Choosing xeriscape plants can be a baffling challenge.
First you have to decide on your plant hardiness zone, which may change over time, and is listed differently depending on which country you’re in; also important are other factors such as your altitude, heat zone and amount of rainfall or snow that you routinely get.
Many perennial xeriscape plants are not labeled as such; they are mixed in with other plants that we know and love for cottage gardens and other landscaping.
Choose your xeriscape plant selection for your dry garden from the many available in garden centers and online plant catalogs; here are some hints to look for in the category or listing:
Generally, any plant that will grow in severe or harsh conditions can be termed a xeriscape plant, so look for alpine plants, which can grow in high altitudes on rocky slopes and screes.
The biggest challenge with growing many alpine plants is providing a damp substrate, with extremely sharply draining shattered rock or gravel above it.
These plants require adequate moisture for their roots to find, yet absolutely perfect drainage around their crowns.
Of course, look for cold hardy cacti, which have successfully adapted to some of the worst growing conditions of any other plant.
They too require perfect drainage, although I’ve also heard of them being transported downstream to colonize beside water courses and streams.
This would indicate that the pads, anyway, can survive being immersed in water, for a short time at least.
The large tracts of land where these cactus plants are most prolific will be alkaline and silty.
They will go for many years without water, but when they do finally get a good rainstorm, the bloom cycle is triggered, and draws not only incredible numbers of insects to the feast, but also many cacti aficionados who arrive to photograph this rare event.
A cactus garden filled with the many types of Opuntia, Gymnocalycium, Cylindropuntia and many others will astonish and astound those less knowledgeable gardeners, who assume that all cacti originate in hot climates only.
Many native plants are also well known xeriscape plants. These include species of ephemerals, which bloom in early spring, and go dormant during hot summers. Some to look for are the hardy orchids, exquisite in bloom, and valued by insects. Many prairie plants such as Ratabida, Echinacea, Liatris and Rudbeckia are all colorful and hardy additions to your xeriscape landscape.
Other xeriscape plants are evident by their extensive root systems; in some instances such as leguminous plants they reach the water table, sometimes meters below ground.
These plants (the clovers and other related plants) also have nodules on their roots which can store nitrogen that they collect out of the air.
Some of my favorite hardy succulents are among the best and most reliable of xeriscape plants anywhere.
Xeriscape plants are already among the perennials that we know and love; choose your familiar favorites for xeriscaping and low maintenance landscaping.