Annuals for Hot Dry Areas – Confessions of a Darwinian Gardener

Published by Bucks Country Gardens in Bucks Country Gardens

Dry Shade LandscapeSince I work in a garden center, I must love plants. Well, the truth is that I do love plants, too many plants. In fact, I want them all! And so, I have lots of gardens. But like the shoemaker’s children, my plants don’t always get the care they need and deserve. After a full day at Bucks Country Gardens caring for plants in the hot sun and temps in the 80s, it’s tempting to relax in the shade with a cool drink in my hand when I get home; Hence, the Darwinian gardening. It’s survival of the fittest at my home – or perhaps, survival of the well sited.

Many of us have hot dry areas where a hose doesn’t reach. Or maybe we just don’t have the time or energy to ensure our plantings will get watered regularly. While I don’t know of any plants that can survive totally without water and still provide glorious blooms throughout the summer, there are some that are more drought tolerant than others. Here are some of my favorite annuals that fit the bill.

 Geraniums, a longtime staple of many traditional gardens, come in a couple of different forms and lots of color variations ranging from pale pinks to vibrant magenta, cherry reds to burgundy, coral to brilliant orange, and white. They can be upright in habit or trailing, the latter of which work well in containers.

 Vinca is another favorite that is available in similar colors to geraniums and also has an upright or trailing habit. Vinca doesn’t require deadheading and the upright version forms a lovely mound. It looks great as a border or interspersed with other plants.

lantanaIf you’re looking to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, give Lantana a try. Once again, its habit can be mounding or trailing. Most flower heads are a combination of colors: pink with yellow or gold in either soft shades or more vibrant tones. If your yard is small or you need to get that precise cut, you can use a zero turn mower which has basically no turning circle to make sure you get ever last piece of grass accurately. There is also a very striking solid gold flower that combines beautifully with purples. These plants can get a bit woody by season’s end and should be pruned if they’re in a container to keep them blooming.


Portulaca, or moss rose, is a very low growing plant that loves to be dry. Its foliage is almost needle-like, but fleshy.  It’s often grown in rock gardens and looks great spilling over a wall or the edge of a container.



Angelonia is a newer favorite in my garden and new at Bucks Country Gardens as well. It’s taller than the other plants I’ve already mentioned, so it provides a focal point for containers. It is lovely in combination with the others and provides a good purple color to blend with pinks of other plants.



If you’re looking for height, consider Cosmos with their daisy-like blooms or Cleome, sometimes called spider flower, due to its open, loose head. Both come in pinks and lavender plus mauve and white.

Gazania is a little different for a couple of reasons. Its flowers close on cloudy days and at night. They reopen to display shades of red, orange and bronze.



Most references also list Petunias, Zinnias and Marigolds among their suggestions for hot dry areas. They are great choices as well, and they will provide great color all season long.



No matter what plants you decide on, it’s important to prepare your planting site. Add organic matter to your beds and surround your plants with mulch. If you’re planting in a container, make sure it’s big enough to allow for root growth. A glazed pot will hold more moisture than an unglazed pot or moss lined hanging basket. Use a plastic liner pot for the latter to reduce water loss. Remember, containers of any sort will dry out much more rapidly than garden beds, so they will require water. You can increase their chance of survival, however, by watering as they begin to dry out.

May your flowers not just survive but be prolific bloomers!

Jeanne Mantell | Greenhouse Sales & Design