Well, its official, the weather service has announced that the majority of Southern Wisconsin, where Prairie Nursery is located, is in moderate drought conditions. Many communities postponed fireworks for the 4th of July and a nearly statewide burning ban is in effect. Although wildfires are devastating the dry western states; fortunately there have been no major fires in our state as yet. We have not had any significant rainfall in over a month in some places in the south.
As I look out my office window onto a field of Rough Blazingstar-Liatris aspera, there is little evidence that these hearty drought tolerant species are affected by the drought. Their stems are firm and needle-like leaves are perfectly adapted to sunny, hot desert-like/sandy conditions in which they are situated. Native plants are amongst the most highly adapted and drought tolerant.
In my prairie gardens at home, the Lanceleaf Coreopsis-Coreopsis lanceolata, Butterflyweed-Asclepias tuberosa, Wild Petunia-Ruellia humilis and Pale Purple Coneflower-Echinacea pallida are blooming profusely seemingly unaffected by the drought in my sandy back yard. Grasses including Little Bluestem-Schizachyrium scoparium, Prairie Dropseed-Sporobolus heterolepis, Big Bluestem-Andropogon gerardi and Indiangrass-Sorghastrum nutans look good, and hanging in there, as their 3-5 foot deep roots are able to find water in the soil well below the surface.
In my previous posting I discussed the importance of choosing plants for your soil condition on your site. Selecting adaptable plants matching the soil in your yard is the first step to easy gardening. The second most important step is to choose plants for their moisture tolerance. We note this in all our plant descriptions in our catalog and website.
A plant such as Queen of the Prairie-Filipendula rubra or Marsh Phlox-Phlox glaberrima will be quite unhappy in my desert of a backyard, so although I love their colorful blooms I would choose Hoary Vervain-Verbena stricta and Downy Phlox-Phlox pilosa for their drought tolerance.
The dire drought situation for many of us illustrates the importance of choosing plants that are adaptable to our soils. In my own prairie gardens we have spent the last month or so removing plants that are not adaptable to my sandy soil, such as Ox Eye Sunflower-Helianthus helianthoides and Culver’s Root-Veronicastrum virginicum, and are replacing them with drought tolerant survivors. I know this decision will make my prairie truly representative of the plants that have historically inhabited the dry prairies of our continent.