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Get to know your garden Intimately-part five Dry Soils

Updated on October 5, 2015

Echinacea purpurea



In part five of the series, Get to know your garden intimately, we look at the type of plants that will grow in dry soils. In such gardens where the soil is dry, it is possible to grow plants which will be a pleasure to observe and pleasurable to work around. However, it is a situation where careful watering and a little extra care is required to get the best from those plants.,This series is aimed at those that are just beginning to explore gardening as a hobby and those that are unsure of which plants to grow in which situation. Therefore the text will be as simple as possible and aimed at being a guide and inspiration for such gardeners.

We must remember that the most important part of a plants life, and especially in dry soils,is the plant becoming established,and once this as been achieved, they will thrive as well as those growing in other types of medium. The range of plants for our dry situation is considerable as we shall see. Many drought tolerant plants have silver or grey green foliage which has evolved to reflect the hot rays of the sun. Many have hairs on their leaves and/or stems,which allow the plant to trap any moisture available to them,and these hairs also help the plant to cope with frost during the winter.

What we need to consider is how nature deals with the problems of dry soils. Nature provides species that not only copes with dry soils but thrive in it, and we will take our guidance from mother nature. Here we look at plants suitable for dry soils in sunny situations and there are species that do well in dry shady situations.

Plants for sunny and dry borders

Drought tolerant plants are well capable of coping with hot dry conditions. However, with careful watering we need not rely on on drought tolerant plants alone. It is obvious that plants that grow in sunny areas in dry soils will need watering more often than those growing in dry situations beneath shade.

I was taught to water deeply every few days rather than a light sprinkling of water on a daily basis. The former encourages deep rooting and once the plants have become established,many, especially ornamental plants will fend for themselves. A bit of organic matter mixed with the soil in sunny borders will help to retain water and give the roots extra nutrients, however, do not add to much as this will encourage leaf growth and the expense of the flowers,and the foliage may well tend to flop over in hot summers. Water may be retained for longer if a mulch is placed around the plants or gravel,chippings or pebbles.

It is a confusing fact that many symptoms of drought can appear similar to the symptoms of over watering,which also kills plants.

A good choice of plants for dry sunny situations can make a display which will be the envy of your neighbours and friends.


Growing at Picton gardens {England} .
Growing at Picton gardens {England} . | Source

Rudbeckia the cone flower

Rudbeckia is a genus of plants,annuals,biennials and perennials,that produce flower heads that are not only impressive in the garden but also make excellent cut flowers. they are hardy and many of the types grow well in dry sunny situations. Black-eyed Susan or orange coneflower is a good example.

Gaillardia x grandiflora



Gaillardia is a genus of summer flowering annuals and perennials that tend to be short lived. They require sun and dry or well drained soils.Some species may require staking.

Guillardia aristata is often referred to as the Blanket flower. It is an upright, rather open perennial that produces large , terminal daisy-like blooms in single flower-heads. They are a rich yellow colour with red centres enhancing their beauty. They have along summer flowering period. They also produce soft aromatic foliage. The species has weak stems and therefore requires staking.

It grows to the height of two feet {60 cm } with a spread of twenty inches { 50 cm }. They thrive in hot sun and very well drained soil.

Gaillardia aristata


Californian poppies growing in their natural state

Bear Valley USA.
Bear Valley USA. | Source


Escholzia is a genus of annuals grown for their splendid poppy like flowers. They will grow in the gaps of paving stones,rock gardens and dry sunny soils. They need to be dead-headed regularly {removing dead and fading flowers} to ensure a long flowering period.

Escholzia californica the Californian poppy is excellent for our dry soil and sunny borders. It is possible to buy seeds in mixed colours. They are fast growing,slender erect annuals with feathery foliage that is of a bluish green colour. The flowers are cupped shaped with four petals borne singly. They occur in shades of red,orange, yellow, or cream and are produced from early summer into autumn.

They attain the height of twelve inches {30 cm } with a spread of six inches {15 cm }. They require full sun and very well drained soil this suits their needs admirably. When grown in large numbers they make an impressive display.

Californian poppies


Asclepias tuberosa

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source


Asclepias is a genus of tuberous perennials or sub-shrubs,some of which are evergreen,grown for their flowers. The stems exude a milky white latex when cut. They are fully hardy to frost tender and prefer full sun in humus rich,but well drained soils.

Asclepias tuberosa {Butterfly weed} is an erect tuberous perennial with long lance shaped leaves. They produce small five-horned ,bright orange red flowers which are borne in summer and are succeeded by narrow pointed seed pods up to six inches long {15 cm }.

They grow to the height of thirty inches {75 cm } with a spread of eighteen inches {45 cm }. They require full sun and well drained soil.

Foliage of Nepeta x faassenii

Creative Commons.
Creative Commons. | Source

Catmint variety in flower


Nepeta { Catmint}

Nepeta is a genus of summer flowering perennials which are good for edging,particularly where they can hang or tumble over paving. They are fully hardy and easily propagated by division in spring.

Nepeta x faassenii is bushy and a clump forming perennial perfect for situations mentioned above. It forms mounds of small,greyish green foliage from which loose spikes of tubular,soft,pale lavender coloured flowers appear in early summer.The height and spread is about eighteen inches { 45 cm }.

They require full sun but do need regular watering in well drained soil.

Read my article, Catmint,{ Past and Present Medicinal Uses}.


Echinaceae purpurea

Echinaceae is a genus of summer flowering perennials which like full sun and humus rich,moist but well drained soils. Therefore watering is essential until they are established in our dry sunny borders.

Echinaceae purperea sometimes referred to as Rudbeckia purperea has beautiful flowers which attain the height of 47 inches or more {120 cm }and a spread of 10 inches { 25cm} at maturity. they produce large cone -shaped flowers and purple florets { often referred to as the petals.}

They require full sun and will not grow in the shade. Once established they are drought resistant. There are many varieties available to the modern day gardener. This is another plant that is used in herbal medicine, and is a constituent of many herbal products. Also see the lead photograph.They are very impressive when grown in numbers.

Coreopsis grandiflora



Coreopsis is a genus of annuals and perennials grown for their daisy-like flowers. they are fully to frost hardy. they require full sun and fertile well drained soil. Annual seeds can be sown in spring.

Coreopsis tinctoria is a fast growing ,erect,bushy annual with lance shaped foliage. They produce large daisy like flowers bright yellow flower heads with red centres,during summer and early autumn. they attain the height of two to three feet {60-90 cm } with a spread of eight inches {20 cm }. they need full sun and well drained soils.

Coreopsis grandiflora is a short lived perennial,it is erect with lax stems. They produce large daisy like flowers of a rich buttercup yellow colour during the summer.The foliage is bright green and broadly lance shaped leaves which are divided. They attain the height of thirty inches or more {60+ cm } with a spread of twenty four inches.These too, require full sun and well drained soils.


As we can see the range of plants and colours can make our dry soils very attractive during the summer months. I hope my suggestions are inspiring, but they are far from being an exhaustive list. Ask your garden centre or nursery for advise about the species available for dry sunny borders. Below are other suggestions in image form you may like the look of.

Salvia x superba




Heliopsis helianthiodes


Sedum anglicum


Yarrow 'pink variety'

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Paul {talk}
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Paul {talk} | Source

Echinops ritro





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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Your very welcome, hope Mother Nature treats it well. Best wishes to you. {and your 'True Emotion'

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 2 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Thanks Dal, that was good to have your instructions. The plant is nicely positioned in a centre place with lots of bushes over the base. The rest is up to Mother Nature now,thanks again,


    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi jandee,

      The plant you have bought is Lilium oriental 'True Emotion' known as the Fragrant Lily, and would be far better grown in a container of some sort. they grow to the height of 16-20 inches. They grow best if you can keep the soil shaded but the flowers in full sun. Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet and they need to be in well drained soil,not clay,hence the container.

      Good luck with your plant.Best wishes to you.

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 2 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Dal,I have bought a plant but not sure if it is for inside or outside,will it survive in the clayey soil-beautiful buds just about to open,some sort of lilly I think-name on ticket is True Emotion,

      best from jandee.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello, Devika, there is plenty time yet. New ideas and change is what gardening is all about. Best of luck with your choices. Thank you for visiting. Best wishes to you.


      Hi Deb, it is an unusual combination but possible it depends on the amount of rainfall/sunshine etc. in Stillwater. Thank you too for your visit.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Now you're in my soil, but I think it is more of a mix of clay and dry soil. Can that be?

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful flowers and I have tried to prepare the garden for the new season. The rain had stopped me from getting my hands dirty. Will have to try new ideas this year.