Drought Tolerant Ornamental
Grasses for dry Areas.
Many of the ornamental grasses are drought resistant. You
only need to study their natural habitat and see this.
It's strange that in drought conditions, we are normally
happy for them to change from their lush green foliage to a
straw coloured mass.
If that were to happen on the ornamental lawn of course, the
hosepipe will soon be deployed! Yet, many of the lawn grasses
will also tolerate drought. We of course, will not - as far as
the lawn is concerned!
But, drought tolerant grasses for the lawn, are to be found in a
different section - or at least will be soon! Here we discuss Ornamental
Grasses that are tolerant of dry conditions, and may even find a way
into a dry garden that we may one day be forced to design, as water
shortages and environmental pressures start to build up.
Many of the grasses in this section will be resistant to lack of
water or rainfall, including the evergreen types. In fact the evergreen
grasses often have leaves that are rolled - rather then flat - which
helps them to conserve moisture.
Festuca glauca and
Helictotrichon being two such evergreens. The Carex evergreen pair
of Carex comans and Carex
Evergold are also drought resistant - in spite of the fact that the
Carex group are sedges and not true grasses.
Many of the grasses that we know as ornamental grasses, are happy in
dry conditions - drought resistant - simply because this is their native
habitat. Stipa for instance, are naturally found in scrubby woodland,
and light soil areas such as hillsides.
Hordeum is certainly a dry area group from wild open places.
Incidentally, when did you last see a farmer having to water a huge
field of Barley (Hordeum) - or any other corn crop! Hordeum in natural
surroundings - is a prairie grass!
Dry garden of Grasses
The most important aspect of planting a dry garden, is to ensure the
proper settling in or establishment of the grasses for the first few
months. After that, in all but the most prolonged and severe drought
conditions, they will be fine. They may lose colour from green through
to straw brown - other than the evergreen grasses, but after a rainfall
they normally green-up again. very similar to the roadside verges that
we see in a hot summer.
List of Grasses suitable for Drought tolerant dry areas.
- Arundo donax will tolerate all
but the most severe drought conditions, but may need supplementary
watering from time to time. Included mainly because of its unique
size and habit. It can sometimes be evergreen.
- Briza media is happy in dry
conditions coming originally from European grasslands.
- Calamagrostis are not generally suited as they have a natural
habitat in marshlands - reed grasses.
- Carex comans
and Carex Evergold are two evergreen sedges that will tolerate
drought conditions and a good tfor the dry garden because of their
- Cortaderia - The Pampas Grass
- I have never needed to water this plant - however dry the
conditions. A must-have for dry conditions. Always looks happy.
- Deschampsia - not always reliable in drought conditions or the
dry garden. Plant for variety if you remember to water occasionally.
- Elymus hispidus is invaluable
in dry conditions. The silver blue foliage persists well and is a
- Festuca Grasses - all
cultivars. Just plant: water for a couple of weeks and forget. Very
happy in dry conditions - with a few useful evergreen types.
- Hakonechloa could
be planted, but may just may - need a drop of water from time to
time. But for foliage colour it will be worth the hassle!
- Helictotrichon is
a member of the oats family and well used to and suited to dry
conditions. The rolled evergreen leaves prepare it for this. Glaucus
blue as well.
- Hordeum types - as mentioned
earlier - are happiest in dry conditions.
- Imperata Red Baron.
I have photographed this grass in parched gravel beds with no hint
of a problem.
- Liriope muscari -
only if it is a shaded dry area. I have seen this in shade of
woodland where it has had to fight for moisture with oak trees. No
- Miscanthus generally need
watering from time to time - but well worth the extra little effort
for their gorgeous flower spikes - especially in full sun.
- Molinia - to be avoided for a truly dry garden.
- Ophiopogon Black
Dragon - not a true grass, but does well because of its fleshy
water retentive root system.
- Panicum -
and open grassland, stony area plant. Does well in dry conditions.
- Pennisetum - Grows
naturally in Savannah and dry woodland. Suited for the dry, drought
tolerant group of grasses.
- Stipa. All are
suitable for drought resistance. Of particular use are
Stipa gigantea - Giant Golden Oat
- and of course Stipa tenuissima.
Ah - did I forget Stipa arundinacea?
Silly me - the best!
You can add a little bit of interest by planting drought-happy
perennials such as Rudbeckia as well. Penstemons also clash nicely. Be
By David Hughes -