Drought-Tolerant, Pollinator-Friendly Annuals

Reader Contribution by Karin Eller
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There are many reasons to consider planting drought-tolerant plants. One of the most important is water conservation. Drought is running rampant in parts of the country, and we must learn how to protect this precious resource. Drought tolerant gardening is a way of limiting the use of water in our gardens and giving our pollinating friends their needed food sources. The annuals discussed below are drought tolerant, attract pollinators and easy care for and grow. This does not mean you can plant them and walk away, they do require a modicum of attention. These plants do need water until they are established. Adding compost to the soil when planting will ensure that the soil does stay moist, allowing the root system to take hold.

Zinnias are the one of the hardest working annuals in the garden. They come in many colors and sizes, and are easily grown from seed. They will bloom till frost and deadheading, or removing the spent blooms, will keep them re-blooming. With such a diverse assortment, surely a few varieties will find a place in a container garden or flower bed in your landscape. Two of my favorites are ‘State Fair’ and ‘Lilliput. ‘State Fair’ is an excellent cut flower. They will grow to a height of two and a half feet with large, vibrant blooms that are long lasting in arrangements. ‘Lilliput’ is a smaller version growing to 18 inches in height, with small blooms just as colorful as its larger cousin. Both varieties are heirlooms which mean that the seeds can be saved.

Calendulas, or pot marigold, are a multi-purpose plant, usually considered an annual flower, but they are also an herb. Calendula should not be confused with the Tagetes genus, more common in North America and referred to as, simply, marigold. The flowers of the deer resistant plant are edible, used in various herbal concoctions and for dyeing and drying. Depending upon the variety they can reach a height of 30 inches and a spread of 12 inches. Deadheading will ensure continuous bloom throughout the summer and into fall. Plants that bloom till frost are important late season food source for pollinators. The calendula blooms can be used in making herbal oil or a fabric dye. Calendula oil is made by using a small, clean, dry glass jar and filling with the flower petals. Pick the flowers early in the day, after the dew has dried. Gently push the petals down in the jar and fill with olive oil, set in the sun and naturally extract the oils. Occasionally shake the jar. This process might take up to two months. When you are ready to use the oil, strain the used petals and put the finished oil in a clean jar and store in a cool dark place. Calendulas make a pretty yellow hued dye that is made by placing one cup of petals in a clean glass bowl. Boil one cup of water and pour on top of calendula petals. Stir, cover with a tea towel and let steep until you have the color that you want. Drying calendula flowers is a way of preserving them for future uses and saving the seeds. Remove the petals and place in a cool, dry area. Store the finished product in a clean, dry jar. Lastly, I like to plant calendulas near my chicken yard, so that I can toss the old blooms to my friendly fowl. The flowers enhance the color of the yolks.

Portulaca or Moss Rose are small drought tolerant plants useful for flower borders, container gardens and rock gardens, even happily growing in the cracks of sidewalks. They freely seed themselves and can become invasive, manually pulling the seedlings or transplanting them will solve that issue. The colorful blooms will last till frost. Portulaca flowers open on sunny days and close at night or on cloudy days.

Heliotropium is an heirloom plant that has attractive lacey flowers sitting atop of sturdy stems with a delightful scent. Some say the scent is reminiscent of baby power or vanilla. This plant needs to be planted in an area to be seen and appreciated. I like planting heliotropes close to a deck so that I can enjoy the colorful visitors, and the relaxing scent during hot summer evenings. The heirloom varieties grow to 36 inches in height, with a spread of 18 inches. The two most fragrant of the heliotropes ‘Fragrant Purple’ and ‘Fragrant White’ would rather be planted in the ground. The new varieties of heliotropes can be used in container gardens because they are compact in size, reaching up to 12 inches in height. The newer varieties might have the flowers and color but not the scent. All varieties of heliotrope are deer and rabbit resistant.

Lantana is one of the toughest plants that I have come in contact with. This shrubby plant can reach up to in four feet height. It is deer and rabbit resistant and the bees can’t get enough of it. Lantana is considered to be an annual in most areas, but a perennial zone 8 and above. Lantana can be used in all type of areas where it is difficult to get water to, such as grave plantings. Depending on the variety they can grow quite large. Please check with your local greenhouse person on the variety that you are interested in. The hanging basket varieties are excellent for placing the hanging basket in a flower garden for adding height. Interested in other drought tolerant plants visit us on Facebook at The Plant-It Earth Greenhouse And Gardens.

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