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Drought-Tolerant Perennial Flowers

'Autumn Joy' Sedum, 'Moonbeam' Coreopsis

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"Autumn Joy" stonecrop will give your perennial beds a "Southwestern" look.

Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Having considered the back row on Page 1, now let's turn our attention to the middle and front rows in this garden of drought-tolerant perennial flowers. While the tough-looking "Autumn Joy" sedum is a favorite perennial for sun-battered gardens, don't think you have to give up the more delicate-looking "Moonbeam" coreopsis.

A popular choice for drought-tolerant perennial flowers is Autumn Joy sedum (Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or Hylotelephium 'Autumn Joy'), also known as "stonecrop." This sedum is a perennial favorite in rock gardens, as the "stone" in its alias would suggest. Autumn Joy sedum's foliage consists of succulent leaves in whorls. The leaves are sometimes variegated and can range in color from bluish-green or greenish-yellow to reddish-pink or almost off-white.

But sedum is not just a foliage plant. It produces an unusual flower well worth growing in its own right. Sedum's flowers can be yellow, orange, red, or pink. Flowers usually bloom in clusters above the foliage. Grown in zones 3-9, this perennial’s dimensions are roughly 2’ x 2’. Autumn Joy sedum is a butterfly magnet.

Moonbeam coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’) is one of the threadleaf coreopsis varieties. Reaching 2’ x 2’ and bearing clusters of light yellow, daisy-like blooms, these perennials are grown in zones 3-9. Can be invasive. Like the next entry, purple coneflower, this bushy plant is valued for its long blooming period; but coreopsis is the more consistent bloomer of the two.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) can be grown in zones 3-8 and is a native of the Eastern U.S. Reaching 2’-3’ in height and 2’ in width, its daisy-like flower color ranges from pink to purple (there are other types as well, such as orange coneflowers). Divide every few years to increase your stock and keep plants healthy. The seeds of its “cone” attract goldfinches. Valued for its long blooming period (throughout the summer and into fall). It is from this plant that “echinacea supplement” is derived, an herbal remedy for cold and flu sufferers.

Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) provides wonderful texture in rock gardens and spreads readily. Indeed, it is invasive; but just this quality can make it an effective groundcover, if you don’t mind it taking over. Although not grown for its bloom, lamb's ears does produce light purple flowers on tall spikes. It is grown for its silvery foliage, which has a velvety texture. The shape and texture of its leaf readily explains how lamb's ears got its name. Lamb’s ears is deer-resistant; apparently it is this same texture that makes lamb's ears unpalatable to deer.

Like bluebeard, coneflower, coreopsis and stonecrop, this plant is an herbaceous perennial. Because it usually reaches only about 1’ in height (not counting its flower spike, which some growers remove, considering it rather unattractive), perennial Lamb's ears is an excellent choice for the front row of a layered flower bed (with taller plants residing in the back row and medium-sized plants in the middle row). If you wish to grow a drought-tolerant perennial that produces a more attractive flower spike, try red hot poker plant.

Complete the plant selection for your garden of drought-tolerant perennials by choosing one tall ornamental grass variety and another that stays short. Options for drought-tolerant ornamental grasses will be discussed on Page 3. Or if you'd prefer, you can return to the Drought-Resistant Plants index and learn about other types of plants (trees, shrubs, ground covers) that hold up well under dry conditions....

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