It takes a tough plant to make it through a Rogue Valley summer. Many landscape plants we’ve come to feel are traditional across this country have a tough time looking good without drinking copious amounts of water, so the valley’s water usage rises with the temperatures. Conservation-minded gardeners know heat-loving, drought-tolerant plants can be beautiful as well as easy on the water budget. Here are a few you may want to incorporate into a water-friendly landscape.
Don’t be surprised when you see lilacs blooming around abandoned homesteads. Lilac bushes (Syringa vulgaris) can live for hundreds of years. These drought-tolerant survivors will look good most of the year without additional water, says Medford Grange Co-op nursery assistant Drew Matthews. These deciduous shrubs do well in hedgerows, as accent plants or in the back of a border. They provide a good screen and shade all summer, and of course, they are famous for their evocative late spring blooms, which arrive when the plant is in full leaf.
The best blooms arrive after a cold winter, and it’s heavenly to be downwind from a lilac bush. Aside from roses, there is no flower as beautifully aromatic as lilacs and, of the two, lilacs have a stronger scent which carries quite a distance. Lilacs come in various shades of purple from pale to dark, plus pink, white and burgundy.
Another fence-line plant that is under-planted in the valley is incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), a long-lived tree native to the West. Although these plants can grow to150 feet, it takes a very long time — the height after 20 years is 12 feet. They have a more narrow habit than another more commonly used fence-line plant, Leyland cypress, so they might be more neighbor-friendly, says Matthews. The tree doesn’t need supplemental food and is not troubled by pests, so it’s chemical free as well as water friendly.
If you are looking for a smaller tree, consider a chitalpa (Chitalpa tashkentensis), says Kraig Rucker, nursery associate at Four Seasons Nursery in Medford. Don’t confuse this tree with its messier parent, the catalpa. Its other parent is a native desert tree, Chilopsis linearis, so the hybrid is sterile. That doesn’t stop the bees and hummingbirds from gathering pollen and nectar from its beautiful pink or white flowers. It grows to 30 feet quickly, and provides open shade with narrow glossy green leaves.
“Its roots are not invasive, but go deeper for water,” says Rucker, who recommends the tree over more commonly planted redbud and dogwood. It uses less water than either of those, he says.
The rock roses (Cistus) are small but tough shrubs, says Matthews. These bloom profusely in early summer with showy, single flowers of yellow, pink or white. A purple variety, Cistus purpurea, is lovely as well, but gophers like its roots, says Matthews, so stick to the others if you have problems with those burrowers. These plants love our Mediterranean climate and survive in poor soils, presenting few demands in good garden soil.
If there is a problem, it might be vigorous growth, but rock rose is easily pruned back. In small spaces choose from a few dwarf varieties. The small, narrow leaves are rough-textured, sometimes with reddish edges. Try using them as “fill in” for casual flower arrangements. A bonus for country dwellers: rockrose is fire-resistant.
In a drought-resistant border planting, consider the sun rose (Helianthenum), an evergreen perennial groundcover which blooms in mid-spring. Place one or more of the yarrows behind them. Growing 1 to 2 feet high, these native Mediterraneans are sold in a wide array of colors — white to a vivid red. Cut the flowers off before they go to seed. The yellow variety has grayish leaves, is quite drought-resistant, and spreads less prolifically with longer lasting blooms. Fill in the border with annual cosmos, which blooms continually in a pastel palette from early summer through frost.
So go ahead, be a water miser — with these suggestions you’ll get plenty of blooms without buckets of water.