Bring on the drought

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER, 20 Mark and Ben (his son) Cullen are seen in the Star studio for logo photos. The two will be co-writing the weekly Urban Growth column in Homes & Condos. September, 20 2017

by Mark & Ben Cullen

“Can you recommend a plant that I can grow in a cemetery?” is a question almost as old as time.

Soon, we will officially say “hello summer!” For many plants, this is a good thing. Our long, warm days are more conducive to plant growth than any other time of year. That is, providing said plant is in the right place. Many readers have a sunny yard that heats up this time of year and there are many plants that will thrive there. However, if you plant a thirsty or shade loving plant in direct sun you might be creating a graveyard for plants.

Here are our top eight picks for planting in hot spots, including near a head stone:

1. Stonecrop. Sedum is almost indestructible in a bright sunny location. It is the camel of all plants. Their bright colours and mid to late summer flowering period are long and eye catching. Their fleshy stems and leaves are engineered to hold moisture and release it as needed by the plant. Choose from many varieties including low ground huggers up to Sedum spectabile which matures to about 30 or 40 cm (18 to 24 inches).

2. Achillea. Yarrow is almost as indestructible as sedum, when grown in the sun. Only it looks feathery and delicate. It is the lightweight kickboxing champion of the plant world. Try to ignore it or push it around by starving it and it will simply multiply and bloom while thumbing its nose at you. Stunning colours in a wide variety including the hot reds, orange, and yellows. Native species are available. Will grow up to 70 cm tall, depending on the variety.

3. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) need higher moisture to germinate, but once they are growing, they are very tolerant of drought and almost any soil condition. Once considered an actual weed, public opinion has swung wildly into favour as milkweeds are the exclusive larval host for monarch butterflies. Also attracts milkweed tussock moth, milkweed leaf beetle, queen butterfly and a host of native bees. All good.

4. “Goldenrod (solidago) is the new milkweed”, is what all the cool nature kids are saying. Public opinion is changing around goldenrod as it has for milkweed, owing to its superpowers supporting bees and butterflies. Stiff goldenrod is a drought tolerant variety that will put on a show with its yellow flowers. It is a common misconception that goldenrod aggravates hay fever when ragweed is to blame.

5. Blazing star (Liatris). Who would not want to be remembered as a “blazing star”? There are many varieties of this plant also known as liatris or gayfeather. It is a native plant with round flowers that will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to beat the band. The purple flowers look at home in a meadow planting, surrounded by native grasses.

6. Lamium. Mark planted this in his pollinator garden 15 years ago and he works hard to retain it. It is a great groundcover where nothing else will grow. Grows to 30 cm or 12 inches. Attractive variegated foliage of silver or gold. Take that to the bank. We guarantee that your deposit will grow.

7. Hosta. Quick to establish itself in most any garden, the broad-leafed Hosta thrives in dry shade and the solid green varieties grow well in the sun, though mid day direct sun can scorch even these. Variegated types will bleach out in direct sun. Hosta add texture and the flowers attract hummingbirds and other pollinators mid summer. Available from short 20 cm varieties to giants that spread over a meter wide.

8. Daylily (Hemerocallis) There are many daylilies in bloom right now. They love the sun and thrive through a drought as their bulbous, fleshy roots store water underground for long periods of time. You know that a plant has few demands when municipalities use it extensively to line boulevards. Choose from a wide variety of hot colours like orange, yellow and rose/red. Varieties grow from 60 cm to over a metre high.

In addition to our list of favourites, we add echinacea (Purple Cone Flower), Shasta daisy, rudbeckia and any ornamental grass, of which there are several thousand to choose from.

Happy gardening in the sun.