Plants that are true drought survivors

Since I was able to dump out all my discouragement about gardening in Central Texas in my last post, it’s time for a different perspective. While my garden doesn’t look good by any means, there are a few plants that didn’t seem terribly fazed by the heat and drought.

I would love it if each of you visiting here would post a comment about the plants in your garden that truly survived, or even thrived, in the Summer of 09 in Central Texas. This can be a gathering place for all of us gardeners to discover new plants that are hardy, and remember some tried and true ones that were planted by the zillions for a reason.

I’ll start with my list:

Bicolor Iris: I love this plant, and while it didn’t bloom as prolifically, the greenery continued without fail to give me nice structure

Bicolor Iris, one of my favorites

Bicolor Iris, one of my favorites

Crape Myrtle: As always, these consistent flowering trees seem to love the heat

Cast Iron Plants: though a bit sunburned on the edges, it seems they could care less if they get lots of water or no water

Japanese Yew: These tall shrubs in my yard are some that I take for granted, but I shouldn’t. This year in the drought they produced beautiful gray berries against the green foliage, and never seemed to drop a leaf.

Society Garlic: Never huge bloomers for me, but still light and bright when they did bloom, and offered a tiny bit of color in my brown and sort-of-green yard

Lambs’ ears: mine didn’t grow much, but they are so cute with the fuzzy leaves

Citrus Splash Rose: Surprisingly, this rose was hardy and bloomed throughout the summer, though the blooms were definitely sunburned

Citrus Splash rose acted like a Knockout Rose through the summer

Citrus Splash rose acted like a Knockout Rose through the summer

Bulbine: loves the sunny, dry no-man’s-land corner of the yard by the street. Flourished all summer! You can see it in the above photo of the Citrus Splash

Pitcher Sage: A new baby plant grew all summer and bloomed about 3 weeks ago with gorgeous cornflower blue flowers. Leggy, but the flower is worth it.

This picture doesn't do the plant justice. The blue color is almost neon.

This picture doesn't do the plant justice. The blue color is almost neon.

Asparagus fern: even without much extra water at all, this fern grew well

Sword fern: a surprising one for me, this sword fern planted in the shade is doing just fine.

Butterfly Bush (Clerodendron Ugandense): This new plant for me has bloomed off and on, and didn’t seem to care if it dried out.

Clerendon Ugadense had small blooms off and on; the foliage grew a lot.

Clerendon Ugadense had small blooms off and on; the foliage grew a lot.

Flowering Senna: Great greenery all season, and burst  into yellow blooms right on time in early September

Loropetalum: While it didn’t grow much bigger, these plants throughout my yard kept their shape and color without wilting

Bottlebrush tree: One of my favorites, this large shrub/small tree will bloom given just a bit of water. It takes a lot of abuse.

Ligustrum: this overused shrub is prolific in my older yard, and provides dependable evergreen structure as some of mine were formed into small trees as they grew years ago.

Liriope: this standby is hardy in any weather, it seems. I mow it, I move it, I abuse it, and it stays green and even flowers for me. I should feel guilty, but instead I’m beginning to appreciate it more and more.

Established Asian and Confederate Jasmine: another spot of evergreen that adds a lush feel year-round

Fatsia (Aralia): This one is iffy. Some of this very old plant looks fine, but it has many dead leaves on it. I do love it when it is healthy, though, and I believe it will bounce back. I’m removing this one from my list. Today I cleaned out part of that bed, and this 20+ year-old plant was in worse condition than I realize. One branch completely dead.

Beautyberry: While it isn’t yet covered in berries, this small shrub seems to have survived just fine in it’s shady spot.

Abutilon: My new transplants didn’t bloom all summer as others have, but they also didn’t seem to wilt and lose any leaves. I hope these continue to grow and get hardier, because they are one of my new favorites.

Pride of Barbados: I love this tropical plant, and it loves the heat. My newly planted 1 gallon plant grew a couple of feet and bloomed in the depths of drought and blazing temperatures.

Dwarf pomegranate: They didn’t grow, but they also didn’t die while living in another spot of my yard that gets little watering.

Salvias: while they did survive, salvias in my yard didn’t bloom while the air was so dry this summer. Now that the humidity is back, and a bit of rain, they are suddenly in bloom throughout the yard, in places where I even forgot I had planted them. I’ll probably plant more.

Shrimp plant: new transplants from last fall didn’t grow much, but burst into bloom in late August, despite rough conditions. I’m looking forward to larger versions of these plants next year.

Indigofera: Why did this plant do well? It is supposed to need extra water. This deciduous, creeping shrub bloomed off and on throughout the summer, I can’t explain it.

Variegated Ginger: the ones that didn’t get decent watering definitely got crispy, but just a little extra water occasionally made these tropicals grow and look decent

Silver ponyfoot: I’m really trying to get a patch of this started in several places as a ground cover. It’s a bit of a slow starter, but seems hardy

Artemesia: This is a great plant for filler and silver, lacy foliage that can stand up to abuse. I want more of this.

Yarrow: Though it looks soft and fern-like, the yarrow in my yard didn’t seem to care how bad the climate was.

Tell me about your garden, please?
What are you glad you had to give you some joy this summer? What would you avoid planting again?

We can all benefit from gathering our experiences here and sharing knowledge for future summers.


35 thoughts on “Plants that are true drought survivors

  1. I know you mentioned Salvias, but I wanted to give special notice to Coral Nymph salvia, it was a new plant for me this year and it grew and bloomed every single day while everyone else was struggling along, made me very happy.

  2. Tina, that’s interesting to hear. I have 3 Coral Nymph Salvias, and they didn’t bloom until we finally got some rain in September. Glad to hear you had success with this gorgeous plant.

  3. The ones you list are generally survivors for me too, although my unwatered liriope did finally show the strain and started to die in July before I broke down and watered it. I’d add bamboo muhly, agastache, miscanthus grass ‘Adagio’ (can be invasive in some parts of the country, but never in my garden), foxtail fern, potato vine (in shade), ‘Senorita Rosalita’ cleome, hardy aloes, agaves (of course!) and yuccas, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, purple heart, Mexican oregano, and ‘Macho Mocha’ manfreda. Almost everything in my new garden gets at least some shade, even the sun lovers. And I did irrigate regularly since everything in my garden is new. But the ones listed here did well with no obvious signs of stress. Others not listed survived but didn’t always look so good, particularly the roses, coneflowers, silver ponyfoot, dianthus, daylilies, gaillardia, thryallis.

  4. Pam, awesome list, thanks! I forgot about the bamboo muhly, which you had advised me to plant. Yes, it is doing well and even growing, thank you. An excellent suggestion. I think that Senorita Rosalita is going to have to be on my must-have list after your experience with it. I had some potato vine that grew, and some that didn’t, which is why I didn’t put it on my list. Oh, and I also forgot Mexican Oregano, a steadfast, hardy plant, too. Thanks for sharing your winners.

  5. My butterfly and bicolor iris survived with not much watering but rarely bloomed. My absolute hardiest plants, which required virtually NO watering this hideous summer, are artemesia, rosemary, yucca, sotol, lavender, agave, cenizo, and unwanted nandina, of course. Plants that survived pretty well with a little weekly or bi-weekly watering are ruellia, salvias, loropetulum, plumbago, ligustrum, silver ponyfoot, and purple fountaingrass.

    Thanks for this post! It’s very interesting and informative to see what other Austin gardeners were/are able to make work during this drought.

  6. Hi, Iris! I might have to get some purple fountaingrass (of course, you would have it in purple!). I’ve seen it around town and it really looked nice through the horrible summer. My plumbago, however, didn’t bloom until September rains. Perhaps since yours was more established, it did better than mine? Nandina – of course. Even my rosemary plant had some branches that died, though. Forgot about ruellia, that’s another good choice and the ones I have have left (I removed most last year) did bloom occasionally. Don’t you love that Artemesia?

  7. Hey Robin,
    I forgot to mention that my silver santolina and black dalea (Dalea frutescens) did fine with very little supplemental water, too. Yep, pretty sure my plumbago survived because it’s long established, although it didn’t bloom much until the past few weeks. And yes! Artemesia seems foolproof and is such a nice silvery contrast!

  8. All of these got some supplemental water through soaker hoses.Yellow bells(Tecoma) was the standout for me. Bloomed the entire summer.The other thing that amazed me was red Porter weed.It was new for me this spring and grew and grew and bloomed most all summer in full sun.Profusion zinnias(white especially),Homerun and climbing Red Cascade roses did well,blooming off and on.Bulbine and Rosemary looked good,though not much growth or blooms this year.Chili pequin peppers grew very well.I think most things that got some shade did a little better than those in full sun.

  9. Thanks, Nancy. My yellow bells did nothing, but again they are only one-year-old plants. I definitely want to get some profusion zinnias; I saw those in my neighborhood and everyone’s seemed to be quite happy. Our list is growing!

  10. This is a great post.

    These are the plants that survived for me without ANY supplemental watering in full sun with 4″ of soil over caliche. (The caliche holds no water):

    turk’s cap, white mist flower, Pride of Barbados, pomegranates (various kinds), rosemary bicolored iris, mountain laurel, feathery cassia (1st season), cenizo, evergreen sumac, possumhaw holly, shrimp plant (new, forgot I’d planted it), Mexican honeysuckle, abelia, Mexican oregano, native Texas passion vine (beware, you actually might want this one to die), lantana (white, purple & orange), Russian sage (1st season), cherry sage, and barbados cherry.

    Plants that were watered and still passed away (sniff) or are almost dead were:

    Jerusalem sage (small and large leafed), lamb’s ear, calylophus, cleveland sage (boo-hoo, 1st season), Mexican marigold (still on life support).

    I have other plants that survived well with supplemental watering, but they’re too many to list.

  11. Laura, that’s an excellent list! Amazing list of plants that didn’t get any water at all. Did any of them bloom during the summer, or did they increase in size? Thanks for commenting.

  12. Actually many of the unwatered plants did bloom. The Turk’s Cap still had blooms and the hummingbirds still came even though the blooms were smaller and less perfuse (sp?). The Pride of Barbados also bloomed. Most of the plants that were not watered, however, were pretty well-established and some of them went through the droughty summer of 2006 and were not watered then either. I lost a lot of plants in 2006 because I could not water anything that summer.

  13. Wow Robin- That is quite a list. I have many of those plants but some did not do well. Lamb’s ears was lost this year but I hope there are a few seeds in the grounds to bring it back. Imagine having to buy lamb’s ears! I would love to try the Japanese yew I had it in California but I’m afraid it is too cold in this garden. My Fatsia was burnt by the sun but it will be back-I hope.

  14. Jenny, my Lambs Ears were in dappled shade, so I think that protected them a bit. They certainly didn’t grow much, but at least they are alive. I hope yours returns. I should come by and get more ideas for my garden from your glorious cottage patch! Thanks for visiting.

  15. Great idea! I’m interested to see what plants thrived in our “summer from hell”. I’ll try to get a post in over the weekend on this subject. Our lists will be a bit different; while your artemesia thrived, mine died. My yarrow almost made it, dying when I thought the heat wave was over and things were safe again. I’ll post a blurb on twitter and facebook when I get my list published on alamonorth!

  16. Your list inspired me to also make a survivor post, Robin – now rereading what worked for you reminds me how bad even my very established Mexican oregano looked at times. I have 2 Mexican Mint Marigold plants bought fall 2004. One has been in the same spot for about 3 years and did all right. But the other had been transplanted in early 2008. Bad timing! It’s half the size it was when I moved it.

    My yellow bulbine lived but didn’t bloom all summer. It’s just getting flowers again now.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  17. Annie, it’s nice to hear that it wasn’t just my ineptness as a gardener that caused my plants to look so horrible. All of them were less than a year old when they had to suffer unheard-of challenges. Interesting about your bulbine – mine actually did bloom all summer, with very little watering cause they are in a spot in my yard that doesn’t get a whole lot. I’ll check out your post as well.

  18. You already did! Meant the one from a couple of days ago, and you left a comment, too, kiddo! I read this post before I made mine but didn’t realize until today that I hadn’t left a note.


  19. Linda, it was definitely nice of everyone to join in and add to the list. I am checking out some of their plants that I don’t have to add to my now-drought-tolerant garden.

  20. Gazanias. I have been trying to eradicate these for EVER from one narrow patch of drought-ridden dirt surrounded by baking concrete. I have even doused them with weedkiller, but they seed like mad and KEEP COMING BACK! Nothing else will grow there, apart from weeds, so my plan is to just put weedmat down and cover it with white stones and have big pots of succulents. But I need to get rid of the dratted gazanias first lol

  21. Pingback: Central Texas Gardener Blog » Blog Archive » Summer survivors, Zanthan on tour

  22. Great list! Thought I’d add Blackfoot Daisy, Mexican Feathergrass, Mexican Bush Sage, Skullcap and Rock Rose all held in there with only bi-weekly watering and loads of mulch.

  23. Great list! If I hadn’t watered to try and keep it all alive for the tour I’d have a better memory of what did survive last summer. It was so nice to meet you in person at the Inside Austin Gardens Tour! I think one of the fittest for survival plants in my garden has to be heartleaf skullcap…it not only survived, but came back with a vengence and spread once the rains arrived.

  24. cheryl, your garden was a sight to behold, and created much fun for the rest of the day in our touring conversations. Thank you for opening it up for all of us!

  25. Hello Robin,

    We’d like to notify you that the Austin School Garden Network website has launched and we’ve included your blog on our blog roll.
    The Austin School Garden Network is a collaboration of groups, agencies and individuals dedicated to reconnecting children and nature. The purpose is connecting Central Texas community resources to promote the social, nutritional, environmental, and academic benefits of school and youth gardening programs. We have included a local gardening blog section to help new gardeners learn more about gardening in our area.

    For more information visit our About Us page.

    Your blog is linked to from our Gardening Blog page.

    If you would like us to remove the link to your blog from our website please contact, Lisa Anhaiser at laanhaiser [at]

    Get growing and keep going!

    Austin School Garden Network

  26. Hi there! This is an invaluable source for us never-say-die gardeners. It was challenging but I kept the faith throughout the summer from hell and even planted a few things (it’s an addiction, what can I say). I just wanted to give kudos to a plant that I don’t believe anyone else has mentioned and that is the woolly butterfly bush. I planted mine sometime in May, I think, and that beauty thrived throughout the summer with water maybe once every 2 weeks. It was definitely the winner of the toughest plant in my yard and kept blooming with nary a wilted leaf in sight. I don’t even think it really needed water but I did anyway for “insurance”–couldn’t believe a plant wouldn’t need *some* water to withstand the 3-month inferno we’ll never forget.

    Keep up the great writing and inspiration for us all!

  27. thanks for visiting, Kathy, and for adding to our list. I’ve already purchased some of the plants that other gardeners listed, so that I’ll have some hardy plants for the future. I appreciate every name that you add.

  28. Beautiful images, it was so nice to meet you at the tour. I love the lighting on the whiskers pics…and the Nandina berries…even though they’re Nandina berries! Great Post!

  29. thanks for dropping by and reading my Bloom Day post, Cheryl. Your garden was a favorite of mine on the Master Gardener’s Tour this fall.

  30. Pingback: After the freeze « Getting Grounded

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