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.

Natural Environment.

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 colour variations.
  • 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 good contrast.
  • 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 problems.
  • 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 daring!

Grasses and Rudbeckia - Echinacea

By David Hughes - info@gardenseeker.com