ProblemSolver Plants for Dry Sun – Annuals, Bulbs, Grasses and Evergreens

Annuals

Coreopsis tinctoria
Plains coreopsis

Plains coreopsis (also commonly called garden coreopsis, golden tickseed or calliopsis) is native to the western U. S. It grows 2-4’ tall and to 18” wide on smooth, stiff, branching stems. Flowers typically bloom over a long late spring to fall period.

Cosmos sulphureus
Cosmos

Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils. Also tolerates poor soils. Plant seed in the garden just before last spring frost date. Seed may also be started indoors about 4-6 weeks prior to the last spring frost date. Plants will sometimes self-seed.

Euphorbia marginata
Snow on the mountain

A striking plant that is easily grown in average, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils. Plants are tolerant of poor soils, including rocky-sandy ones. Plants appreciate some part afternoon shade in hot summer climates. Seed may be started indoors 6-8 weeks before last spring frost date. Plants will remain in the garden from year to year by self-seeding.

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Gaillardia pulchella
Indian blanket

The bright colors of this plant are great for dry to medium, well-drained soils. It thrives in sandy soils and dry summer heat, and tolerates poor soils. Sow seed directly in the garden after last frost date or start seed indoors 4-6 weeks earlier. Set seedlings out after last frost date.


Helianthus annuus
Sunflower

Sunflowers are bright and eye-catching. They come in a variety of heights from 3 to 10 feet so select the cultivar that fits your space. They are easily grown in average, moist, well-drained soils and tolerates poor soils. Plant seed in the garden after last frost date. Plants grow so rapidly that there is little reason to start seed indoors. Taller varieties should be sited in locations sheltered from strong winds.

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Portulaca grandiflora
Moss rose

These low-growing beauties make a wonderful annual ground cover. They are succulent and typically grow to 6-8” tall and spreads to 12” wide or more. Flowers bloom summer to frost and come in single, semi-double or double forms in colors including red, rose, orange, yellow, white and pastel shades thereof. Flowers do not open on cloudy or rainy days.

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Sanvitalia procumbens
Creeping zinnia

The bright yellow of the creeping zinnia is a welcome sight in hot, dry locations. It is mat-forming and typically grows to only 6” tall but spreads 12-18” wide or more. Easily grown in average, dry to moderately moist, well-drained soils. Best flowering in full sun. Prefers light, sandy-humusy soils with good drainage. Thrives in the heat and humidity of typical St. Louis summers.


Tithonia rotundifolia
Mexican sunflower

For those who have the space Mexican sunflower is a great choice. It is a vigorous annual that typically grows in a single season to 4-6’ tall. Showy sunflowers (to 3” across) with orange to orange-red rays and orange-yellow disks bloom from mid-summer to fall. Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils. Plants thrive in summer heat. Plants tolerate poor soils.


Zinnia angustifolia
Creeping zinnia

More difficult to find in recent years, this is still a wonderful, spreading plant for hot, sunny locations. It is easily grown in humusy, evenly moist or dry, well-drained soils. Sow seed directly in the ground after last frost date or start seed indoors 4-6 weeks earlier. Set out plants after last frost date. Good drought tolerance.

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Bulbs

Allium caeruleum 
Ornamental onion

This ornamental onion is a bulbous perennial that typically grows to 12-24" tall. It is native to dry slopes, steppes and plains ranging from the Caspian Sea to southwestern Siberia, central Asia and northwestern China. It is easily grown in rich, sandy to gritty, dry to medium moisture, well-drained loams. Plants form dense, slowly-spreading clumps over time. They perform best in dry, sunny areas of the garden. Established plantings have good drought tolerance.

Narcissus (group)
Daffodil

Bulbs such as daffodils work well in areas that receive good sun all year long or areas that receive good sun early in the year but are dry and shady later in the season when the bulbs are dormant. They are best grown in organically rich, slightly acidic, medium moisture, well-drained sandy loams. Sharp soil drainage is essential. Plant bulbs in early to mid fall. Planting depth depends upon bulb size. In St. Louis, each bulb should be planted 2 to 3 times the height of the bulb, with at least 3" of soil over the top.

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Needled Evergreens

Juniperus virginiana
Red cedar

This Missouri native is easily grown in average, dry to moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates a wide range of soils and growing conditions, from swamps to dry rocky glades. It prefers moist soils, but has the best drought resistance of any conifer native to the eastern U.S.

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Pinus echinata
Short-leaf pine

Many pines tolerate dry soil but only this one is native to Missouri and is your best choice. Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils. Tolerates some light shade. Tolerates a wide range of soils, but prefers sandy loams. The formation of a deep taproot complicates transplanting from the wild.

Ornamenal Grasses

Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
Feather reed grass

Several grasses look good and perform well in dry, sunny locations. 'Karl Foerster' has a very erect habit and performs well. It is easily grown in average, medium to wet soil in full sun and does well in heavy clay soils, unlike many of the other ornamental grasses. Blooms in light shade, and appreciates some light afternoon shade in hot summer climates.

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Elymus canadensis
Canada wild rye

Native to Missouri, Canada wild rye is a cool season, clump-forming, bunch grass noted for its arching, wheat/rye-like spikes which bloom in summer and remain attractive well into winter. In Missouri, it typically occurs in open woods, prairies, fields, stream banks and waste areas throughout most of the State. Foliage and spikes turn tan in fall, but continue to provide visual interest throughout much of the winter.

Panicum virgatum
Switch grass

Another grass native to Missouri, switch grass is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It tolerates a wide range of soils, including dry ones, but prefers moist, sandy or clay soils. Tends to flop in rich soils. Generally best in full sun. Grows primarily in clumps, but may naturalize by rhizomes as well as self-seeding to form sizable colonies. Several colorful cultivars are available.

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Schizachyrium scoparium
Little bluestem

Native to many of the prairie states including parts of Missouri, little bluestem can be grown in average, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions including clay soils. Performs well in poor soils. Good drought resistance once established. Tolerates high heat and humidity.

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Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed

A very attractive grass, prairie dropseed forms clumps of fine-textured, hair-like, medium green leaves that typically form an arching foliage mound to 15" tall and 18" wide. Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates wide range of soils, including heavy clays. Prefers dry, rocky soils. Good drought tolerance. Slow-growing and slow to establish.

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