10 Beautiful foolproof plants for hot dry sites

When thinking about great plants for hot sites some of the things I look for are irrigation forgiveness, adaptability to soils, and especially, plants that can take scorching, full sun interior heat in stride. All of the plants listed here I have grown and had easy success with in my gardens and those of clients. I have grown them in amended clay soil that drains moderately well. No fertilizer just some compost if your soil doesn’t drain and is very low in fertility. They are pest and disease free with the exception of the yarrow (it can get aphids — just spray once very heavily with garlic /pepper soap after the rains stop and they shouldn’t be a problem the rest of the year) These plants are all low water in the interior, once a week for 20 minutes when established to keep them looking their best. Plants with an * can get by with less water and still look great. Plants with an ‘N’ are native to California. All of the flowering perennials listed here attract bees and hummingbirds in droves.

  1. Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walkers Low’ (Catmint) This perennial blooms constantly for 8 months out of the year March – Nov. It even keeps blooming without deadheading and still looks great. And bees love it. Walkers Low is the most robust cultivar that I have tried, and while it says it gets 3′ x 3′, I have found that in my clay soil that it starts to fall over at about 12 – 18″  in a graceful mounded form. So really it’s more like 1′ H x 3′ wide. Cut back to the ground in early spring before new growth emerges. Appears to be pest and disease free. I prefer it to lavender because it blooms nearly constantly and never gets woody.
  2. Achillea Millefolium (Common white yarrow) * N  I love the ferny foliage on this native perennial. The white seed grown strain will vary from 1 to 3′ in height. As yarrow in the wild takes on different forms, you can never be completely sure of what you are going to get. It’ easy to divide and move if you need to. Flowers are long lasting for about 3 months and then fade to a golden brown which can be left on for birds or removed for aesthetics. The ferny green foliage is beautiful up to the end of the year when frosts come (just cut to the ground in the Spring).  Great butterfly plant.
  3. Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer grass) * N This grass is my favorite native grass. I love its architectural form as a design plant. It has beautiful arched flower sprays that make the plant look like a reflection of itself. The clump usually gets to about 2.5 feet tall and up to 3.5′ wide in maturity (in bloom the height rises to 5′ tall). It works great as a casual screen and as a backdrop perennial border plant intermixed with perennials.
  4. Agastache ‘Sunset hyssop’ (hummingbird mint)  Beautiful thread leaf foliage that smells like root beer and licorice. Hummingbirds absolutely love this plant. The blooms start in mid July and keep going through fall. I love to mix this perennial in meadow gardens as it attracts so many beneficials and blooms for us when a lot of other plants are fading.
  5. Epilobium canum ‘Silver Select’ (California fuchsia) * N Another native that hummingbirds go crazy for. This plant blooms for me from September – December and looks incredible during the growing season. Plant it behind something lower though so it will be propped up as they tend to flop. Cut it down to the ground when you see new shoots beginning to emerge in the Spring.
  6. Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Blue gramma grass) * N This is a long season performer and needs very little water. It is a warms season grass, so cut it back in Spring when the new growth emerges and is 2″ tall. Flower heads start out in early summer / late Spring as bright chartreuse green and as the plant grows (sometimes to 3′ tall) they fade to a soft golden yellow. Works great as a specimen plant in a meadow.
  7. Salvia mellifera ‘Terra Seca’ (Black sage)  * N This sage is awesome. Very long blooming for a native sage and very tough. I have yet to lose one to wilt. Bees love it and it smells wonderful. The foliage is fairly green for a sage and can be easily kept at 2′ tall. Makes a nice ground cover. Just cut off the dead spikes in later summer if they look ratty to you. This sage reliably gets to 6′ around.
  8. Salvia ‘Celestial Blue” (Cleveland sage) * N This is an upright shrubby sage that gets to be about 4 x 4 and has beautiful irridescent purple blue flowers. It is long blooming and looks nice when not in flower. The foliage is a pale silver blue.
  9. Erigonum giganteum (St. Catherine’s lace) * N A beautiful native shrub with powdery blue soft leaves and a gorgeous white flower in summer. Blooms can be left on through winter as their colors change from burnt umber to russet. Quail love this to eat the seeds from the flowers. This shrub gets big so give it room to reach 5′ wide and high. If you have excellent drainage expect it to be even larger.
  10. Westringea fruiticosa (Coast rosemary) Such a dependable evergreen shrub that is an Australian native. My two favorite cultivars right now are ‘Smokey’ (a beautiful silver color that is actually variegated, but from 5′ away looks silver) and ‘Morning Light’ which I can only describe as pastel chartreuse — it’s lovely. Both cultivars are in the 5’x5′ range but can be easily kept a foot or so smaller with light pruning. They have a beautiful soft mounded form.

2 thoughts on “10 Beautiful foolproof plants for hot dry sites

  1. Hi Jim, I have used this many, many times. I take a whole heads worth of garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of crushed red pepper flakes, and then add about 1.5 – 2 quarts of water and simmer it on the stove for 20 minutes (hold your breath) then let it steep and cool on the stove so the peppers and garlic release more oils and capsaicin into the water. Strain the liquid in to a hand spray bottle and add 1/3 cup of dawn dishwashing liquid. The soap smothers the aphids and kills them, the red pepper and garlic helps keep new ones away. You need to douse the plant fairly heavily if you get a large infestation but it’s non-toxic and doesn’t hurt anything.


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