spikes can shoot up five feet or so. In late fall, the leaves take on a rosy hue.

There are, of course, many other worthy perennials, and even shrubs, that you can use to disguise a rocky area. If you see one that you like at the nursery next spring, give it a try, as long as the plant tag indicates that it’s full-sun and drought-tolerant. Because light-colored rock reflects sunlight, it creates a great deal of heat for plants, and dries out the soil. You can, of course, irrigate your rock bed, but where’s the fun in that?

Next month, I’ll tell you about perennials that you can use in shady rock beds.

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Hibiscus Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’: Definitely a Winner

My Summerific 'Perfect Storm' hibiscus produced spectacular blooms from late summer to frost, in spite of Colorado's hot, dry summer.

My Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus produced spectacular blooms from late summer to frost, in spite of Colorado’s hot, dry summer.

Last May, Proven Winners sent me a collection of their Spring 2016 plants to try out.

I had just moved into my new home in Fort Collins. The shrub and perennial beds were covered with river rock mulch, except for two tiny beds on either side of the garage. Because of the rock mulch and landscape fabric, it was a horrible job trying to install additional plants. And frankly, I didn’t have time to mess with them.

But I don’t like to let babies die. So I installed several of the plants wherever they would fit. Some made it. Some didn’t. But the Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus surprised me with its ability to tolerate drought and neglect. A hibiscus, mind you. They reportedly need “average to consistent water.”

Perfect Storm is a beautiful, compact plant with red-veined, deep green leaves and, of course, a hisbiscus’ magnificent, show-stopping blooms. Flowers showed up on this baby in late summer and grew about five inches wide. The plant itself reached about 18 inches high and wide. At maturity, it should grow three feet high and about five feet wide with seven-inch-wide blooms. That means I’ll need to move it because I simply plunked this perennial into one of the tiny, concrete-surrounded beds in full sun by the garage.

So if you thought, like I did, that hibiscus need to be babied, think again. Perfect Storm will delight you with its showiness and impress you with its toughness. As a bonus, the plant is also rabbit-resistant.

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Rabbit Resistant or Not? The Poop on 10 Perennials

Rabbits stayed away from Sonoran sunset hyssop in my garden. In general, they don't like hyssops. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Rabbits stayed away from Sonoran sunset hyssop in my garden. In general, they don’t like hyssops. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

When I re-landscaped my front yard last September, I carefully researched lists of rabbit-resistant plants. I already knew that the plants I selected would, for the most part, be hardy and drought-resistant because I had grown several of them successfully in my old garden in Denver.

However, I didn’t have problems with rabbits in Denver. So I didn’t know which plants would really hold up against rabbit munching in my new Fort Collins landscape.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after planting the 10 perennials mentioned below.

Rabbit Food

Narbonne Blue Flax (Linum narbonense). Plant Select introduced this lovely selection in 2013, and I was eager to try it out. Narbonne reportedly has larger blooms, a fuller growth habit and a longer life that its better-known cousin, Colorado native blue flax (Linum lewisii). Unfortunately, rabbits sheared this plant to the ground within 24 hours of installation. So I may have to substitute either Linum lewisii or blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for a spot of blue in that part of the garden.

Orange Carpet Hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii). It’s difficult to miss orange carpet hummingbird in a garden because of its neon orange, tubular blooms. This long-blooming, creeping Plant Select groundcover grows about six inches high and 18 inches wide. Surprisingly, the rabbits nibbled on this plant some, but didn’t eat it all the way to the ground, except on one occasion. So I think it stands a decent chance in the garden, especially because it spreads fairly easily.

Veronica (V. prostrata and V. pectinata). These two low-growing groundcovers have graced my gardens for the past 10 years or so. Because they’re evergreen, they provide an attractive organic mulch under late winter- and early spring-blooming bulbs. Then they produce their own show by carpeting the ground with small blue flowers in late spring or early summer. Unfortunately, the rabbits have taken a liking to some of the plants. I’m not giving up on veronicas yet, though, especially because they spread rapidly and may be able to outdistance the rabbits’ appetites.

Rabbit Resistant

Hidcote Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’). I wouldn’t have a garden without lavender. It’s fragrant and evergreen, and on top of that, it produces delightful violet blue blooms. Hidcote grows about 16 inches tall and will spread as wide as two feet over time. After a few years, Hidcote will even begin producing babies that you can transplant around the garden. Munstead lavender is about the same size as Hidcote, but I prefer Hidcote because its leaves are softer-looking than Munstead’s are.  The rabbits haven’t touched my Hidcotes.

This mojave sage isn't rabbit food. Although the foliage looks green in this photo, the leaves are actually a soft blue in my garden. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

This mojave sage isn’t rabbit food. Although the foliage looks green in this photo, the leaves are actually a soft blue in my garden. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Mojave Sage (Salvia pachyphylla). A friend of mine raved about this plant so enthusiastically that I decided to try it. I love it already, even though it hasn’t bloomed for me yet. Its leaves are a soft blue color that complement the fuchsias, oranges and purples in my garden. This Plant Select winner, which grows about three feet high and wide, has a shrubby growth habit. Mojave is a showy bloomer that produces violet-blue flowers surrounded by mauve bracts. Although my Mojaves sit close to hedge cotoneasters that provide cover for rabbits, the critters haven’t bothered these sages.

Rozanne Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne’). Five of these loose-growing groundcover plants went under my autumn brilliance serviceberry. The geranium’s purple blooms brighten the garden from early summer to frost. Rozanne grows about one foot high and three feet wide. The rabbits left these plants alone.

Sonoran Sunset Hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset). This compact show-stopper produces fuchsia blooms on upright stems from late summer to through fall. One of my plants was still trying to produce blooms well after frost, and all five were still producing basal foliage in early winter. A Plant Select winner, Sonoran Sunset grows about 15 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The rabbits didn’t go near it.

Sunset Hyssop (Agastache rupestre ‘Sunset’). This Southwestern native is another show-stopper with its smoky orange flowers emerging from lavender calyxes. Sunset can grow up to 42 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The rabbits didn’t like it.

Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides). This humble workhorse is one of my favorite groundcovers. It’s evergreen, and it produces white or pink flowers that attract pollinators. I placed it along a path in front of my house to serve as a mulch between pavers. In bloom, soapwort reaches a height of about four inches. The rest of the time, this stalwart hugs the ground. Soapwort looks like a plant that rabbits would savor, but they didn’t.

Color Guard Yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’). As an experiment, I installed two of these bad boys near my front porch for drama. I’ll install a third as soon as one of my existing plants produces babies, which should be soon if these plants make it through the winter. During the growing season, the plant’s spiky yellow-and-green leaves provide excitement on their own. But when Color Guard sends up stems that are three to four feet tall and produces panicles of stunning white flowers, you really begin to appreciate its architectural grandeur. Color Guard is evergreen, but in Colorado, it’s a raggedy evergreen that makes you wish the plant would just dormant altogether. The rabbits have wanted nothing to do with Color Guard.

That’s the news so far on my new perennials and their relationships with rabbits.

In another experiment, I also installed three blue panda corydalis (Corydalis flexuosa ‘Blue Panda’) bulbs for their lacy leaves and early spring blooms. Rabbits have nibbled on them some, but it doesn’t look as though blue pandas are among their favorites.

Happy New Year. May your gardening efforts be wildly successful in 2016.

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Yes, You can Grow a Lush Border—Even in Sun-scorched Areas

 

Tough, yet beautiful performers in this border include Turkish veronica (r. front), catmint (l. front), dart's dash (behind veronica), sun daisy (between dart's dashes), redleaf rose (r. rear) and Lydia Woadwaxen (l. rear).  The agastaches are hidden behind the redleaf rose.

Tough, yet beautiful performers in this border include Turkish veronica (r. front), catmint (l. front), dart’s dash (behind veronica), sun daisy (between dart’s dashes), redleaf rose (r. rear) and Lydia Woadwaxen (l. rear). The agastaches are hidden behind the redleaf rose.

Do you have a spot in your yard that gets so hammered by sun and wind that nothing will grow there?

For me, it’s the south side of my front yard. Every summer, the lawn in that area turned to straw because of intense sun from the south and west. So three years ago, I converted that wasteland into a shrub and perennials border.

Some of my initial plants didn’t survive that tough microclimate even though I amended the clay soil. So I had to get serious and plant some of the most bullet-proof plants I could find. Once I did that, I was able to grow a lush-looking, low-maintenance border.

The backbone of the border is shrubs—three evergreen Lydia Woadwaxens (Genista lydia), one redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) and two dart’s dash crimson roses. I lost a third dart’s dash rose, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the dart’s dashes to make sure they can take the heat.

The woadwaxens bloom in late spring, the redleaf rose blooms in early summer, and the dart’s dashes bloom throughout the summer, providing successional bloom.

Although this area gets shade in the morning, by early afternoon, the sun starts blasting.

Although this area gets shade in the morning, by early afternoon, the sun starts blasting.

As for the perennials, they include Turkish veronica (V. liwanensis) and Little Gem dwarf candytuft (Iberis sempervirens ‘Little Gem’), which are both mid/late spring bloomers; Purple Mountain® sun daisy (Osteospermum barbariae var. compactum), a late spring to mid-summer bloomer; Little Trudy® catmint (Nepeta x ‘Psfike’ P.P. 18904), a spring to fall bloomer; and apricot sunrise hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sunrise’), a mid-summer to fall bloomer.

Since planting these hardy specimens, I get along with Mother Nature much better, and she rewards me with vibrant color throughout the growing season.

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