Choosing plants to create a drought tolerant garden

Even if you have very dry soils, you can still successfully grow trees, shrubs and perennials without constant watering in the Rainy River District. The secret lies behind the concept of xeriscaping (Xeriscape landscaping), which by definition, is landscaping designed specifically for areas that are susceptible to drought or for properties where water conservation is practiced.


A common element in xeriscape landscaping is the reduction of grass lawn areas since it is often the largest consumer of water in a year. Another widespread tactic in xeriscape landscaping is the use of indigenous (native) plants, since they are adapted to the local climate and consequently require less water.


It is very important to choose appropriate drought-resistant plants as the key to a successful xeriscape. Select trees, shrubs, plants and ground covers based on their adaptability to your soil and climactic zone. Native plants, for example, adapt better and can resist longer periods of drought. As well, most have lower fertilizer needs than non-native plants. Combining native plants and water-efficient non-natives is the best way to achieve a beautiful low maintenance garden. Keep in mind that even though a plant is labelled drought-resistant, it is important to provide adequate water until it is well established during its first year after planting.


Below is a list of some plants, trees and shrubs that support the concept of xeriscaping and will definitely grow very well in our area. One rule of thumb to remember when choosing annuals and perennials at the nursery, is that many of the species listed below actually have dusty-green or silvery leaves. Most often plants with this type of foliage are drought tolerant.



Perennials – all of these will grow very well in our area.

Alliums (Ornamental Onion)

Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia) – like hot, sunny spots with well-drained soils Most varieties grow 18-24 inches tall. Look for dwarf varieties if you prefer a shorter flower (8-12 inches). I personally prefer the dwarf varieties but can be harder to find.


Common Thrift

Coral Bells (Heuchera) – many new hybrids in a range of foliage colours

Day Lilies

Dianthus (Pinks)

Evening primrose

Heartleaf Bergenia – also known as elephant ears

Lady’s Mantle

Lamb’s Ear

Liatris (Gayfeather)

Moonbeam Coreopsis – also called Tickseed


Pearly Everlasting

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Sea Holly

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’- A very hardy and tolerant plant, great for beginner gardeners.

Shasta Daisy

Silver Mound (Artemesia)

Tansy – can be very invasive.


Veroncia (Speedwell)

Yarrow (Achillea) – the native variety has golden yellow flowers but is now available in other colours ranging from white to fuschia.


Perennial Ground Covers

Creeping Veronica (Veronica repens)

Hens & Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)

Moss or Creeping Phlox

Sedum (Stonecrop) – there are many varieties of sedum available at your local nursery, most are ground covers and are ideal for very sunny, dry conditions.

Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Thyme – creeping or woolly thyme will work well.

Wormwood (Artemesia) – from same family as the silver mound but has a yellow-green foliage and is a prolific spreading perennial.




Dusty Miller
Cosmos spp.

Sunflower – all varieties

Common Geranium

Portulaca – Moss rose

Salvia – annual varieties




Clematis species

Hall’s Honeysuckle


Trees & Shrubs – need lots of water in first year of growth but once established these species become drought tolerant

Amur Maple

Barberry – great new varieties on the market

Bearberry (Kinnikinnick)– great groundcover

Buffalo Berry

Burning Bush

Hackberry – grows well along the Rainy River area

Hawthorns – there are thornless varieties available now

Juniper – most of upright and spreading varieties

Lilacs – almost all varieties but check the tag first just to make sure


Mugo pine

Nanking Cherry

Oaks – all species that will grow in Zone 4

Purple Sand Cherry

Red Pine

Russian Olive

Serviceberry – Saskatoon

Shrub roses



Ornamental Grasses

Carex (caryophyllea ‘Beatlemania’) – Carex is not technically a grass, but has a grass-like appearance.

Bulbous Oat Grass (Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum)

Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea)

Fescue(Festuca species)


Herbs – most herb species like hot dry conditions and very little water


Common Sage

Common Thyme