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10 Perennials and Shrubs for Hot, Dry Climates

Even though you may prefer a nicely air-conditioned house in summer, there are plenty of hardy plants that thrive in the heat outdoors. Let’s take a closer look at ten of our favorites for your hot, dry landscape.

Contributors: Susan Martin

Gardening in a climate that has scorching hot summers or sees only periodic rainfall certainly has its challenges. The key to success is choosing the types of plants that are naturally adapted to thrive under those conditions rather than fighting Mother Nature. Here are ten dazzling plants that love hot, dry weather.


#1 - Pyromania® Red Hot Poker Kniphofia

Red hot pokers explode onto the scene in early summer when their fiery red, orange and yellow flower spikes shoot up above the clump of grasslike foliage. Unlike many varieties, members of the Pyromania series are rebloomers, extending their flower show all the way through summer.

If you feel their leaves and stems, you’ll notice they are slender but tough, storing plenty of water to help the plants through drought conditions. They’ll grow and bloom best in lean, well-drained soils and appreciate more moisture when they are in bloom. Perennial in zones 5b (with protection) to 9, full sun, 2-4’ tall depending on variety.

#2 – ‘Midnight Masquerade’ Beardtongue Penstemon

At first glance, you wonder if this hardy perennial could be drought tolerant. But once you grow it, you’ll see how it thrives in hot, dry conditions. This is a native prairie plant that grows in similar conditions as switch grass and little bluestem (described in #6). ‘Midnight Masquerade’ is especially pretty with its deep purple foliage and darker purple flowers than most. Bees and hummingbirds are frequent visitors when the plant is in bloom in early to midsummer. When in flower, it stands up to 40” tall. Grow in full sun in zones 3-8.

#3 – Festival Star Baby’s Breath Gypsophila

Who knew that baby’s breath could be so easy to grow? Old-fashioned varieties gave this perennial a reputation for being a hassle in the garden since they grew very large and often went dormant by late summer, leaving a big hole in the garden. Festival Star blooms from late spring into fall without deadheading or going summer dormant, and its shorter 12-18” height is much easier to manage.

It thrives in average to dry, well-drained soil in full sun in zones 3-9. Let it dry out a bit before you water it again so its roots don’t sit in wet soil for too long.

#4 - 'Denim 'n Lace' Russian Sage Perovskia

During the hottest months of summer, the cool blue flowers of Russian sage are a welcome respite in the garden. While older varieties grew too large for many gardens, anyone can grow ‘Denim ‘n Lace’. Its mature size is about 2 ½’ tall and 3’ wide. You’ll love how it forms a more dense, upright clump and is completely covered in flowers beginning in midsummer.

Russian sage is not a plant that enjoys pampering. Grow it in full sun and very well-drained, sandy or rocky soil. Do not add fertilizer or organic matter when planting. It enjoys drier soils and rarely requires supplemental water. Perennial in zones 4-9.

#5 - Stonecrop Sedum

When you feel its succulent leaves, you’ll know why stonecrop is so drought tolerant. It stores water in its foliage and stems as a reserve, and usually doesn’t require supplemental water once its roots are established. Plant it in full sun and very well-drained soil, and do not add fertilizer or organic matter when you plant it.

We offer upright mounded and low spreading types of stonecrop that are hardy in zones 3-9. Expect them to bloom in late summer and fall, providing a late season pollen source for bees and butterflies.


#6 - Prairie Winds® Switch Grass Panicum and Little Bluestem Schizachyrium

When it comes to hot, dry climates and poor soils, some types of ornamental grasses like native switch grass and little bluestem are ideal for mass plantings. They are right at home in full sun landscapes, naturalized gardens and prairie settings. They aren’t fussy about soil type, won’t need extra fertilizer, and are simple to maintain with a single chop down in late fall or early spring.

Prairie Winds switch grass can grow with any amount of moisture, from dry to wet. Cultivars range in height from 3-6’ and are perennial in zones 4-9. Full sun.

Prairie Winds® 'Blue Paradise' little bluestem grows best in average to dry, lean soil. It grows 3-3.5’ tall and is perennial in zones 3-9. Full sun.

#7 - Double Take® Quince Chaenomeles

If you are looking for effortless spring color, the Double Take series of ornamental quince is unbeatable. It brings pure, rich, saturated color to the garden in early spring and needs very little maintenance to thrive for many years to come. Unlike older varieties, they are thornless, so they're perfect for flower arranging and forcing.

Flowering quince is very tolerant of hot, dry conditions. We’ve heard reports of over a month of bloom in areas as hot as Dallas, Texas, which shows how tough and durable these springtime beauties are. Expect them to grow 4-5’ tall in zones 5-9 in full sun. 

#8 - Tortuga Common Juniper Juniperus communis

This sun loving evergreen is surprisingly soft to the touch with a low, spreading habit. Planted en masse, it makes the perfect no-maintenance groundcover for hot, sunny slopes and landscape beds where the sprinklers don’t reach. Deer tend to leave it alone, and it won't mind being planted in proximity to a black walnut tree or salted driveway either. Expect a single plant to grow 1-2’ tall with a 3-4’ spread where it is hardy in zones 2-7.

#9 – Proven Winners Rose of Sharon Varieties Hibiscus syriacus

It’s hard to beat this popular summer flowering shrub for easy-care color. Large, saucer-like or double flowers bloom for months in beautiful shades of pink, blue or white. Traditional rose of Sharon varieties grow tall and vase-shaped, but some newer selections have columnar or rounded forms. Seedless or low seed set varieties are available, too.

You might think such a lush flowering shrub would need lots of maintenance, but it’s actually quite easy to grow. It tolerates almost any soil type as long as it is well-drained, and can handle periods of drought. Rose of Sharon grows best in full sun where it is hardy in zones 5-9. 


#10 - Center Stage®Infinitini® and Rikki Tikki® Crapemyrtle Lagerstroemia

Southern gardeners know the flower power of crapemyrtle trees in the heat of summer. But did you know there are also smaller shrub-form crapemyrtles that are hardy all the way north to zone 6? While they still can handle zone 10 heat, they are grown more like perennials in northern zones, returning from the roots every spring.

Our 2-5' dwarf Infinitini and Rikki Tikki crapemyrtles are designed to grow beautifully in containers or as short hedges in landscapes. If you need something more in the 6-12' range, try Center Stage crapemyrtles. All of them offer disease resistant foliage that remains attractive all season and requires little to no pruning to stay in shape. These colorful shrubs burst into bloom in high summer during the most hot, humid weather of the season without breaking a sweat. Grow them in full sun and provide average moisture when possible, though short periods of dry weather won’t hurt these durable plants. 


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