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Beat summer heat with low-water xeriscape gardens

Xeriscape style garden

Every summer, gardeners notice that the summer heat steals the beauty of certain plants. They fade and wither, leaving us with only the memories of what once was. To keep these plants happy and healthy, watering becomes a nightmare during high heat and periods of no rainfall.

Xeriscaping, or low-water-usage gardening, may be the answer. The term xeriscape often brings visions of parched desert landscapes. But a xeriscape can be colorful, attractive, and inviting while requiring far less water than traditional landscapes.

Regardless of your location and climate, you can create a beautiful xeriscaped landscape on your property.

The 6 principles of xeriscaping 

Many homeowners mistakenly associate xeriscaping plants with a dry, desert-themed garden, producing only plants like cacti and agave. Really, xeriscaping plants can range from anything from classic drought-tolerant succulents to prairie plants to ornamental grasses. Even cottage garden-type plants can thrive in a xeriscape design. 

  1. Group plants according to water needs. Plant thirsty plants together to concentrate watering in specific areas, rather than "blanket" watering.
  2. Build soil lips or soil basins around plants to direct water to plant roots. Depending on plant size, this basin should be 3 to 18 inches from the base of the plant.
  3. Mulch gardens to retain soil moisture.
  4. Keep beds weed-free. Weeds take up water that could be used by desirable plant material.
  5. If your soil drains too quickly, amend it by adding moisture-holding organic matter.
  6. Pick the right plant for the right spot. Choose plants that thrive in hot, dry conditions.

Popular blooming "dog day" plants

All of these plants will survive the hot days of August with very little attention and care, requiring only an occasional pruning off of old blossoms. Try one or two next year and enjoy your garden all season long.

  • Celosia, or cockscomb (Celosia argentea), is unique for its unusual feathery or brain-like flowers of bright red, yellow, orange, and pink. Celosia is an annual that may grow from 6 inches to 4 feet tall, depending on the variety. Bring fresh cut celosia inside for an excellent accent flower, or hang it to dry.
  • Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) can reach 4 to 5 feet tall in full sun. The unique spider-like flowers are rose, violet, or white. Cleome is an annual, meaning it grows from seed every year. It will re-seed freely in your garden.
  • Gomphrena, or globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa), blooms in a variety of bright colors including purple, orange, red, rose, and pink. Generally, the plant grows 1 to 2 feet tall. This is an old-fashioned flower that is easy to grow. It makes an excellent dried flower that holds its color well. Pick just as the flowers open fully and hang upside down to dry.
  • Madagascar periwinkle, also known as annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus) is a plant that seems to thrive in hot areas. Its lush, dark green foliage is somewhat glossy and forms a 2-foot tall mound. Annual vinca is available in white, pink, purple, and bicolors. If you have a difficult southern exposure to work with, try this annual. It is slow to start if spring temperatures are cool and it does not tolerate wet areas.
  • Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) is a perennial that will reach 18 to 24 inches in height. It has yellow, daisy-like flowers that last from late spring to late summer. This plant will grow best if planted in a dry, full-sun area.
  • Orange coneflower (Rubdeckia fulgida) is the perennial form of blackeyed Susan. Its cheery yellow or orange daisy flowers brighten up the August garden.
  • Blanket flower (Gaillardia species) is a perennial plant available in a variety of hot colors like golden yellow and mahogany red. Cultivars are available in a range of sizes with most growing in the 2-foot height range. Blanket flower tolerates dry soil and temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.


This blog was originally posted by Horticulture Educator Martha Smith