Friday, February 26, 2021

Landscape Plants for Use in Dry Areas


Soils become dry, primarily due to specific soil texture characteristics or less than normal rainfall. High amounts of sand in the soil tend to increase drainage and make soils drier than silt loam soils. Clay loam soils also tend to be very dry and very wet other times.

Generally, adding organic matter to the soil will help both soil types overcome dryness. Materials often used for soil amendment incorporation and mulching include peat moss, bark and composted products.

Mulching after planting to a depth of at least 2 inches will also assist in reducing moisture loss from the plants.

Rainfall is unpredictable, as was seen during the summers of 1983, ’84, ’87 and ’88 in Ohio. Very little rainfall occurred for several months, and plant materials suffered badly. Many plants wilted and this was followed by twig and branch dieback. A large number of plants died, especially viburnum, spruce, and a wide range of plants that had been planted within the past year that had not become well established.

When rainfall is below average, landscape plants like turf should be given supplemental water to prevent dessication injury. Water should be added to thoroughly moisten the root zone; the amount will vary depending on size and species of plants. Generally, 1 inch of water per week should be adequate; however, more will be required if there has been no rainfall for several weeks and the soil is particularly dry.

Typically, irrigation is applied with some type of overhead irrigation or sprinkler system, or by hose. A hose is not usually sufficient for watering woody plants because the pressure is too high and a large amount of water is lost through surface run-off. A system that is effective but not yet used extensively in this part of the United States is drip or trickle irrigation.

Garden centers have systems that connect to the outside water spigot, operate on low water pressure and considerably reduce water run-off or waste. The systems involve laying down plastic lines in the plant beds with an emitter placed by each tree or shrub. A timer can operate for a certain time period and automatically turn off the system.

Trees and Shrubs Most Tolerant of Dry Areas


  • Acer ginnala – Amur maple
  • Ailanthus altissima – Tree of Heaven*
  • Juniperus species – Juniper species
  • Koelreuteria paniculata Golden-rain tree
  • Maclura pomifera – Osage-orange*
  • Pinus virginiana – Virginia pine
  • Populus alba – White Poplar*
  • Robinia species – Locust species*
  • Sassafras albidum – Sassafras
  • Sophora japonica – Japanese pagoda tree
  • Ulmus pumila – Siberian elm*


  • Berberis species – Barberry
  • Caragana species – Pea tree
  • Chaenomeles lagenaria – Flowering quince
  • Cornus racemosa – Gray dogwood
  • Cotinus coggygria – Smoke bush
  • Cytissus species – Broom species
  • Elaeagnus angustifolia – Russian olive
  • Hamamelis virginiana – Common witch-hazel
  • Hypericum calycinum – Aaronsbeard St. Johnswort
  • Juniperus species – Juniper species
  • Kolkwitzia amabilis – Beautybush
  • Myrica species – Bayberry species
  • Rhamnus species – Buckthorn species
  • Rhus species – Sumac species
  • Ribes alpinum – Alpine currant
  • Rosa rugosa – Rugosa rose
  • Rosa setigera – Prairie rose
  • Rosa virginiana – Virginia rose
  • Tamarix species – Tamarix
  • Viburnum lentago – Nannyberry viburnum
  • Yucca species – Adam’s needle

* Not considered by most horticulturists to be the best tree selections for various reasons; however, in very dry sites they may be the only plants that thrive.

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